by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jazz concerts during the holidays are not all that unusual.
They’re seldom held, however, at the St. Mary’s Food Kitchen in Kansas City, Kansas.
But while much of the outside world spent Black Friday in holiday shopping mode, the guests at what is officially known as the Hot Lunch Services of the Wilhelmina Gills Service Center were enjoying a hearty noon meal — flavored with a little jazz.
The line of men, women and children ran deep — around the corner and down the hall. After a worker at the door handed each a ticket, diners filed through and were given plates filled with meat loaf, potatoes, and vegetables.
Despite the fact that the food kitchen filled quickly and the noise level rose accordingly, the clear, clean notes of jazz emanated distinctly from the far end of the hall.
The music was the gift of four young men whose paths crossed earlier in life. Some of them met in the church choir at Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Two met while in graduate school.
But all loved music — and they came to St. Mary’s to share that love.
Riley Day grew up in St. Paul Parish in Olathe, where he learned at a young age the importance of giving back. It was he who organized the event and invited his fellow musicians to join him for the special performance.
Dalton Williams, the trumpeter, readily agreed.
“There is an incredible irony to spending one day being thankful for what we have and then trampling each other to buy goods the next day,” said Williams. “That’s not what I’m about. This is an opportunity to give, and this is a good place to do it.”
To say their audience was appreciative is an understatement.
Many of the guests seemed entranced as the musicians played. Some closed their eyes and swayed; others tapped their feet. One man danced with his dinner plate in hand.
When each piece ended, the room erupted in applause.
“Music makes this wonderful meal so festive,” said one guest. “And they are really good.”
After the meal, many lingered to listen longer. Some reminisced about instruments they had played as children while others talked about jazz greats they had known.
As the musicians packed up, a few diners gathered around them to express their thanks and talk music.
“It was beautiful music. It took me away from my problems,” said one woman. “Music can do that for people.”
The young men then stayed to enjoy a meal with the remaining diners and volunteers, as well as share some thoughts about their work, their respective bands and their friendship.
“I really like to play with these guys,” said Day, the guitarist. “I like to do things for the community, and this was a good cause.”
A.J. Reyes, the keyboard player, enjoyed the appreciative audience.
“I really enjoyed playing music for these people, and I think they really enjoyed it, too,” he said.
“It is always the season to be giving back,” said drummer Tony Reyes. “I wasn’t doing anything else, so I thought I would do something good for others.”
And so, while others celebrated Black Friday in stores or on their computers, the food kitchen was filled with warm food, beautiful music and big smiles.
The last diner to leave put it best:
“Good meal . . . live music . . . yes, indeed!”