The show was curiously called “Jazzin’ It Up for Lupus,” which seems almost an oxymoron when you place the term Jazz alongside the disease’s dreaded symptoms. But it also had another name–the “9th annual Jazz Gospel Benefit Concert.”

Held Saturday evening at the California African American Museum with about 150 persons in attendance, the concert might have left the uninitiated wondering what they had just witnessed.

Turns out it was something deliriously wonderful.

After an introduction by Liz Shaw-Stabler, founder and executive director of the Center for Lupus Care Inc., singer Lisa Houston got things rolling with her version of the Lord’s Prayer that was as marvelously jazzy as it was reverential.

“Come on, put your hands together for Jesus tonight,” she exclaimed as she ended the number.

“We are healed in the name of Jesus.”

As for the rest of the concert, some had never heard a song treated the way Dwight Trible contorted the old Duke Ellington tune, “In the Beginning, God.” If nothing else, Trible’s anguished sounds and movements put one in mind of a woman in the throes of childbirth. Trible’s style is as much theater as it is jazz styling. It is as much a delight to the eyes as it is to the ears. It is so idiosyncratic that, but for the lyrics, one might be hard put to recognize the song, as in his treatment of “Wild as the Wind” and the Bill Withers’ classic, “Grandma’s Hands.” Both were engagingly sung.

Similarly, one would be disappointed if they expected the sweet, demure Karen Briggs to play sweetly and demurely on her electric violin. She’s certainly capable, having played four years with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

She bowed the violin as if she were trying to hurt it, or at least see how much punishment it could take. Briggs made it wail, cry and scream like an animal in distress–eeeeeoowww! weeeeowwww! But it was music to all ears, so much so that she received several ovations.

The program notes called Justo Almario “a multitalented master saxophonist, flutist, clarinetist, composer, arranger and clinician.” He was that and more. He led audience participation on a wonderful rendition of the old Bobby Timmons’ tune, “Moaning,” where the audience had to repeat the words, “Yes, Lord.” No youngster, the Columbia-born Almario once served as musical director for the great Mongo Santamaria. These days he teaches saxophone in the Jazz department at UCLA.

The sextet was rounded out by Mark de Clive-Lowe on piano, Trevor Ware on bass and Dexter Story on drums, all three accomplished musicians with extensive resumes.

“Griot and poet” Isaac Sundiata, served as MC. One of the youngest members of the Watts Writers Workshop, he introduced a poem called “Thanks and Praises.” It was clearly a paean to the Almighty.

In her welcome, Shaw-Stabler told the audience, “Our motto is someone you know has lupus.”
“How many of you know someone with lupus?” she asked.

Almost everyone in the room raised their hands.

Shaw-Stabler said she had been battling the disease for 33 years. “African American women are diagnosed with this disease more than anyone else,” said the executive director, adding that she wanted everyone there to know exactly what the disease is about.

“For some strange reason, lupus patients develop something called antigens that fight against our white blood cells,” she said. The disease affects critical areas of the body, including all the major organs–the brain, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the skin, the skeletal system.

“You’re either in a flare or in remission, she said. “We’re not sick all the time. It comes, and it goes.”

The Center for Lupus Care has the facts and a concern for the people. They can be contacted at www.center4lupuscare.org or get more information at www.CouldIHaveLupus.gov.