Dec. 07, 2018
The Sermon! features an exclamation point at the end of their name, and after seeing them play you’ll understand why. The exclamation mark was somewhat inherited as the band got its namesake from the title track of jazz organist Jimmy Smith’s album, The Sermon! As a jazz organist, Jimmy Smith was a significant inspiration for each band member. The band’s strongest Jimmy Smith connection lies with guitarist Rob Mastrippolito, who served as an organ tech for Jimmy Smith before his passing. It was then that Mastrippolito took the first step in what would be the band’s origin story: getting Smith’s blessing to name a band ‘The Sermon!’.
Michael Lynch, drummer for The Sermon!, remembers the story well. Lynch says, “Rob said to him (Smith), ‘I really like that record and I want to name a band ‘The Sermon!’” Lynch continues, “Mr. Smith laughed and said, ‘Oh, I never really liked my organ sound on that record but feel free to name your band ‘The Sermon!’. We always laughed that we got his seal of approval. Most folks might think our name has some sort of religious connotation, but it’s really a tip of the hat to Jimmy Smith’s record.” It’s a great start to the band’s inception, but it’s only half of the story regarding the relevance of the exclamation point. In order to fully understand its presence in the band’s name, you’ll have to see them play. After only one song, even the most jaded listener can’t take their eyes (or ears) off the band and their fiery stage presence. Their rejuvenating formula involves jazzy covers of songs old and new, familiar and unexpected – with a Hammond B-3 organ and Leslie speakers thrown in.
Lynch says, “I think folks are sometimes caught off guard or smitten with the material that we play and how we play it.” Lynch continues, “They’ll say they weren’t expecting to hear a band with this gear, playing these kinds of songs in this kind of place. It is a spectacle! There’s a certain ridiculousness to seeing these uniformed guys banging out songs on these old instruments, on an organ nonetheless.” This past June, The Sermon! played an opening set for Booker T. Jones at the Ardmore Music Hall. One attendee overheard a comment regarding The Sermon!’s performance, and decided to share the review to the band’s Facebook page. It reads: “Damn! Opening acts ain’t supposed to be THAT good!” This enthusiasm is a typical reflection of the raw energy The Sermon! emanates whether they’re performing at Diner En Blanc or our very own summer music fest in Philly, Molestice.
The Sermon!’s Facebook page is a great spot to find video clips of their lively performances. The Sermon! impresses at Time Whiskey Bar and Taproom, where the band plays every 2nd Friday of the month. This time, The Sermon! is joined by The ILLmington Horns, Alvin Alexander and Matt Stewart. The horns blare, facing upward as they bellow a gleeful loop of sound. The horns concur with Mastrippolito on electric guitar, playing so well you can see a man outside the glass window of the venue lost in the air guitar behind him. McLaughlin brings the nuanced soul with the organ as his hands travel dexterously over two rows of keys. Allaband’s bass is gloriously deep under the higher-pitched intensity of the horns and organ. Lynch, surrounded by cymbals, builds the perfect groundwork for dancing, his explosive beats exciting. Lynch himself is unable to keep from moving to the sound. This is The Sermon!’s rendition of So Fresh, So Clean – made famous by hip-hop duo OutKast – and everyone is having a great time. The song ends and it’s the audience’s turn to make noise.
Lynch says, “I wanted to play a hip hop song that everyone would recognize in a sort of spirit or essence of the jazz sensibility.” Lynch continues, “It’s a very tongue-in-cheek formula. If they come to a show, they’re not going to see a typical cover band. Expect the unexpected. I want people to leave feeling that we have our own sound, but we want people to have a good time and leave with a positive experience.”
The Sermon! officially got their start in 2005, after Lynch began searching for like-minded musicians who loved the funk and jazz of James Brown, Medeski Martin & Wood, Grant Green, Lonnie Smith and, of course, Jimmy Smith. The band looked a little different at the time, with only 3 out of 4 of the group’s core members: Mike Lynch, Don Allaband and Rob Mastrippolito. For their very first gig, The Sermon! performed with jazz organist ‘Papa’ John Defrancesco. Lynch says, “It was really special, he (Defrancesco) is a living legend. He’s very much integral to the history of jazz organ, so we had our first show with him. From there, we approached James McLaughlin and said ‘We have a hammond organ, come play it!’ James first played a gig with us March 3, 2006. And that’s where the current line up began.”
This addition of McLaughlin on the organ became a fantastic staple for the band, especially combined with their stellar song selections and vintage look. Lynch says, “It’s the organ itself. You hear that sound, and it’s undeniable.” Lynch continues, “If you’re someone who doesn’t like the genre of music we play, you can’t help but lend your ear to that sound because of how unique it is. No doubt in my mind that the organ is that elixir, that special sauce that draws people in.”
Since their inception, The Sermon! has released two collections, 2008’s EP Five From the Borough and their self-titled LP The Sermon! released in 2011. You can find The Sermon!’s original music on CD Baby, but you’ll have more fun buying a CD directly from the band at a show. The Sermon! has big plans to record new music in 2019, and the band only gets better as time goes on. Lynch says, “I’ve been playing music the majority of my adult life, and this is the band that I’ve been in the longest.” Lynch continues, “When a band stays together for that long, you’re learning more than music. You’re watching these guys get married and have children and watching life unfold in front of our eyes. You learn about each other, about life. It’s very rewarding.”
If you would like to book The Sermon! for your next event or to discuss additional entertainment and live music bookings in Philadelphia, contact our Talent Buyer, Sean Timmons at 215-240-8552.