by Kara Hansen
LEAWOOD — From the president to the pope, musician Ron Gutierrez has appeared before some prestigious audiences.
His next scheduled performance will be at slightly smaller venue — but one he’s just as excited about.
Along with world-famous guitarist and fellow Curé parishioner Rod Fleeman, Gutierrez will be performing at a benefit concert at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood on Oct. 26 from 7:30-9:30 p.m.
The concert is entitled “Hymns in the Key of Jazz.” It is open to the public, free of charge, though a freewill offering will be taken up for an organization called Heroes to Hometown.
A lifelong Catholic, Gutierrez grew up in Topeka and was a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church and a graduate of Hayden High School. He went on to be- come a nationally known jazz vocalist who performed with the U.S. Army Chorale and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
As a musician, Gutierrez had the opportunity to play for a wide variety of audiences around the country. Early on in his career, he decided there would be certain limits to the kinds of music he would do.
“I won’t perform a song my eight-year-old daughter can’t pop in a CD and listen to because of its content,” said Gutierrez.
Before moving to the Kansas City area, Gutierrez attended a historically African-American church in Arlington, Va. He was involved in the music ministry of the parish, which had a traditional gospel choir.
“The congregation loved it. We were able to frame some of the hymns in more of a jazz style, and the people really responded well to that,” said Gutierrez.
Since then, Gutierrez had carried in his mind the idea of doing an album of Catholic hymns in that style of music. He describes the style as “positive and sophisticated” songs most Catholics would be familiar with, just spun in a more contemporary style.
“All the songs are from hymnals and are ones all Catholics attending Mass would recognize,” he said.
When Curé of Ars music director Ellen Tuttle suggested doing a concert at the church, it was an ideal venue.
“It’s a great opportunity to share this type of music with people and record all at once,” said Gutierrez.
He is especially excited about the benefit piece of the concert because funds will go to the Heroes to Hometown group.
The organization, administered through the American Legion, provides funds for severely injured members of the military who are returning home from active duty.
“As a veteran, the idea of [our concert] benefiting this program really clicked with me. They fill in the gaps in [medical] service for servicemen who are medically discharged,” said Gutierrez. “The money we raise through the concert will also stay in the Kansas City area, which is nice to know [that] it’s being used to help people locally.”
Gutierrez recognizes that Catholics of good conscience disagree on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he maintains that the benefit concert has a broader scope than opinions and feelings on the war itself.
“We’re asking people simply to support individuals who are coming back to our country paralyzed and missing limbs. It is our mission as Christians to reach out and help our brothers and sisters in need,” he said.
Between the opportunity to hear good music and the chance to help others, Gutierrez thinks it’s a win-win situation.
“I would like people to leave the concert thinking it was awesome, that they heard songs they have never heard before. Hopefully they will really like it and want to hear more,” he said. “The hope is people will come away from the concert knowing they contributed to something good and positive.”