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Nov 21, 2017 | Paulette E. Martin

Pianist Adds Emotion & Soul to Contemporary Jazz Service at St. James’, Houston

The lively and vibrant contemporary jazz service at St. James’, Houston would not be possible without their pianist, John Torres. For seventeen years he has graced members there with his music.

Torres, a native Houstonian with Mexican roots grew up in Fifth Ward. He credits El Crisol (now Denver Harbor), a predominantly black neighborhood a place where he fell in love with music.

“I wanted to be a jazz musician,” Torres said. “I lived off Liberty Road which was one of the roots of rhythm, blues and jazz. And of course, I was also influenced by the mariachi music my parents would listen to.”

Torres aims to incorporate emotion and soul to the music he creates—something he feels mariachi music transmits to him.

“The spirit that’s in mariachi music—the soul, you know—that is something that I use,” Torres said.He began to play the piano at the age of nine, later, he learned how to play the saxophone, clarinet and flute. His favorite instrument up to this day is the piano.

“The piano it’s the ultimate instrument. It has everything. See, the piano is actually a rhythm instrument because of the hammer striking the strings. But then has all the harmony,” he explained.

Although Torres knew he had talent at an early age, he admits he failed to recognize his talent was a gift of God in his mid 30s, which contributed to a music hiatus.

“I became very frustrated, a lot of things happened so I stopped playing completely. Sometimes I would play a little bit here and there but it wasn’t with my heart—I would just do it because I needed the money,” Torres said.

His sister’s illness followed by an inspirational service at the Catholic Charismatic Center, which he went with his family to pray for her, became a turning point for Torres in his music career.

“I felt something very strong—something woke up in me. They had a group playing—and there was a piano there, so I went to the piano and I started to play. And at that point, I let go of my fears,” Torres said.

Coincidentally, that same day, Torres said a woman approached and asked him if he was interested in playing at another church where they were looking for a pianist.

“That is when I became a church musician,” Torres said.

Torres started to play the piano at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church and then every fourth and fifth Saturdays he would play at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church during their Saturday vigil mass.

Later, after learning that St. James’ Episcopal Church was looking for a saxophone player, he decided to join their music group. When their pianist decided to leave, Torres took his spot and has been playing the piano there for seventeen years.

Kathy H. Culmer, active member of St. James’ for more than twenty years helped form the contemporary jazz service. She has witnessed the evolution of the music group as well as the member’s response to the music over the years.

“It has enriched the worship experience for people, they are far more engaged. Before, the service was divided, but now the music has become part of worshipping,” Culmer adds.

Torres describes playing for St. James’ not easy, but rather a very involved service. Playing during their contemporary-jazz service becomes an oasis for Torres.

“Every time I come here to play, I get better. I know that’s because it’s a gift of God, because to God nothing is impossible, but infinite. So the limitations were limitations I had placed on myself,” Torres said.

John Torres and the contemporary jazz group play at St. James’, Houston every Sunday at 11:30 a.m.