Painful as it might be, imagine for a moment that you are sitting in church or synagogue. The priest or rabbi or shaman or whoever is droning on, the congregation is intoning platitudes in that zombie monotone, worshipers are standing in unison, growing tired, sitting, standing, kneeling, bowing, standing. All the while you wish to God you could be playing ball or reading or doing a crossword puzzle or watching TV -- something to relieve the boredom -- or just returning to sleep.
Well, as it turns out, the neighborhood house of worship doesn't have to be so somniferous. For the past 12 years, Milwaukee congregation Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun has been bringing the blues to the Jews, thanks to innovative-minded Cantor Ron Eichaker. He initiated a series of concerts in the sanctuary by the renowned Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, a group known for professionalism and chops heads above the standard collegiate jazz program. The NIU jazz students are so good, in fact, that they had no problem convincing famous jazzmen to jam with them at the temple.
Special guests Louie Bellson, Jon Faddis, Tito Puente, Slide Hampton and James Moody have ascended the bima at various well-received concerts. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the student group is directed by bass legend and St. Louis native Ron Carter.
The good news is that Cantor Eichaker has relocated to Chesterfield's United Hebrew Congregation, and he's bringing his jazz angels with him. On Sunday, trumpeter Melton Mustafa, a Florida-based big-band leader and veteran of both Count Basie's and Duke Ellington's orchestras, joins the NIU jazzmen in the pulpit of the West County Reform Jewish temple. KMOX's Don Wolff emcees the affair.
Before the concert, Mustafa, Carter and the collegiate musicians lead a workshop for jazz bands from local high schools Chaminade, Metro High, St. Dominic, Normandy, University City and Parkway Central. After a cram session to learn one of Mustafa's tunes, they will perform it with their mentors at the evening concert.
Expect a packed house, thanks to Cantor Ron "the Jazz Singer" Eichaker, who is importing badly needed beauty to the often flat experience of organized religion.
The Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble with Melton Mustafa performs at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 16, at United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Rd. at Woods Mill Road. Call 469-0700 for tickets.