by Brendan Sample
After 10 years of performing live jazz at the Tavern on the Hill, Chris Marsceill, better known on stage as “Rev. Chris,” certainly has a lot on which to look back. Though his regular performances on the piano with his band have made him a fixture of the Tavern, getting to that point was not the easiest of journeys.
Hailing from the Chestnut Hill/Erdenheim area, Marsceill relocated to Louisiana when he began school at Loyola University, New Orleans. Building on his trumpet lessons while attending Springfield Township High School, he performed with a number of different jazz singers and bands all across New Orleans.
After settling there, however, he was ultimately forced to come back to this area when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home. While he and his current wife initially lived with his parents in Erdenheim, they were able to get a place of their own in Chestnut Hill.
Marsceill’s time at the Tavern began in 2007, which was also the same year in which he and his wife got married. As it so happened that a chance encounter would ultimately lead to a decade of performances.
“One of my coworkers at the time convinced me and a few others to go out for drinks at the Tavern,” Marsceill said. “While we were there, there was a guy who made a joke about an old English play, and I was the only one who understood the reference. He turned out to be one of the owners, John Hegan, and we ended up talking about how I wanted to get back into music. He then asked if I was interested in playing at the Tavern and just seeing how that would work out.”
In addition to his live performances, Marsceill also has a detailed discography of recorded jazz albums. While some of the recordings are done live at his performances, most are still made in a studio. Though this does allow for corrections to be made in a controlled environment, Marsceill definitely prefers the atmosphere of playing in front of a crowd.
“My favorite recordings are the live ones,” Marsceill explained. “There’s something about the energy of the audience – even if they hate you – that adds something to it. I’d rather keep a mistake instead of going back and fixing it, and you can’t really fix your mistakes when you’re live.”
One of the things that immediately stands out about Marsceill is that although “Rev” is part of his stage name, he is actually an official minster of the Universal Life Church, which offers instant paid ordinations. It may not be his actual job, but Marsceill has had the nickname for most of his life, dating back to his first job at a convenience store.
“My manager was a funny guy who put odd tasks together like filling out a money order and formally becoming an ordained reverend,” Marsceill said. “I didn’t think anything of it until I went to Loyola, where a lot of people had the same name. There was a retired Jesuit brother who had to keep track of all the guys in our hall. One night it came out that I was ordained and so he gave me the nickname “Rev. Chris.” The fact that my last name has never been spelled right didn’t hurt in it catching on.”
Having performed at the Tavern for a decade now, Marsceill appears pretty comfortable with sticking around for the foreseeable future. Given that making music is still a full-time job for him, it stands to reason that he would want to keep this consistency going.
“Unless people stop showing up to the Tavern, I don’t see any kind of end date,” Marsceill predicted. “The people who come to the shows are my favorite part of performing, and there are some residents who are there like clockwork. I met one couple whose daughter had gone off to college, and two years later I was asked to play at her wedding.”
To celebrate Rev. Chris’ anniversary, the Tavern will be putting on a “Jammiversary” performance, where musicians will be encouraged to come up and play alongside Marsceill. It will be held on Friday, July 28, from 9 to 11 p.m.
For more information about Marsceill and his music, visit www.plebo.org.