Star Tribune Article

An article on the Good News Big Band appeared in the Saturday, January 31, 2009 Variety section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and here is the material from that article.

Group spreads good news, fun with big band

January 31, 2009

The members of the Good News Big Band have almost as many reasons for joining the Christian-oriented group as there are jazz riffs. But they all agree on one incentive. They call it the wake-’em-up moment.

It happens when the group is invited to play at Sunday morning church services. They sneak peeks over their music stands at congregants’ expressions as the band charges into a horn-driven, rattle-the-stained-glass-windows swing version of a hymnal standard like “I Love to Tell the Story.”

“That’s when we get people saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” said band leader Brian Richter, to which trumpeter Jerry Cerchia added: “We like to wake ’em up. We love to see the grins on their faces.”

The band started in 1994 with two missions: To spread the “good news” using big-band jazz, and to have fun.

“We’re trying to create an environment for worship, and seeing people react to that is always very gratifying,” Cerchia said. “The late trumpeter Maynard Ferguson said a prayer every time before he performed: ‘Dear God, may I be an instrument in your hands, an inspiration to the audience and a joy to my fellow musicians.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

The band never does any proselytizing. To the contrary, Richter points out, although the band members love to play in front of an audience, “Talking in front of them is something we’re not very good at.”

Then again, they figure that they don’t have to be.

“It has been said that when words fail, music speaks,” Richter said. “We believe that when a 17-piece jazz ensemble leads a worship service, the effects can be powerful.”

A good time is had by all

The having-fun part of their mission statement comes through clearly in their weekly rehearsals. A 7 p.m. rehearsal call didn’t mean that members came drifting in then. When the clock hit 7, they all were in their chairs, ready to rip into a rousing version of “Amen,” playing through it nonstop six times so that each section got a shot at soloing.

It’s addictive, said guitarist Ed Smith, a 10-year member.

“I keep telling myself that I need to quit, that I need to learn how to fish or something,” he said. “But I love it.”

The ultimate proof of the enjoyment is in the band’s recruiting. Two of the members have talked their children into joining the group. Bass player Iris Bouvet’s son, J.P., fills in on drums, while pianist Allen Jackson’s daughter, Teresa, is the vocalist.

It didn’t take much to convince them to join, Teresa Jackson said. When she graduated from Wheaton College last year, she jumped at the chance to sing with the group.

“I’d been watching my dad do this, and I thought it might be fun,” she said. “I’ve always been into church music, but I never thought that I’d be singing jazz music in church.”

A senior at Lakeville South High School, J.P. Bouvet admitted that big band music is not well-known among his peers.

“Most of my friends probably wouldn’t recognize any of this music, but they’ve been very supportive of me doing this,” he said.

The band plays both religious and secular music; in fact, they have a concert of each coming up in the next two weeks. But even when they’re working on a show of big-band standards, they remember their Christian charter.

“A founding creed that we continue to live by is that being a member of the Good News Big Band means that you have checked your priorities in life,” Richter said. “Your commitments to God, family and work come before the band.”

A group effort

Although Richter is designated as the band leader, his duties are organizational more than musical. Any member can suggest adding a song to the band’s repertoire, and everyone is encouraged to provide input on how the numbers are played.

Richter, a bass trombonist, doesn’t direct while the band is playing “because I’d rather be playing and, besides, these people are so good that they don’t need a director. They just need a downbeat.”

Granted, differences of opinion arise, but they often are settled with a laugh. During a rehearsal of “String of Pearls,” a Glenn Miller classic from 1941, there was a discussion over the tempo. Finally, saxophonist Dana Mathewson, who’s been playing in jazz bands since 1957, settled the matter with a joke: “You’re forgetting that I was there when it was played originally.”

The band makes no money. On the contrary, because they have to pay standard residual fees for the music arrangements they use, there’s the possibility of losing money on any given gig.

“We never ask for a fee,” Richter said. “Sometimes groups will take up a collection to help us defray costs, and we’ve gotten some very generous donations. But we’re just glad to be there, and if we end up earning a little money for a church, that’s all the better.”

As much as the band likes to tease congregations about waking them up, Richter tells a story about the time the tables were turned.

“We were at a church in Excelsior, and when we got done, they gave us a standing ovation,” he said. “They wanted more; they wanted us to do an encore. But we didn’t have anything else prepared. All I could say was, ‘Oops.’ ”

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392