Jazz musicians entertain us with their spontaneity and improvisatory prowess. They are highly creative when it comes to improvising a tune, but yet they are extremely disciplined when it comes to their art. Their reverence for music is almost religious. The best of these musicians spend hours listening to music, understanding the intricacies of rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic structure. They know the history of music like the back of their hand, and they feel their place in the lineage of the legendary greats very deeply.
Julian Pressley is such a person. His improvisations on alto sax are inspired and edgy, but behind these imaginative trips into tunes lay the heart of a master musician. The Somerset resident was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Hammonton, NJ. It was the school band that gave him his start on sax – baritone sax. His Dad was a music lover, so there was always a lot of listening happening at home. It started with Count Basie and the other big bands, and progressed to Be-Bop. His Dad followed all the bands, even dressed like a jazz musician, and soon Julian was hooked on the music too.
Julian earned himself a scholarship to Florida A&M University. This is the place where he learned about discipline and “getting your act together.” The band was rehearsing eight hours a day. And it wasn’t unusual to see the percussion section out on the field at 2:00 A.M. Julian said this discipline prepared him for life on the road. He also switched from baritone to alto sax.
He set out for life as a jazz musician, and while working, he learned from those around him. Julian was fortunate to come up at a time when learning jazz was less of an academic pursuit and more of “on-the-job” training. “Music is all about traps – the people I worked with took the time to give me advice.” He made his way onto the Philadelphia scene, playing with the Edgar Bateman band, and quickly made a name for himself. Julian has toured and recorded with many jazz musicians, such as Lionel Hampton and Freddie Hubbard and has also backed such artists as the Four Tops and Temptations.
The advice he gives to younger players point to the reverence for music that he has. “They should learn the history of the instrument, the role that instrument plays in the band. They should take the time to learn the Great American Songbook, and really learn the music.” Good advice from one of the current jazz masters.
For a taste of Julian’s improvisations, see the video below:
It has been said that singing is praying twice. The parishioners of St. Matthias are certainly praying a lot with a music ministry that is in full swing. Eleven different ensembles meet for rehearsal during the week and are overseen by Joan Best Seamon, the Director of Music.
It takes a very gifted musician to grow a music ministry that large. Joan is an outstanding musician, and she also provides a warm and inviting forum for church members to express and share their gift of music, whether that person is a professional or amateur.
She was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father's job moved the family to many locales, but they finally settled in Somerset. Joan's love of music prompted her to become a Music Education major at Douglass College, where she studied piano with Maria Valgoczy. Joan also took a Masters Degree in Music History and Theory at Rutgers.
St. Matthias has always been Joan's parish. The Director of Music job opened in 1978. Joan began a career that would enable her to grow as a musician and provide a platform for others to express themselves through music. At the beginning, the Adult Choir, the Children's Choirs and a folk group were the ensembles in place. Joan found ways to include other forms of musical expression, such as the Umoja Imani Songsters Gospel Choir, the Filipino American Association Choir, a Handbell choir and a Youth Handbell Choir, and the "150" Central Praise Band.
It is sometimes hard to separate music from spirituality. Music has a tremendous power to touch the human spirit. Joan keeps finding ways to keep that spirit alive. The "150" Central Praise Band and the Children’s Choir recently performed at the Franklin Middle School to benefit a school in Tanzania, aiding the work of Sister Mary Vertucci, a Maryknoll sister whose family are longtime parishioners of St. Matthias.
Joan lends a creative touch to the music ministry by combining choirs from time to time to give members a chance to sing with others. She has commissioned new music. Chris Rath, the Assistant Choir Director, set to music the Parish Mission Statement. Joan beams at the talent that is all around her. Of course, this talent would have no outlet without the vision of the pastor of St. Matthias Church, Reverend Douglass J. Haefner, and the nurturing Joan provides. Those wishing to be a part of a great musical experience can find a home with Joan's encouragement. This is music ministry at its best.