Abyssinian Church turns 200

April 8, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
A big anniversary celebrating 200 years of a landmark in Harlem. The Abyssinian church. It's been a six month labor of love between a great musician and a legendary preacher. Wynton Marsalis and Reverend Calvin Butts tell me they walked into this project feeling excited but also a bit anxious. This piece of work was uncharted territory for both, but in the end turned out to be second nature.

"He's been talking about doing a collaboration for years and we can just never do it because he's a very busy man," says Rev. Calvin Butts.

The men, Wynton Marsalis and Rev. Calvin Butts, who are long time friends and now creators of a masterpiece. The fusion of jazz and gospel rooted in the African American tradition.

"I knew it would reflect the form of service and have the theme of universal humanism that's what I was interested in," says Marsalis.

It is a musical and spiritual extravaganza, written and developed by the men.

Eyewitness News' Kemberly Richardson sat in on a final run through.

The work was specially created as Abyssinian celebrates its 200th anniversary.

Initially started by a resilient group who refused to allow racially segregated seating in church it would, over the years, become a place of solace, a culture institution, under the leadership of greats like Adam Clayton Powell sr., his son and now Rev. Butts who like the musical genius knew it was time for something special.

"We're going to have a congregational feeling in the beginning, our trombones are playing and people saying yes, lord and the choir coming down the aisles and a processional. We have people standing up in the audience giving testimonials during the prayer and rev, is going to come out and preach a magnificent sermon and we've constructed the music to the sermon that can be improvised, I keep telling him we got him because we improvised that's our job we like to follow like the unpredictable things to happen," adds Marsalis.

The Abyssinian's choir will perform along side the jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a work that weaves together mass, music, mankind and two friends who, though they joke, deeply admire one another.

Butts adds, "I'm up in I getting ready to preach and I see Winton all over the place, with more hair of course and I said this is wonderful it is going to be great."

For tickets, go to www.jalc.org or call (212) 721-6500.