Theodicy Jazz

Jan 18, 2015

600px-Freret_Street_Festival_Trombone_AbitaOne Sunday morning this past June,” wrote Retta Blaney in 2012 at Upon The Sacred Stage, “seven American revolutionaries staged an assault on the sensibilities of some 800 worshipers gathered at Canterbury Cathedral for the 11 a.m. service, causing them to react in a most un-British way.

“They applauded. For several minutes. And Dean Robert Willis was gobsmacked.

“ ‘English people don’t clap in church,’ Willis declared, calling the service ‘an absolute triumph’ and thanking the young Americans for ‘loosing up the whole church.’ ”

These seven “revolutionaries” are members of Theodicy Jazz Collective and they will be playing on January 31st at St. Luke’s Church in Monrovia (a free public event).




Pianist and founder of Theodicy Jazz Collective, 30-year-old Andrew Barnett, is an ordained priest and works at the Bishop’s Chair for Environmental Studies and Food Justice in the Diocese of L.A. “If you are looking for an example of someone who is able to combine his broad interests in one coherent life, Andy is your guy. However, you should note that he has little interest in sleeping.”


Andrew Barnett, co-founder Theodicy Jazz Collective

Andrew Barnett, co-founder Theodicy Jazz Collective


How about William Z. Cleary who plays alto saxophone and does most of the group’s arrangements and compositions?

In addition to being a brilliant musician, composer, and teacher, Will is also a guacamole connoisseur in New Haven, CT. Also, his middle initial, “Z,” stands for nothing. It is just “Z.” (

For the Canterbury Cathedral performance, which was planned a year in advance when Barnett took the organist and master chorister out for a drink to a 400-year-old pub and while they listened to “a man at an upright piano play Abba,” Barnett dared to ask if Theodicy could play at Canterbury, “the mother church” as he calls it. Incredibly, the answer was yes, and over the next year, Cleary composed “completely from scratch” the Jazz Mass, which was “music to accompany the ancient Latin prayers of the church—Kyrie, Gloria, Doxology, Sanctus and Benedictus.”

Also on hand for the January 31st concert at St. Luke’s will be Theodicy co-founder Sarah Politz who plays trombone. While playing with the group since it’s inception in 2006, Sarah has earned three degrees and is currently pursuing a PhD in ethnomusicology at Harvard University. Oh yes, while also traveling back and forth to west Africa for research.

Her writing and ideas are as brilliant as her horn playing, which basically means she would intimidate the rest of the group too much to play together if she weren’t so darn likable.

Ann Phelps is the group’s vocalist and liturgy coordinator, who before her community organizing-days, was a full-time liturgical jazz singer. “It’s a thing,” we’re told.

Daniel Loomis is on bass. He’s a freelance musician and plays with many ensembles, including a quartet for kids, The Dad Beats, which has been described as “a power quartet wrapped in a play-date with a hootenanny garish. Made up of four real live Brooklyn dads.”



The Dad Beats Band; illustration found on group FB page



It’s hard to resist a sense of humor, a deliberate focus on the lighter side of things. Which is interesting as Theodicy Jazz has a serious mission:

The group believes that music has the power to promote peace and justice in society and that the jazz principles of community, flexibility, and listening can help the church thrive in our rapidly changing world.

Bringing voices from the margins of society into the center of tradition and liturgy, Theodicy’s services, workshops, concerts, and conferences, explore the theological questions of the twenty-first century with a commitment to musical and academic excellence, responsiveness to the Spirit, and a love of tradition and the liturgical canon.

Reverend Doctor Thomas Troeger of Yale Divinity School and Institute of Sacred Music puts it quite simply: “You guys are geniuses.”

Theodicy Jazz is a fascinating concept—whether or not one is religiously led, aspirations for peace and justice speak to many of us—and from the pieces we’ve listened to on the group’s website, such as “Wayfaring Stranger”—which caused unconscious toe-tapping and torso swaying—this band of musicians with a mission is worthy of an evening’s attention.


Theodicy Jazz Collective: Jazz Vespers
Saturday,  January 31st, 7 p.m.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 122 S. California Ave. at Foothill, Monrovia
Admission is free; there will be a freewill offering or the newsletter for the month of Jan. 2015





Theodicy Jazz plays and sings “My Country Tis of Thee” with extra lyrics by W.E. du Bois, which seems appropriate as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and amidst our country’s current, and continuing, race issues.

My country tis of thee,
Late land of slavery,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my father’s pride
Slept where my mother died,
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!

My native country thee
Land of the slave set free,
Thy fame I love.
I love thy rocks and rills
And o’er thy hate which chills,
My heart with purpose thrills,
To rise above.

Let laments swell the breeze
And wring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let laggard tongues awake,
Let all who hear partake,
Let Southern silence quake,
The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God to thee
Author of Liberty,
To thee we sing
Soon may our land be bright,
With Freedom’s happy light
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.


Lyrics source:



St. Luke’s Monrovia was founded in Monrovia in 1891 as St. Luke’s Mission, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church built its present home in the city in 1923. St. Luke’s is a diverse community whose members have discovered in God a oneness greater than their differences. (Official text)



Photo, top right: Trombone by Derek Bridges [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons



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