Landmark jazz album has roots in D.C. church

Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – The only jazz album ever to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s pop charts was recorded in the District 50 years ago — not at a soundproof recording studio, but in a modest church hall at the corner of 16th and Harvard streets in Northwest.

“Jazz Samba,” featuring local guitar great Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz on saxophone, was recorded Feb. 13, 1962 in Pierce Hall at All Souls Church. The Verve label released it April 20 of the same year.

The album introduced the masses to samba and bossa nova, and remained on Billboard’s charts for 70 weeks.

Charlie Byrd wasn’t planning on recording at the still-open, now-aging church, which is scheduled for renovation this year.

“They were looking at a different venue — the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street,” says music historian and musician Ken Avis.

“They discovered there was a bus stop outside, and so the noise of the buses was too much for recording,” says Avis.

Avis says Byrd was a member of All Souls Church, and was granted permission to record the album in the hall.

Setting up on the raised stage, with few microphones, the album was recorded live to stereo in a total of three hours.

“There were no effects, just the natural reverb of this room. Stan Getz flew down from New York for the session, and he got on a plane the same day and flew back home,” says Avis.

Avis and bandmates in the Véronneau combo will pay tribute to the legendary recording, hosting the Jazz Samba Golden Anniversary Event at All Souls Church on May 20.

Before recording their upcoming CD, vocalist Lynn Véronneau says the band came to the space where history was made.

“It was really fun for us to be able to rehearse here, and soak in the vibe here,” says Véronneau.

Check out a promo for the anniversary event below:

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