I couldn’t help but be distracted by the lights; the taxis flying past us, the pictures of food lit up at the door of the deli and even though it was two miles away along Seventh Avenue, I could still see Times Square illuminated by the billboards and spotlights.
Yet, there was one light that shone brighter than them all, the iconic neon red light that shone above us as we waited in line, spelling out V-A-N-G-U-A-R-D.
Finally, the doors were opened and we escaped a cold December evening and travelled down 15 well-trodden steps into the darkened room of the Village Vanguard. As soon as you stepped inside, you could feel the history as you looked around the room, imagining the greats who had played here: Getz, Gordon, Monk, Davis, Rollins…
As we sat down with Coltrane looking over our shoulder, we were transported back to 1960s Greenwich Village. With tobacco saturated walls, the cramped, dimly lit room still had that smokey feel about it, despite the last Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, cutting that out 10 years ago.
On the bill tonight was Dr Michael White and The Original Liberty Jazz Band, a collective of incredible musicians from New Orleans who have performed an end of year show at the Vanguard every year since the early 90s. The six-piece group, playing their second show of the night, greet us as they walk past and set up with the bassist, drummer and pianist hanging out in the background of the stage.
That left the trumpeter, the trombonist and Michael White himself, on clarinet, sitting beside each other in spitting distance from the audience. These sharply dressed men with uncoordinated ties, each in their 60s, would steal the show. Over seven songs, each of the three would take turns to rise to their feet and improvise a section over the continuous beat of the drums, bass and keys.
I have no idea how long these three men have been playing music together. If I had to take a stab at it, I would say at least two decades. Regardless of that, there was something wonderful that kept reoccurring throughout the night. As each member stood up and led out, we couldn’t help but be drawn to the experienced faces of the seated band members. They sat there, intently looking up. Time after time they beamed with appreciation and celebration with the notes and arrangements their band mates where pulling off as they played.
Michael White showed his appreciation with the smile of a proud old grandfather and a gentle nod. The trumpeter would lean back, nodding his head and mouthing an affirming “yes” from time to time. Finally, there was the animated trombonist who would switch from pulling a jazz bass face to acting like a 70-year-old Flavor Flav – he was my favourite.
There was a deep sense of respect and appreciation for what each band mate was doing throughout their improvised sections; which would end with all three standing together at the end of the song, bringing together the sound of the clarinet, the trombone and the trumpet into a crescendo of noise.
Respect. Appreciation. Celebration. Friendship. Unity.
The culture of the kingdom of heaven has been determined by the primary community of the King. That community is the loving, active relationship between Father, Son and Spirit; a community of deep love and unity – the source of kingdom culture.
One of the main ways that the beauty of the kingdom of heaven is revealed is through its rich diversity. Diversity is a source of good, not of ill; a cause for unity, not division.
The Church today is full of different streams, different denominations, different relationships, different agencies and different partnerships. New churches and well-established churches. We are a diverse body.
It was wonderful to see three jazz musicians, more than that – three friends, who watched on with appreciation and celebration, and stood together, bringing the noises of different instruments into one song.
How much more wonderful would it be for the Church of King Jesus, with all of its diversities in practices and streams, to look on at each other not with suspicion or fear, but instead with deep respect, appreciation, celebration and friendship.
That as heralds of the gospel of Jesus, we would embody the culture of the kingdom of heaven and stand together, allowing our different takes and practices to come together into one glorious song.
A crescendo of the goodness of Jesus and the nearness of his kingdom.