Priests, seminarians in Vatican III
to perform jazz in East Taunton


By Kenneth J. Souza
Editor
kensouza@anchornews.org

EAST TAUNTON, Mass. — St. Francis once prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

About five years ago, a group of young seminarians decided to take up literal instruments to form a jazz ensemble known as Vatican III.

Despite its name, the four-member group — Father Patrick Fiorillo on drums, Father Matthew Gill on bass, seminarian Larry Valliere on guitar, and seminarian Matthew Laird on saxophone — is not an ecumenical council, nor is it sanctioned by the Holy See. It’s just a group of musicians with a vocation, sharing their God-given talents with people who appreciate the gift of music.

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Vatican III will be sharing that gift during a special benefit performance at Holy Family Church in East Taunton on Friday, May 24 at 7 p.m.

According to Father Matthew Gill, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Centerville and Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Osterville, he remembers first getting together with Father Fiorillo in the summer of 2013.

“We were both seminarians at St. John’s, and I brought my bass over to his house and we played — just bass and drums and it was neat,” Father Gill recently told The Anchor. “I don’t think we were intending to play in a band at the time, we were just happy to dust off the instruments from our college years.”

Later that fall, Father Gill said he once again teamed up for another jam session — this time with newly-enrolled Larry Valliere — at the Brighton seminary.

“I knew Larry (also) played electric bass, and I asked him one evening if he wanted to play,” Father Gill said. “We were playing a few tunes, and Father Fiorillo happened to walk by and came into the room.”

“I heard the sound of a 12-bar blues jam coming out of the one of the rooms,” Father Fiorillo told The Anchor. “I peeked in, and there were Larry and Matt, jamming on the bass. And then I noticed an extra acoustic guitar sitting on the cabinet, so I picked it up and started adding chords.”

When that impromptu jam finished, Father Fiorillo suggested a Herbie Hancock tune entitled “Watermelon Man,” which everyone knew. 

Thus began the first iteration of Vatican III — or a Vatican Trio, if you will.

“Later that semester, we played a little gig in the common room at the seminary with that lineup: Pat on guitar, Larry and myself on electric bass,” Father Gill said.

It wouldn’t take long for Father Fiorillo to invite his bandmates over to his parent’s house, where he kept his beloved drum kit.

“Drums have always been my main instrument,” Father Fiorillo said. “But they had never left my parents’ basement since I entered the seminary.”

“When Father Fiorillo brought his drums to the seminary to play, we called ourselves ‘The Feastdays,’” Father Gill recalled. “We would ask brother seminarians to play with us as special guests. We had seminarians playing trumpet, clarinet, keyboards, trombone, and even sing with us, too.”

Since the notion of having two bass players only seemed to work for the fictional band Spinal Tap, Vatican III wisely opted to have Valliere transition to guitar, thus creating the jazz-funk trio with guitar, bass and drums.

“Since Matt is an accomplished bass player, I switched to playing the guitar and the band was born,” Valliere told The Anchor. “We had several guest artists over the next few years and one of our guests, Matt Laird on saxophone, was so fantastic that he became a permanent member of the band.”

“I remember hearing about a guy from the Fall River Diocese entering the seminary who played tenor sax,” Father Fiorillo said. “After one show in the common room, which was secretly meant to audition Matt, we decided to officially bring him on board, and we’ve been playing together ever since.”

Laird fondly remembered joining the band shortly after entering the seminary in 2015.

“The band had already been together, and when I heard about the group during my first month, it sounded right up my alley and I knew I had to reach out,” he told The Anchor. “I played a few shows with the group and ultimately was accepted as the fourth member. It was a great way to quickly establish friendships and to get involved in the communal life of the seminary.”

While it’s not often that you’ll see a priest or seminarian playing something other than “Ave Maria” on a church organ, the members of Vatican III have influences that are decidedly more secular and contemporary.

“I love listening to Earth, Wind and Fire; Tower of Power; Miles Davis; and Victor Wooten,” said Father Gill, who began playing bass in eighth grade when his parents bought him the instrument for Christmas. “I played in the marching band and jazz band at Bishop Feehan High School. In college, I played in two jazz bands and an electric bass ensemble.”

Valliere, a native of St. Stanislaus Parish in Fall River, started taking electric bass lessons when he was 14 and played in several rock bands over the years, including a Weezer cover band called The Blue Album.

