Jazz Vespers Sunday with Jean Chaumont: The unknown, world-renowned jazz guitarist in Lake Forest Park

Thursday, May 14, 2020

By Lorenzo Chiodo

If you’re looking for quality live jazz in the North Seattle area, you may find it in an unorthodox place: the Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church.

The Lake Forest Park and Shoreline areas are not strangers to live music — Third Place Commons is a hub for local arts and music, among other community-based endeavours; The Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Arts Council centers its mission on cultivating artistic and musical creativity in the community.

Jean Chaumont plays on his Eastman guitar in his practice space at home.
He was endorsed by Eastman as a solo-artist in 2015. Photo by Lorenzo Chiodo.

But of all places, the Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church seems to be the most unlikely for showcasing jazz talent. That’s where Jean Chaumont comes in — he has been directing the monthly jazz vespers program at LFPP since July 2019.

What brought a world class, French-born jazz guitarist to this area?

Chaumont grew up in the suburbs around Paris, where his mother was a guitarist / singer-songwriter. When he was young, a composer and family friend named Stéphane Butruille suggested Chaumont’s parents sign him up for music lessons. He saw that Chaumont had a natural affinity to music.

“I started with piano when I was 5 years old and was not very studious. My parents tried to bring me to lots of different teachers who were not having a lot of success having me practice what they were giving me. Then around 13 years old, as I was listening to more and more rock and blues, I got drawn to the guitar,” Chaumont says, sitting cross-legged on his couch.

It seems like he’s told this story a few times before.

“When I was 16 years old I was debating between going to graphic arts [school] — I wanted to do cartoons — or music. I was debating between the two because I was practicing my guitar a lot, and this time I was doing what the teachers wanted because I really enjoyed it,” Chaumont says.

Butruille helped him make this pivotal decision.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you enroll in jazz and learn harmony and improvisation with a teacher of that style, because it’s going to give you a pretty broad understanding of harmony and give you lots to chew on’ — so that’s what I did. I didn’t know much about it, I just enrolled,” Chaumont says.

The subtle smile growing from one corner of his mouth suggests that he’s happy with his choice.

Chaumont started his formal jazz studies at the ATLA music school in Paris, where his instructor was Serge Merlaud. He noticed Chaumont’s motivation and diligence as a student, and offered private lessons at his home.

Chaumont left ATLA after one year, and started private lessons with Merlaud.

“It was pretty incredible for me. I gained a lot of insights; he’s a fantastic player and really, pedagogically, he’s very patient and uplifting and funny. I mean, he’s a really fantastic human. So we hung out a lot and he also offered to do little duo gigs with him. 
So you know, I was 17 years old and my teacher would hire me to play duo with him in different setups, and for me it was very exciting,” Chaumont says.

Only a teenager, his résumé as a formidable guitarist in the contemporary French jazz scene grew and grew.

Chaumont started travelling with a gospel group, playing worship services and church conventions.

By 19 he was giving private lessons and mentoring students of his own. He was introduced to film scoring, and found an interest in composing, arranging and producing work for clients, ranging from short films and docuseries, to pop-rock albums.

He once played a concert with a gospel choir at the Stade de France, a stadium that seats roughly 10,000 more people than Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.

“Basically whatever work came my way, I said yes,” Chaumont says. Despite his quiet demeanor, he exudes gung-ho passion for jazz music.

In 2007, while playing monthly concerts at Le Pave D’Orsay with his trio “Goud”, Chaumont met his future wife Andrea, who was an American missionary in Paris at the time.

They married in 2011 and moved to New Jersey three years later when Andrea received a scholarship to earn a Master’s in Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

During their time in Princeton, Chaumont began working on his debut album, “The Beauty of Differences.”

The album was produced and released with Misfitme Music, founded by jazz and gospel musician Enoch Smith Jr., who happened to be a music director at the church where Andrea interned in New Jersey.

Every project released on the MisfitMe label has to have a service component.

“[Smith Jr.’s] concept is ‘we always ask money for supporting projects for artists, but as artists we can also support projects for the common good, and we need to be showing an example for society that we need to help each other,’ and so I thought it was genius,” Chaumont says.

Consequently, Chaumont does not profit from the album — all proceeds are given to the Villages in Partnership Organization to finance the excavation of wells in Malawi, Africa.

“As soon as I sell enough to build one well, we’ll build a well,” Chaumont said.

Upon the initial release however, it seemed as though the album would not sell at all — the first review was probably his worst.

“There were lots of things that were sour where it seemed like the guy was even mocking me a little bit. Mocking my vision; he was making fun of the cover, making fun of the fact that I was donating the proceeds,” Chaumont recalls gingerly.

This negativity was short-lived after he received a remarkable four-star review from DownBeat magazine.

“It felt affirming, validating. Like yeah, I might not be a virtuoso yet but I have a voice, and the professional industry is recognizing my voice, and agreeing that my voice matters, and that there is room for me on the market because I’m worth taking a space in the bible of jazz magazines. I felt like I'm a little bit part of the club,” Chaumont says, chuckling.

He hopes to record a second album in the future, and continues working on smaller projects, he said.

Right now he’s got a show lined up at RESONANCE, in the SOMA Towers in Bellevue this coming June, and gigs at the North City Bistro in Shoreline. He also continues to offer private lessons for students.

Jean Chaumont addresses the congregation during the Christmas-themed jazz vespers at LFPP, December 2019.
The Christmas vespers were a crowd pleaser because of the sing-along carols. Photo by David Walton.

After releasing his album in June 2018, the Chaumonts were on the move again when Andrea serendipitously landed a full-time position as the youth minister at Lake Forest Park Prebysterian Church.

LFPP Pastor Frank Baresel knew that Chaumont was a world-class guitarist and of his work in jazz vespers before.

“We were already aware that that was in his history but we didn’t force the issue. We just let him begin that conversation,” Baresel says.

Gina Walton is a regular attendee at LFPP. She first heard Chaumont’s musicianship at the first jazz vespers in July 2019, and now works with him on the jazz vespers committee at the church.

“Jean is quiet, passionate about music and community. Jean is very committed to putting together a vespers program with a theme, a purpose and wonderful musicians for each program. Jean also has a fabulous French accent,” Walton says.

Chaumont spearheaded the vespers project.

“I wanted to do something that was a bit more thoughtful with a theme of the day; with music that reinforced the theme, that is meaningful to the theme, and that could even be inspiration for reflection,” Chaumont explains.

Baresel and other members of the congregation at LFPP have assisted Chaumont in shaping his vision.

“We try to keep the themes fairly broad and accessible to people — it's not really a ‘churchy’ event. There are things we find compelling in the human experience and we wanted to create opportunities for music to accent that, to bring some perspective,” Baresel says.

Through this open and accessible experience, the monthly vespers have drawn a high percentage of attendees from people in the community, not just typical congregation members.

“That’s what we had in mind, just to offer that as a gift to the community, if you will,” says Baresel. “We want to be a place of refreshment and refuge in the middle of a chaotic world.”


Kay Louise Cook July 12, 2020 at 5:39 PM  

I have had such difficulty accessing the 5pm jazz vesper time!came in via Shoreline news to-night, but now need to get back in!!

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