"God gave us music. There's no way to dispute that," said Mr. Dickey, who leads a jazz combo of church musicians in concert twice a month at Degage Jazz Cafe.
Mr. Dickey, the music director at Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg and a veteran of the local jazz scene, was joined on the stage of the Maumee club and restaurant on Tuesday night by Will Kinsey on drums, Tom Ritter on bass, and Vince Krolak on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Both Mr. Kinsey and Mr. Krolak play regularly at Zoar; Mr. Ritter plays bass at St. Mark Lutheran Church in East Toledo.
"Music has got a spiritual life of its own," Mr. Kinsey said. "It's what music is all about -- it's about your spirit."
Mr. Dickey said he realizes that many people don't think of jazz when they hear the word "Lutheran."
Eric Dickey says many don't think of jazz when they hear the word Lutheran. But he says, 'Music has got a spiritual life of its own.'
"Lutherans are perceived by many people and in the media as being kind of old, white, conservative, European, WASP-ish types," Mr. Dickey said. "Of course, we want to do anything we can to change that."
The Rev. Ann Marshall, Zoar's community pastor, believes it's essential for church members to get "outside of the walls" of the church and to have a positive impact on society. Among her outreaches has been organizing Bible studies and prayer meetings for Zoar members at local restaurants and coffee shops throughout the area.
Having a bimonthly "Zoar Night" at Degage is another way "to let people know that church is not all stiff and formal all the time," Ms. Marshall said.
The church's music outreach, for which there is no cover charge, has been beneficial as well for Degage -- the club's name is French for "free, easy, and relaxed," owner Sam Foreman explained.
Geoff Schwab, bar manager, said the first Zoar Night, Jan. 11, was slow because of a snowstorm, but the turnout has been great ever since, transforming what is typically a slow night at most venues into a busy evening.
"It's been good. They've been packing the house," Mr. Schwab said. "Eric is a stand-up guy and I enjoy it when he plays here."
People who just happen to stop in at Degage for the food and music are unlikely to notice that the freewheeling, highly skilled musicians on the stage are all from a local church.
There is no preaching, no signs promoting Zoar, and the music is secular, straight-ahead jazz penned by such legendary composers such as George Gershwin and Miles Davis.
And when a local harmonica player, Michael Barone, sat in with the band on Tuesday, the musicians shifted into a simple, untitled 12-bar blues.
"So many great artists have said that jazz and pop music started in the church and then they took it into the secular world," Mr. Dickey said. "The spirit of those musicians doesn't change, for crying out loud. You need to be in touch with the spirit that makes the music come alive."
Mr. Dickey pointed out that the cross-pollination of church and secular music dates back to at least the 1500s when Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Reformation, took German pub songs and gave them Christian lyrics.
"Martin Luther was definitely a radical," he said.
Mr. Dickey, 44, a self-described introvert who smiles easily and laughs often, is a native of Oregon now living in Maumee, just a block from Degage, He is a graduate of the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan and studied music at Bowling Green State University for a year before leaving because his music career already was thriving.
He has been director of music for 18 years at Zoar, where he performs and composes religious music and oversees the church's many vocal choirs and handbell and brass ensembles.
Zoar Lutheran Church's next jazz night at Degage Jazz Cafe, 301 River Rd., Maumee, is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 22.
Mr. Dickey also will be performing at the venue on Feb. 25 and 26 with Toledo trumpeter Scott Potter. Information: 419-794-8205 or degagejazzcafe.com.
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.