Jazz Is Minister's Other Calling


Time brings about change for everybody, and that includes Tom Vaughn.

A couple of decades ago, Vaughn was Rector Thomas Vaughn, the head minister at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, an Episcopal church on Winnetka Avenue in Canoga Park. At the same time, he was also known as Father Tom Vaughn, an active jazz pianist who had several albums out on the RCA, Capitol and Concord Jazz labels.

These days, Vaughn, 60, is no longer at St. Martin. He left in 1984 when he needed double hip replacements. "The bishop of the diocese advised me to retire, but I'm still an available priest. I do weddings, funerals, counseling," he said.

Vaughn, a native of Benton, Ky., spent his adolescence in Pontiac, Mich. He came to St. Martin's in 1968 and currently lives in Northridge with his wife, Bev. They have three children.

Another shift is that Vaughn now rarely plays in public. Once a Valley jazz regular who could be heard at Donte's or Carmelo's, Vaughn these days performs, by his count, about once a year. That makes his appearance tonight at Monteleone's in Tarzana something of an occasion. The band will definitely be special: bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Jake Hanna, both high-level stalwarts of the jazz scene.


Vaughn has eschewed the spotlight, he said, because "it interferes with my practicing time." He laughed uproariously before adding, "I don't know that I wanted to be in public in the first place. I wanted to perform, but I didn't want notoriety."

Fate had other things in mind. Vaughn, who began playing at 5, was raised in a family of pianists. His mother was his first teacher, his grandmother played, and his uncle, Robert Wade, was rehearsal pianist for the San Francisco and New York ballet companies.

Jazz came Vaughn's way at age 12 when Art Tatum, the great jazz pianist, was visiting Vaughn's teacher, Harold Deremier, and played a bit. "That was amazing," Vaughn says, and in a couple of years, he was playing at jam sessions in Detroit with such future notables as guitarist Kenny Burrell, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Elvin Jones. By 1964, Vaughn had also managed to pick up a doctorate in theology from the Yale Divinity School.

Discovered by impresario George Wein, Vaughn was signed to RCA Victor Records in 1965. He soon made his first album, "Live at the Village Gate" with Jones, who had by then played with John Coltrane, as had Art Davis, the bassist on the recording. In 1966, the pianist opened for Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival. "That was pretty scary," he said. Vaughn also appeared on numerous talk shows, played clubs all over the Eastern U.S., and eventually worked hundreds of college dates. It was a bit overwhelming at times. "I was this priest that played jazz, but I wasn't as much a sensational player as I was a sensation."

In recent years, Vaughn has slowed down his pace, occasionally working a club or an out-of-town jazz festival. He spends three or four hours a day at the piano both interpreting the classic works of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin and improvising jazz. Vaughn calls himself a "main streamer who offers a combination of blues and bebop. I have my own thing. I don't hear anyone that plays like me."

Vaughn says that playing jazz gives him something he can't get anywhere else. "That feeling, when it's right, there's nothing better--carnality, food, throw it all out the window," he said. "When I get in a groove, I'm detached, almost like losing consciousness, like flying some sort of super aircraft. It's close to an out-of-body experience."

* Tom Vaughn appears tonight, 7:30 to 11:30 p.m., at Monteleone's West, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. No cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum. Information: (818) 996-0662.


Redman on the Upswing: The last time tenor saxophone ace Joshua Redman was in our area--playing at Cal State Northridge in late spring--he had just added guitarist Peter Bernstein to his long-standing quartet of Peter Martin (piano), Chris Thomas (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). The five-piece band played just fine, but now, six months later, the group has really come together, said its 27-year-old leader.

"The more you play with a group of musicians, and get to know them both as people and as musicians, the more you are able to communicate on a spontaneous, intuitive level," said Redman, who appears Sunday at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center. "These players and I have worked so much this year that we can reach a certain level of inspiration on a fairly consistent basis. . . . That's what we strive for."

* Joshua Redman appears Sunday, 7 p.m., at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, 44933 N. Fern Ave., Lancaster. Tickets $16-$18. Information: 805-723-5950

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