“I picked up the guitar around the same time, but I taught myself by buying guitar magazines, learning the different voicings for the chords, following the tabs, and playing along to the songs,” he said, citing Trey Anastasio of the rock band Phish and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead among his influences.

“As a bass player by trade, my mind is always thinking about the rhythm,” Valliere added. “I play guitar more like a bass player, hitting the root note on the one beat. A big influence for me would be James Brown. He wanted every instrument in his band to be played like a drum, and I am of the same mindset.”

Speaking of drums, Father Fiorillo was just 10 years old when he picked up the sticks.

“I always identified primarily as a rock drummer, but also played jazz continuously through middle school, high school, and college,” he said. “I can trace much of my style to drummers like Neil Peart, John Bonham, Mike Portnoy, and Vinnie Appice. For jazz, I studied a lot of Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams.”

Laird has been playing tenor saxophone since high school and remembered his grandfather introducing him to jazz when he was young.

“I quickly developed a great appreciation for the musical style and especially for the saxophone, becoming determined to play it myself,” he said. “It has been a part of my life ever since.”

His influences include Dexter Gordon, Richard Elliot, and Kim Waters. But he cited his greatest inspiration as Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra.

“During my first year at the seminary, Father Gill and I had the opportunity to see the band play live,” he said. “After the show I was able to meet the members and had them all autograph a CD. It was a night I will never forget.”

Vatican III’s style or genre might best be described as a jazz-funk fusion.

“We play some swing tunes and quite a bit of funk,” Valliere said. “We have also ventured into music from Motown, the 70s, and new age.”

“I always have to remind Larry that this is not a punk-rock band,” Father Fiorillo joked. “We might jam on a rock tune occasionally, but we’ve pretty much kept to jazz.  Our repertoire includes some hard bop standards, funk, and fusion.”

“We play a lot of funk music,” Father Gill agreed. “And sometimes it can turn into a bit of rock or fusion. We’ve also had a seminarian rap with us before.”

“The band has never been afraid to occasionally venture into other musical styles,” Laird added. “But our second most popular style to perform after jazz is definitely funk. We always have at least one or two funk pieces at each show. Another fun thing we do is perform jazz covers of popular pop or rock songs, which is great for those who may be new to jazz.”

Having now performed for audiences who might not expect two priests and a couple of seminarians to be performing jazz, rock and funk tunes, Father Fiorillo said he hopes people will look beyond the novelty of “a group of priests performing in a jazz-funk quartet.”

“I’ve had many parishioners over the years at various performances tell me that they saw another side of me, or that they never would have pictured me doing this,” said Father Fiorillo, who currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Paul’s Parish in Cambridge. “So it’s great for parishioners to see us doing something we’re passionate about, but that’s not directly related to Church activities.”

For Laird, who is currently serving his pastoral year at Holy Family Parish in East Taunton, the band serves as a great reminder that “priests and seminarians are normal people too.”

“We have hobbies and enjoy having some good, clean fun,” he said. “Parishioners from different churches around the diocese have enjoyed getting to know some of the priests and seminarians of the diocese, and the concerts have been great for community-building efforts.”

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“In the seminary we were reminded that it’s important to have time for fraternity, and to foster healthy hobbies, so the band has really been a blessing in that regard,” Father Gill agreed. “We have time to play, but we also take time to get dinner together before or after a rehearsal. It’s also enjoyable to share the music with parishioners.”

As for the May 24 show, Valliere said the audience can expect to see “two priests and two seminarians who love playing music, having the best time.”

“They will hear songs by Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, an original song by Father Gill, and much more,” he added.

“It will be a fun evening for all,” said Laird. “The night will include some funky jazz standards as well as some original pieces, camaraderie, laughs, and some wholesome food and drink.”

“If you know jazz, you’ll appreciate the set list,” Father Fiorillo said. “If you don’t know jazz, this will be a great introduction and you won’t be disappointed. I believe jazz is one of those types of music that everyone can appreciate.”

Father Gill said they’ve all been rehearsing individually and together for the concert and he’s hoping for a good turnout.

“We played just down the road at St. Ann’s in Raynham last year, where I was assigned as a deacon, and people were very kind to come out,” he said. “Also, three out of the four of us have been assigned to Holy Family Parish at some point or another, so it will be nice to play for some familiar faces.”

Tickets for the Vatican III show are just $5 and will be available at the door.


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