Justo Almario and his longtime friend Abraham Laboriel are two of the world's acclaimed jazz musicians. They move easily from laying down tracks in slick L.A. studios for cds by such megastars as Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder to playing in their individual churches' worship bands.

Laboriel, called "L.A.'s ace groovemonger" by Bass Player magazine, toured with vibraphone player Gary Burton, pop singer Johnny Mathis, and jazz arranger Henry Mancini before moving to Los Angeles and becoming, in the words of one magazine, "the most widely used session bass player of our time." He has played on 3,500 recordings by such musical megastars as George Benson, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Amy Grant, Chick Corea, Dolly Parton, Julio Iglesias, Barbra Streisand, and Al Jarreau.

A woodwind virtuoso, Almario worked with pioneering Latin/jazz group Mongo Santamaria and Charles Mingus before recording and touring with Roy Ayers, the Commodores, Linda Ronstadt, and Freddy Hubbard.

Complete musicians
Almario and Laboriel have been friends since 1969, when both arrived at Boston's Berklee College of Music from their native Latin America. Almario, who was raised in Colombia, and Laboriel, who hails from Mexico, were both born into families headed by professional musician fathers who exposed them to everything from calypso to classical. And both attended Roman Catholic schools, where the seeds of the Christian faith were planted deep in their souls.

Each came to the United States in part because of his love for American jazz (Almario said Cannonball Adderly's sax "sounded like a bird flying free." Laboriel said he wept when he first heard the music of Berklee alumnus Quincy Jones.) It wasn't long after the two met that they played together in a variety of jazz combos before going their separate ways to start families and careers.

In 1980, Laboriel invited Almario to sit in on a performance with the ground-breaking Christian jazz group Koinonia at the famed Los Angeles music club Baked Potato. Almario was impressed with the band's musical chops and moved by their spiritual unity. A week later, he went to church with Laboriel, accepting Christ after the service. The experience changed everything, including his view of music.

"Knowing the Lord, we become complete as musicians," says Almario. "We become better musicians when we practice our instruments, and more purposeful when we meet Jesus [because] we know what music was made for: to be of service to God, to worship the Lord, and to be a service to the community, to people who listen to the music."

Since then, these two musicians have been making plenty of explicitly Christian music together. The pair has played on ten Hosanna! Music praise albums by Ron Kenoly, Don Moen, and other artists, including We Are One and Rejoice Africa, both recorded in South Africa before that country's racist system of apartheid was abolished. "It was a life-changing experience seeing people of all races, all types, and all colors holding hands and praising the Lord with one voice," says Almario.

Eclectic music, passionate faith
In 1995, Hosanna! sister label Integrity released Justo Almario—Abraham Laboriel, the musical friends' first-ever joint solo recording, which features jazzy, Latin-flavored versions of popular praise choruses, such as "To Him Who Sits on the Throne." And when they are home in Los Angeles on a Sunday, the two musicians play at their churches' worship services: Laboriel at Canoga Park Presbyterian Church and Almario at Christian Assembly, a Foursquare congregation in Eagle Rock.

But the two still retain a passion for sharing their eclectic music and passionate faith with their unchurched fans, both in the Americas and in Europe, where jazz is an obsession for many. At a recent four-hour concert at a club in Sweden, Laboriel described the crowd as "dancing, singing, and praising God." After the concert, one man thanked Laboriel for reminding him that all good things come from God. "What you guys are doing is great," he said, and told Laboriel the show had inspired him to return to God. "You are taking me back to my first love."

Almario accepts invitations to conduct music clinics throughout Latin America; in them he offers both stunning performances and heartfelt testimonials. "When I talk to people, I have to tell them who I am, because I belong to the Lord" he says. "Daily I pray that I can be of service to God."

Together, these two musicians are showing people that God can make both music and lives worth dancing for. "People in the world are hungry for something," says Almario. "There's so much violence and so many things working against humanity. There are many winds blowing, so I want to blow with the wind of the Holy Spirit."

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