Bethlehem SCV in Canyon Country holds an annual concert that is nothing short of a valuable gift to the community. There are many (as evidenced by its typically standing-room-only attendance) who rush as enthusiastically for a seat at Jam for Jesus as they raced to the tree on Christmas morning as a child.
And with good reason! It’s a free three-hour music experience featuring men and women who perform for a living, but volunteer their abilities for the concert.
There are dozens of A-list musicians who perform at the concert – some who tour with the likes of Phil Collins, Earth, Wind & Fire, Ringo, and Frankie Valli. It’s spearheaded by Robby Robinson, who pulls together about 30 of his friends – professional musicians like himself – to bring the show to the public.
Robinson was recognized by the City of Santa Clarita Arts Commission in March (see sidebar – at the end of this article).
“The talent level is just off the charts, but more than the talent level is the heart that these musicians have, who are giving their talent – significant talent, I might add – to the Lord,” Robinson said. “You walk into this church and what you get is something you’d expect to see in Radio City Music Hall.”
This year, the 28th Annual Jam for Jesus will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019 at 7 p.m. at Bethlehem SCV.
Front-and-center is Robinson on keyboard, who created the annual event when he was the minister of music at the church in the 1990s, and his brother, Rex Robinson, on bass. Though Rex, an Agua Dulce resident, has retired from touring, both men were in Frankie Valli’s band, and Robby has been Valli’s music director for more than 40 years.
Some of the horns, guitarists, vocalists, etc. are locals who are now professionals, including Andrea Hammond, Roland and Tristan Garcia and Sara Niemietz, Tony Galla and Dr. Michael Millar. Jam for Jesus performers also include musicians who play in the “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” bands.
The songs in the concert are sacred, Robby said, including a number of Christmas songs. But the group tackles many different styles, from classical to jazz/pop. Far from a rigid performance, it’s what Robby calls “somewhat loose,” where there’s only one rehearsal and a basic script, which he writes in advance.
Like a symphony, these friends of Robby create a blend that fills the rafters, using little musical construction but still following a list of songs and basic arrangements.
“It’s like flying with no net,” Robby said. “It’s a very intimate kind of concert, not formal – you feel like you’re backstage. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been there.”
One professional who’s “been there” from the beginning is percussionist Richie Garcia. He’s recorded on soundtracks for such films as “The Italian Job” and “Emperor’s New Groove” and toured with Sting, Diana Ross, Brooks and Dunn and many others. His sons, Roland and Tristan, also perform professionally and have been a part of Jam for Jesus since their grade school days.
“It’s an honor to share the stage with my family and some of the most accomplished musicians in Los Angeles year after year,” said Tristan Garcia in an interview with Canyon Country Magazine last year. “They come together for a time of giving, share their talents and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.”
If you attend Bethlehem SCV on a Sunday morning, it’s possible to hear several of the same musicians. You’re more likely to see Rex Robinson in the worship band than Robby, who is now a minister of music at Trinity Lutheran Church in Simi Valley, where he lives. But his years of leadership give him the ability to speak for many of his musician friends.
“I feel so blessed to do what I do,” Robby said. “And that’s the way these guys feel.”
Bethlehem SCV is located at 27265 Luther Drive in Canyon Country. For more information, call 661-252-0622 or visit BethlehemSCV.com.
When the City of Santa Clarita Arts Commission recognized Robby Robinson last spring, he responded with this Facebook post:
This is an event that is so much bigger than me, I would be remiss to NOT publicly acknowledge a number of people, so sincere THANK YOU to…
My talented bass-player brother REX ROBINSON, has been there playing for all 27 years, even playing 1 year with 103-degree fever.
My friend (for 48 years) who is like a brother, extraordinary percussionist RICHIE GAJATE GARCIA has been there ALMOST all 27 years, along with his sons ROLAND & TRISTAN who have grown up playing at this event.
Literally hundreds of A-list musicians and singers who have graciously given of their precious time and extreme talents to give back! The list is like a who’s-who of the music industry … you know who you are … THANKS!
This tribute goes not just to the musicians on stage, but also to all the behind-the-scenes people, technical people, production people, and church staff … it couldn’t happen without you!
Brilliant bass trombonist DR MICHAEL MILLAR who spearheaded last night along with Arts & Events Manager PHIL LANTIS. Thanks as well to the whole SC Arts Commission … the artistic community in Santa Clarita is in great hands!
PASTOR JOHN KOCZMAN and BETHLEHEM SCV CHURCH for so graciously hosting J4J for so many years.
My church home of TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH-SIMI VALLEY who hosted the early years. I’m proud to serve TLC as Minister of Music.
My wife CARLA who puts up with my madness every December (as well as the other 11 months each year!)
To all the wonderful friends who came out last night to show their support…not one wisecrack was heard (out loud).
So … last night I find myself in a government city hall … the wonderful city of Santa Clarita, Calif., being honored for a series of concerts proclaiming the Savior’s Birth … only in America!!
Of course, I have to acknowledge the Reason for the Season, the reason for life, breath and everything I do … JESUS.
Soli Deo Gloria!