July  2005 CJA Network Newsletter Featured Interview III

Stewart Gott from the OnFire Big Band

 1) Tell us how and why you came to organize a Christian Big Band?

Stewart: OnFire Big Band (OFBB) was formed after some church members watched a video of the Brentwood Jazz Orchestra and were inspired to start a similar group.  Being from the Salvation Army, we had several well respected trumpet and trombone players, and a reasonable rhythm section, but lacked any decent saxophone players.  So a proposal was put to the church elders to purchase a set of saxophones, along with 12 months lessons. The Salvation Army has a great history in making music to praise God, and to attract people to the gospel message.  OFBB was formed to continue that tradition, with the added aspect of personal expression through improvisation.

The mission of the On Fire Big Band is two-fold: First, to attract the jazz listening public of Australia to the message of Christ. Second, to enhance the worship experience within their church (and the Australasian church at large).
2) How long has your band been playing?

Stewart:  OFBB was formed in Feb 1993 - so that makes it just over 12 years
3) Are you able to be booked in a lot of churches?

Stewart: OFBB are able to be booked for all sorts of church functions.  We have been booked as an evangelism tool during local jazz festivals, as a feature for a Saturday night social or concert, and to lead worship for weekly church services. No reasonable gig is declined. Funny, when you talk about gigs in churches, the smaller churches are the one's willing to work with us.  Most of the larger churches in Australia don't see that we fit their preferred music approach, or fit their style…(and yet, they are investigating the idea of creating their own big bands!).  
4) Share with us what your typical church concert might be like?

Stewart: A typical church concert with OFBB is packed with the following elements:
Big Bold brassy band features, solo instrumental features, arrangements of well known (and not so well known) gospel songs, soaring vocals ranging from jazz standards to smooth ballads and funky gospel tunes, all charts mixed with improvised solos, testimonies from the band, and a presentation of the gospel.

5) How did you meet trumpeter James Morrison...does he play any church concerts with you??

Stewart: OFBB's band leader, Gavin Staines, went to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with James.  So the introduction was rather simple. Gavin teaches at a local high school, and his band had been doing several concerts with James.  Gavin felt that OFBB were up to the challenge of playing with such an amazing musician - so we contacted his management and went from there.  That was about 5 years ago. James and OnFire have played in concerts together several times a year since then.  Over the past 2 years, OnFire have toured with James over elongated weekends.  James and OnFire have been playing in churches and clubs (while working with the local churches).  Several times, we have lead full worship services - amazing times of praise and inspiration.
6) You also share the stage with the excellent Christian Jazz Vocal Ensemble, "The Idea Of North". Blending in some jazz vocals along with instrumentals is a very good combination...how does it work out for you?

The Idea of North is an amazing group.  When they perform, it is very easy to get lost in their vocals and miss your cues.  The 2 hardest things while working with The Idea of North is ensuring you have the right mix in the auditorium, and finding music that suits both groups. My personal dream is to get many more Christian charts arranged for both groups in the 'Manhattan Transfer' style and do a recording.  
7) What would you like to say to encourage other Christian Big Bands, Ensembles, ect. about being Christian jazzers, spreading the good news and being jazzed about it?

The grooves that big band jazz brings are infectious - they penetrate the soul.  Mix those grooves with the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ and you not only move people, you can change their life. Jazz is a great conversation starter - very quickly you can address a person's spiritual state while discussing the music. Continue to build relationships with people and bring them closer to God - one day, you may even lead them to a full understanding of Jesus Christ and what He has done to redeem all mankind.  
8) What is one of the most meaningful spiritual experiences you have had playing with your band?

Late November last year - Starting the Ross Irwin arrangement of 'Amazing Grace' on flugel horn during an altar call - just me alone in front of the band.  That night as I played the words were fresh in my mind, and as I played, the Holy Spirit moved in my life, convicting me of many sins.  There I stood with tears streaming down my face as I played.  It seemed ages before the rest of the band joined in.  As we finished the piece, the congregation was silent, some also in tears, obviously moved into closer communion with God.

(Stewart Gott also plays trumpet in the Band)


 More information on The OnFire Big Band can be found here: