Vinnie Finds His Community…and His Concert

Two kinds of people don’t go to church. One is the modern secularist, for whom the whole idea sounds, if not faintly ridiculous, at least outdated, conjuring images of the 19th century, when pioneer women would walk in their bonnets next to the wagon train, ready to help tame the prairie and produce progeny for their men, who would then build nice little country churches in which they could sing hymns of praise and eventually invite a parson to preach the Word.

The second is the “spiritual but not religious” type who regards spiritual matters as a strictly internal, privatized affair, to be accessible and enjoyed on ecstatic walks along the beach, or at a yoga retreat, or during meditation at an altar they’ve set up in a corner of their den, complete with incense and a laughing fat Buddha.

But church? Too much dogma, too many oleaginous pastors trying to separate you from your money.

And then there’s church as Vinnie Capone has come to know it.

Vinnie started hanging around the fringes
of our downtown Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Santa Rosa years ago, a street person who got the word that we served breakfast, much as you want, to all comers, every Saturday morning of the year. Vinnie was among a very few who occasionally started showing up on Sundays, trying to be unobtrusive when coming in from the cold to enjoy a cup of coffee before and after Sunday services.



Frequently, he’d come sit a while in the sanctuary at the early, small service, which met in a circle at the time but from which he kept himself at a safe remove, listening in from the back. He was a character, with long flowing hair and an amiable spirit, who on one hand was obviously familiar with the streets but on the other managed to clean and comport himself in a way that didn’t draw attention to the fact.

And it turned out he could play a pretty mean trumpet and piano.

As Vinnie got more comfortable with us and our minister and we with him, he began to snag some practice time on our piano. He reportedly had graduated long ago from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, hobnobbed around New England for years with a jazz band, hooked onto the Count Basie band for a time, eventually came west and, like so many musicians, fell on hard times made much harder by too much love for the bottle.

Vinnie had spent far more time under bridges than on any concert stage in recent years, though he’s managed to get himself off the streets. Whatever his circumstance, he has always been a sweet man with obvious talent and a certain rough hewn charisma. He became a fixture in our congregation, though “fringey” should probably precede “”fixture” in that description. He could disappear for months at a time before popping up again, looking none the worse for wear.

Pretty much everyone came to know and even appreciate him: He was Vinnie, our resident eccentric jazz guy.

One Sunday, we gave him a little music slot during the offertory part of the service, when baskets go out and people light candles in observance of whatever and whomever is on their mind that day. Vinnie played some sonorous jazz piece loud as can be, one hand banging on the piano, the other fingering his trumpet, blowing away in a kind of virtuoso two-instruments-at-once performance that rather rocked the audience back on its heels, saying, “Whoa, that Vinnie!”

Last night, though, was something else again. I don’t have the details of when and how the idea got hatched, and this not being an Associated Press report, you’ll have to do without them. But the basic and quite remarkable fact is that Vinnie got his own concert, on our stage, on a Saturday night, in front of an audience of some 110 souls, probably 90 of whom were church members who, after hearing about it via various charming promotional pitches from the pulpit and on the church’s electronic bulletin board by our minister, proclaimed, “A concert by Vinnie? I am so there!”

They paid 15 bucks a pop, but it included a pasta dinner cooked up by Vinnie’s mother, no kidding and bless her heart.

And so it came to pass, Vinnie fielding a band of serious supporting musicians who were also so there for him in this remarkable testimony to the resilience of the individual human spirit—especially when that spirit can get connected to a community of people who do their best to take others as they are, where they are, under the assumption that we do better together, gathering with intention on a regular-rather-than-happenstance basis, under a set of principles with love and compassion at their center.

Vinnie glowed last night. He took too long and rambled a bit much in various song introductions, but the stage and the spotlight were his, and damn if he wasn’t going to bask in it all.

He looked resplendent in white shirt, black pants and just the grooviest jazzy shades, playing some Coltrane, Miles Davis, and lovely standards such as “All of Me,” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” When not involved with his trumpet, he paced the front of his band keeping the beat with all the verve of a young Harry James.

“Thanks, friends, on behalf of Vinnie,” our minister had written on our church’s listserv. “Vinnie is a talented musician, but not a talented planner, so we could use a number of volunteers to make sure that the event is a success…This event is going to be one of the highlights of his entire life. Really.”

Watching Vinnie last night, I had to think that’s exactly what it was. And he had his quaint little outdated irrelevant overbearing church to thank for it.

For periodic and brief posts of inspiring words from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by the usual lovely photography as exemplified here, see my public Facebook page  at:

Twitter: @AndrewHidas

Deep appreciation again to the photographers:

Rotating banner photos at top of page courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at:

Small angel-with-trumpet photos by Johan Hansson, Gävle, Sweden, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at:

Photos of Vinnie by by Andrew Hidas, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at:

Photo of trumpet vine by Martin LaBar, South Carolina, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at:

11 comments to Vinnie Finds His Community…and His Concert

  • Tamara  says:

    Awesome!! I only wish I could have been there.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Should’ve thought to invite you, Tamara! Won’t miss next time!

  • Suzanne  says:

    Andrew, this is wonderful. Wondered if this was the same Vinnie I knew from way back. What a fabulous story and made me miss you all that much more!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      So good to hear from you, Suzie! Same Vinnie!

  • Carol Caldwell-Ewart  says:

    Invite me next time, too!

  • lindapproulx  says:

    Andrew, thanks so much for this tender account of Vinnie’s concert. I was so sorry to miss it and now I can feel joyful that it was such a great evening for all involved. Linda

  • mflabar  says:

    Thanks for giving me credit.

  • Dee Ray  says:

    What a wonderfully written article Andrew! You captured the significance of the evening, the beauty of the music, and the complexity of the man. Nice!

  • Mary Lill Lee  says:

    What a wonderful review of Vinnie’s concert! He is one of us, and we are proud to claim him, with love.

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Music, spirit, friendship, community – Vinnie’s story has it all, thanks so much for writing it Andrew – wish I would have been there too, but reading this, kinda felt like I was … brought to mind the lovely story told by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez a few years back ( ) about Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless Juilliard trained violinist and how they became friends…ah, the redemptive power of music and friendship!

  • […] when people increasingly find church irrelevant, Andrew Hidas tells the story of his congregation making a difference in one person’s life—a formerly homeless jazz musician whose concert the church […]

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