Tony Cummings spoke to Jonny Boston of the pioneering band JONNY & THE JAZZUITS
In recent years there has been a steady trickle of jazz gospel releases but few have been as thoroughly convincing as the album 'Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs' by the wonderfully named Jonny & The Jazzuits. This four-piece band, led by the fine saxophonist Jonny Boston, are based in the Netherlands though in fact Jonny is English. He explained, "I was born in Suffolk; I was only there for about six months, because I moved around a lot. My dad was a pilot. He started off in the RAF, then he went into commercial flying. I moved around a little bit as we were growing up - probably more in Sussex than anywhere else - went to Christ's Hospital, where they wear really old uniforms. It's a Christian school: there's a chapel there and I sang in the choir."
Jonny became a professional musician at the tender age of 18. He said, "I was spotted on the Underground by a guy called Phil Mason who played in a band called Max Collie's Rhythm Aces. That was when I first started going around Europe playing in jazz festivals and clubs. The bass player, Trevor 'Fingers' Williams, was the first born-again believer I'd ever seen. I knew him before and after - just a really amazing difference in somebody. One minute he was saying lots of naughty jokes and all the stuff that goes along with it, then suddenly he was somebody completely different. All of us in the band couldn't believe it; we thought, 'How long before he falls back into his old ways?' But he didn't. Trevor was praying for me for about seven years. We were in a church in Norway doing negro spirituals with a singer called Pauline Pierce, and that was when I first encountered the Lord. That was August 1998. It was an amazing feeling. I'd taken drugs and drink, sex and all the rest of it, and on that day the Lord revealed to me, to my heart, that he is the forgiver of all things; he can supply all my needs and desires."
Unfortunately the years after Jonny's spiritual experience weren't easy for him. He explained, "What happened was, when I first came to faith, I got involved with a church that was talking a lot about Hell and damnation, and not enough about grace and salvation and Heaven. It had a bad effect on me: I ended up getting sick. My mother particularly was really worried about me with faith; she was always making the connection that me getting ill would be something to do with church, or with me and the Lord. That created a few problems. Also, I had a Dutch girlfriend and that relationship didn't help me spiritually."
A critically acclaimed saxophonist, Jonny recorded the albums 'What's Waiting?' in 2004 plus an EP with his quartet, 'Alexander' (2005). The Lord impacted Jonny again on Christmas day 2006. He vividly remembered, "I was listening to Radio 2, Terry Wogan; I was expecting to hear Christmas carols, but he played 'I Will Sing' by Don Moen. I heard the lyrics and it really felt like God was using the whole of Radio 2 to get to me. It still took a while for my girlfriend and I to split up - another year - then I thought, 'I need to get right with the Lord before I get involved with somebody else who doesn't believe, and I have to go through the whole problem again'. It was March 2010 when I looked on the internet for an Alpha course or something - ended up at Crossroads International Church, which is in Amstelveen. I've been going there for the last five years. Within three months I got baptised there, and I've been going for it."
As well as playing sax Jonny is a pretty good singer. He said, "Only this weekend I'm in Denmark with a band called The Revivalists. They asked me, 'Jonny, do you want to sing as well?' I said, 'I'll just sing spirituals.' I've got this outlet now. What I do also is I tend to improvise with lyrics, so I start singing about the cross or about the blood. People are getting touched. You get interesting conversations afterwards. Other musicians that have known me from the days I used to drink a lot, used to party, I'm able to talk to them afterwards and say, 'I've found something that's much more beneficial - for my health, for a start.' Being filled with the Holy Spirit is never going to do you any harm!"
The Jazzuits have been going for about three years. Jonny ran through the lineup: "Tom Nieuwenhuijse - he's a drummer, late-20s. I've known Tom for a while; he's involved in a church down in Tilburg, CLC - great, humble guy, loves the Lord. The two of us started this thing off. He's playing in different kinds of groups, doing various different things. Next is Mark van der Feen, the pianist, from a Christian family - five brothers, and they've all got the gift of music. Mark's great, a wonderful player; he's played with lots of great musicians in Holland and abroad. Then there's Maurits den Hollander - he's recently joined our group. Our previous bass player, Laurents, just got too busy with other stuff."
Jonny continued, "We haven't had many gigs as yet, because we've only just got round to doing this CD. We played at the Enkhuizen Jazz Festival in Holland. They have this Gospel & Glory celebration on a Sunday morning. People come along, they want to hear the negro spirituals, they want to clap along. There's some of those kind of opportunities, as well as playing at weddings. I do see it as really good for us, when we play at jazz festivals, we have this opportunity - a Sunday jazz church kind of thing, where the local church connects with the jazz musicians. When I've been asked to do that, it's been awesome. One time, we played in an equivalent to Church of England - it was a little bit high church - and the pastor was saying to the congregation, 'This guy's preaching more than I am!' He was going on about peace - 'Hey, we're all in this together' - and I was thinking, 'Yeah, but you've got to tell them about the cross: there's no other way.' So I love to have the opportunity to talk, to share."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.