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SIU Jazz Jam's Open-mic Nights: Come One, Come All

An assortment of Southern Illinois jazz musicians assemble on Tuesdays at Tres Hombres for the sole
Leah Williams
Video Comentary

 

An assortment of Southern Illinois jazz musicians assemble on Tuesdays at Tres Hombres for the sole purpose of getting down.

The open jazz jam sessions are a come-one, come-all affair, where Southern Illinois University faculty and students collaborate with community musicians on jazz standards performed on the fly.

“It’s actually an SIU jazz faculty group, but playing every Tuesday in order to give students a professional setting in which they can develop their jazz performance and improvisation skills,” said SIU jazz and bass professor Philip Brown.

The core group is led by Dick Kelley, director of jazz studies and professor of saxophone, who said the jazz jam sessions started with a test run last fall, and the open jam nights continued because of musician and audience interest.

“It’s getting better every week,” Kelley said. “We have a great mixture of SIU faculty and students as well as members in the community.”

The core group for the jam session includes a drummer, bass player, and guitarist, with Kelley coming in on saxophone.

“We get all kind of mixups from there— horns, trombone,” Kelley said. “We have got a lot of interest from different groups.”

On any given Tuesday, the jazz jam will result in performances of everything from jazz classics to old-time rock ‘n’ roll and funk.

Kelley said the idea behind the open jazz jam nights stemmed from the lack of jazz opportunities in the area.

“For a long time there was a healthy jazz scene in Carbondale,” he said. “There were open jam sessions, professional gigs, society gigs, those kinds of things. And in the last several years, it has kind of dwindled away. So the idea is to get it back up.”

And it’s happening, with weekly jazz performances by Mel Goot and Sharon Clark Tuesdays at Global Gourmet and by Coulter, Goot, and Wall Thursdays in the Newell House’s Grotto Lounge, in addition to the Tuesday jams at Tres.

A big reason for the Tuesday jams is to get off-campus.

“We needed to take it to the people,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the core band welcomes the opportunity to have musicians dust off their instruments and join in the fun. While the atmosphere is freewheeling, Kelley explained that a few rules keep the entertainment on point. Musicians need to know the tune they want to play, and they need to be able to perform it well enough to count the band in and play the melody throughout the number.

Also, because of the limited space on stage, a maximum of five to six musicians can perform at a time, Kelley said.

While people have told Kelley they enjoy how jazz is different from the rock and country tunes they often hear at other performances, Kelley said that much of the success of the open jazz jams might stem from the audience’s ability to recognize the songs.

“A lot of people who listen to it, they have a connection with it,” he said. “They either heard it with their family or they played an instrument growing up. It is something they haven’t heard in a while, so they are excited to hear that.”

Kelley said one of the most interesting phenomena during the open jazz jam nights does not happen on stage among the rotating musicians. No, the magic happens in the audience, when the group sees someone tapping along and grooving to the music.

“People you wouldn’t expect to know or like jazz know some of the tunes and are singing along,” he said. “They are having a great time.”

Two other jazz-related events are scheduled later this spring, thanks to the university’s School of Music. The SIU Studio Jazz Orchestra, directed by Kelley, will perform Thursday, April 10 at Shryock Auditorium. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for students with identification.

The New Arts Jazztet and SIU Jazz Combo will play Friday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Altgeld Hall. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for students with identification.

who: SIU Jazz Jam

what: open jazz jam

where: Tres Hombres

when: every Tuesday

 

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