When jazz pianist and Presbyterian minister Bill Carter was wondering what he could do to support those recovering from Hurricane Sandy, his thoughts turned to his friend and colleague Carl Wilton, pastor of the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church. The Point Pleasant church is located just blocks from the high-water mark of the hurricane’s storm surge, and has many members who have been flooded out of their homes.
At the same time, Wilton was feeling concern for his church members, who will be having a very different sort of Christmas this year in the storm’s aftermath. “I contacted Bill to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great thing if the Presbybop Jazz Quartet could come and do a benefit here for hurricane relief?” said Wilton. “You know, lift people’s spirits. Bill told me he was just about to pick up the phone and make the very same offer.”
Together, the two hatched plans for a spirited live benefit concert of Christmas carols set to a jazz beat. The “Jazz Noel” concert will take place Monday evening, December 17th at 7:00 p.m. at the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church in Point Pleasant Beach.
The band is an expanded holiday version of Carter’s acclaimed Presbybop Jazz Quartet that tours nationally. The Presbybop Christmas Eve Band includes some additional talent, including jazz vocalist Warren Cooper out of Philadelphia. A week prior to the Point Pleasant concert, Presbybop will be videotaping a Christmas Eve concert that will be broadcast on a number of PBS-TV stations around the country.
Jazz Noel in Point Pleasant will not be the typical sort of benefit. No tickets will be sold. Admission is free. A free-will offering, supported by concertgoers whose homes are still high and dry after the storm, will raise funds for the church’s hurricane-relief efforts, in cooperation with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Advance contributions have already covered all the expenses of bringing the band to town, so every penny raised will go to help displaced people in the area.
“We didn’t want to create an event just for Jersey Shore residents who are fortunate enough to still be in their homes,” said Carter. “We want to bring Jazz Noel to people who won’t be attending another Christmas concert this year, on account of Hurricane Sandy. We envision people who have been spending their days tearing wet insulation out of their walls sitting down together with neighbors who have the means to help them out. We’ll just leave it all up to the Lord and see how people feel moved to respond.”
That same spirit of laid-back improvisation in service to the church’s worship is Presbybop’s stock in trade. Since 1993, the band --- which has released 10 CDs and DVDs, including the Christmas album “Fragile Incarnation” --- has toured widely. In addition to presenting countless concerts and jazz vespers, they have served as the “house band” for major clergy conferences, led worship services for the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly and served as “musical theologians in residence” at Princeton Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, the Massachusetts United Church of Christ and the Arkansas conference of the United Methodist Church.
Besides bringing the Christmas Eve Band and their instruments to the Jersey Shore, Carter will be toting dozens of home-baked Christmas cookies for the reception that will follow. It’s a people-to-people outreach from his church, First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, to the Point Pleasant Church.
Those seeking a sneak preview of the concert can visit the band’s website at Presbybop.com to listen to samples, or find video selections from Presbybop’s Christmas Eve concerts on YouTube.
Wilton suggests arriving early for the December 17th event as a large turn-out is expected. “Presbybop’s got quite a following, especially for their jazz Christmas music. Even on a Monday night, we’re expecting a crowd,” he said.
For more information, contact the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church at 732-899-0587 or visit PointPresbyterian.org. The church is located at 701 Forman Avenue on the corner of Bay and Forman Avenues in Point Pleasant Beach.