Jazz Vespers

Join Christ Church on selected Sundays between September and May for this musical celebration of Evening Prayer.  Fr. John McDuffie on tenor saxophone leads a quartet of great Washington musicians on keyboard, bass and drums, playing modern jazz standards selected to reflect the liturgical season.

Upcoming Jazz Vespers Dates

The next Jazz Vespers services will be held Sunday, May 7 at 5:00 p.m. A free-will offering will benefit the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys in Southeast D.C. Featuring the Rev. John McDuffie on tenor sax and our Jazz Vespers Quartet – with special guest vocalist Juanita Williams!


Christ Church Rockville
109 S. Washington St.
Rockville, MD 20850
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Free (donation suggested)

The Rev. John McDuffie, Tenor Saxophone; Jim Levy, Piano; Dave Marsh, Bass; Coleman O'Donoghue, Drums.

About Jazz Vespers

Since 2008, Christ Church Rockville has been offering Sunday Jazz Vespers services. Typically there are six services in a calendar year—three in the winter and spring, and three in the fall. Inspired by the regular Sunday jazz vespers at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City, the Christ Church jazz vespers is the Episcopal Church liturgy of evening prayer, with well-known standards from the jazz repertoire taking the place of traditional service music and canticles. Two hymns are also a part of each service.

The Rev. John McDuffie, Rector of Christ Church, started jazz vespers after a sabbatical he took in 2007, underwritten by the Lily Foundation. Fr. McDuffie is a tenor saxophonist who was once active on the jazz scene in the Norfolk, Virginia area, and who has sat in at local jam sessions in the Washington, D.C. area for many years. Playing with Fr. McDuffie is a trio of well-known local jazz musicians. Pianist Jim Levy has been involved in many musical projects in Washington, and has been a member of the music faculty at George Washington University since 1984, where he started the University’s jazz studies program. Jim is also the organist and choir director at Rockville United Church. Bassist David Marsh is a member of the music faculty of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, Maryland, and has been active in playing, recording, and touring with local and nationally known artists of varied musical genres. Drummer Coleman O’Donoghue is the manager of the percussion department at Washington Music Center in Wheaton, and has also played and recorded with top local musicians.

How does jazz work as a medium for worship and spirituality? Once derided as “the devil’s music”, jazz has its roots in the spirituals and work songs of the African-American community. In formal harmonic structures, transcendent creativity realized through instrumental solos that are improvised. There is an orderly plan, but room for the life of the spirit to erupt in surprising ways. Theologian Elizabeth Johnston once said that God may be like a great jazz musician, in that God has an overarching compositional plan for the life of the world, but allows us, who are the members of God’s “band”, to freely improvise toward the realization of that plan. This is the dynamic essence of jazz, and when it becomes a part of worship, the creative and surprising power of the spirit of God is realized.

There are always surprises at Jazz Vespers—and there is always joy and delight. The energy of the congregation plays a vital role in each prayer, each reading of scripture, each hymn, and each tune that is played.

Jazz Vespers was originally supported by funds from Fr. McDuffie’s sabbatical grant from the Lilly Foundation. It is now largely supported by the generous gift of a parishioner and his wife. The service is free to attend!—but a free-will offering is always gratefully accepted to benefit ministries that are changing the lives of others in the world. Community Ministries of Rockville, Episcopal Relief and Development, Stop Hunger Now, and the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys are among the beneficiaries.

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