Playing Jazz For God

Soteria head pastor Mike Rydman leads worship — with the gospel and a little jazz.

People generally don’t associate church with jazz music. But at Soteria (Greek for salvation) — a small, but growing missional church in Everett, WA — they do worship just a little differently from everybody else.

Nothing at Soteria is traditional or ordinary, and that’s just the way head pastor Mike Rydman and pastor of worship Chuck Hickman like it. Both are avid jazz-heads, experienced musicians, and men of God.

A valve-trombonist who eschews listening to syrupy Christian music radio, Rydman believes only half-jokingly that God prefers to hear jazz above all other genres during worship. Music pastor and saxophonist Hickman has been in more than a few secular jazz, blues and funk bands of his own.

Under Hickman’s leadership, Soteria has amassed quite the jazz collective of experienced, well-known musicians (guitarists Art Bromage and Mike McGee, keyboardist Ed Weber, bassist Marc Miller, drummers Brad Boal and Ken French) who’ve performed with a who’s who in jazz, like Ernie Watts, Freddie Hubbard, Darren Motamedy, The Count Basie Big Band, Jimmy Borges, Anne Hampton Callaway, Nancy King, Steve Gilmore, Tommy Walker, and Bill Watrous.

Together, the Northwest Jazz Collective — formed in 2003 — has performed in church and some unlikely non-church venues, for free, while making quite a name for itself. These jazz musicians are used to playing well-known venues for some serious coin. But for Soteria, and more importantly, for Jesus, they’ve laid aside the tab to volunteer their time, energy, and musicianship to serve the community of Everett and beyond.

Hickman emphasized that while the musicianship of these jazz musicians is unparalleled, they’re not doing this to glorify themselves. Name-dropping, bragging, and acting like big jazz deals is so far from the Collective’s radar. It’s God and fellowship that draw these players together and keep them jamming. “Our connectivity was mainly instigated through church music and not necessarily jazz,” explained Pastor Hickman. “The Jazz Collective is more of an extension of God’s church than it is a group on its own. Soteria Church subsidizes the performances of the group, so that money is not the prime motivation for performing. The group is built on a common love of God and music, and it

doesn’t hurt that we are all the best of friends. Being such great friends with a common purpose gives us a strength that many groups can only hope for. We really do enjoy each other’s company on and off the stage.”

The Collective, as Hickman mentions frequently, is made up of followers of God (who just happen to be fantastic musicians). Many of the members have been friends for a long time. Hickman and wife Kathleen (who, also, with middle daughter Rochelle, sings in the band) have known guitarist Mike McGee through church for over 20 years. McGee, who can often be found in the orchestra pit of the latest traveling Broadway musical, is also a part of the church music staff. Drummer Brad Boal — a respected and known name around the Pacific Northwest — has been a Hickman family friend for eight years. Pianist Ed Weber and bassist Marc Miller — both names in the music business in their own right — joined the tight-knit clan five, four years ago.

The aim of Soteria’s Northwest Jazz Collective is simple. They want to continue serving God and the community by giving free concerts and free music clinics for local area schools.

Besides doing church at Soteria every Sunday at 10 a.m., the Collective performs in downtown Everett’s Alligator Soul Restaurant every fourth Wednesday of every month, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Most recently this summer, they were a part of Everett’s Music on the Plaza, alongside other diverse, local talent. No hardline preaching, no secret agenda to convert the masses, just good, old-fashioned worship, through some jazz.

God works in mysterious ways.

Article first appeared Sept. 13, 2009 in Examiner.