The jazz jam session is a unique fixture of the music world. It affords instrumentalists and singers the opportunity to meet players with similar musical interests (dare I say network?) and hone improvisational chops.
Less experienced musicians get to play alongside seasoned professionals, and everyone takes musical risks they might not go for at a professional gig. That’s why the sessions can be some of the most rewarding listening experiences. The playing tends to be no-nonsense and no-frills — just good old-fashioned jazz standards that showcase some of Washington’s best musicians. And there’s often little or no cover charge.
Here are four local jams to put on your calendar:
With the reopening of HR-57 on H Street NE comes the reintroduction of one of the most robust and sophisticated jazz jam sessions in the city, and HR-57’s jam sessions are picking up right where they left off. Hosted by Jimmy “Junebug” Jackson, the informal gatherings attract serious professionals and university jazz students. Many session regulars play in bands that headline the club on Friday and Saturday nights.
To play: Introduce yourself to Jackson. He calls musicians up to play roughly in the order they arrive.
Pianist Peter Edelman leads a four-hour jam session with his trio at Columbia Station on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Musicians come and go, and Adams Morgan passersby hear the music as they’re walking by and stop in to take in the scene. Most days bring a smattering of guitarists, horn players, vocalists and everything in between.
To play: Introduce yourself to Edelman.
About two years ago, drummer Will Stephens gathered bassist Percy White, pianist Peter Runk and guitarist Mark Caruso to play the first jazz jam session at the Adams Morgan Ethiopian restaurant Dahlak. Although musicians for the house band now rotate on a monthly schedule, Stephens remains the weekly host of what has become one of the most frequented jam sessions in the city. The jam session is especially vocalist-friendly — in a recent session, a voice teacher at Howard University brought her students to practice for their final exams. To play: Sign up on the sheet by the door when you get there.
Takoma Station Tavern
For those who live a bit closer to Maryland, the Wednesday night jam sessions at Takoma Station Tavern are your answer for weeknight jazz. The music venue has hosted the weekly sessions since October 2010 with a rotating roster of musicians led by bass player Raymond Magic and emceed by Takoma Station’s own Lydia Williams. To play: Introduce yourself to Lydia if you don’t see a sign-up sheet.