Jazz musicians are playing and swinging and getting merry like Christmas this month at Olympia’s First Christian Church. Fridays at the First, the church’s annual series of free noontime Advent concerts, continues through Dec. 17, offering a mix of tunes including a few seasonal ones.
“Liturgically, Advent is a time of waiting,” said Leah Wilson, who has produced the concerts since the church began hosting them in 2000. “It’s a time of reflection, meditation, contemplation. In other words, it’s a time not be driven crazy by the frenzy of Christmas shopping. The original intent was to provide an opportunity for people to leave the business and the busyness of this preparation behind, to relax and hear some good music. We wanted it to be uplifting for their souls.”
Though they’ve shifted from mostly Christmas music in the early days to a jazz focus in recent years, the concerts continue to provide a pause amid the holiday bustle. Even COVID couldn’t stop the music, which happened online in 2020.
Season 21 — live and in person — began Friday, Nov. 26, with Brazilian acoustic ensemble Choro Tomorrow and continues with The Chuck Stentz Saxophone Quartet (Dec. 3), pianist David Deacon-Joyner and bassist Clipper Anderson (Dec. 10), and The Ben Martin Quartet (Dec. 17).
The focus on jazz makes sense given that Wilson is also president of Olympia Jazz Central, the nonprofit that (pre-pandemic) produced Monday night jazz shows at Rhythm & Rye. “The last several years, I have been scheduling some of my very best musician friends — jazz friends — as part of this,” she told OLY ARTS.
Though the 60 attendees wore masks and no refreshments were served, the season’s first concert felt just like old times, Wilson told OLY ARTS. “It was fabulous,” she said. “The audience was thrilled.” Attendees are invited to donate to the performers, she added; and Choro Tomorrow gave all the money collected to the church, which hosts both the Interfaith Works Shelter and the New Hope Community tiny-house village.
After more than two decades of putting together the concert series — and this year, doing all the work solo — Wilson, who also teaches handbells and leads handbell choirs, isn’t tired of the task. “It’s just a really fun thing, and the people who come truly enjoy it, so it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s work, but it’s work that I love.”
Fridays at the First
Noon – 1 p.m. Dec. 3, 10 and 17
First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE, Olympia
Free (donations to musicians appreciated)