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Looking for a Jazz Jam? Indy's Got You.
Posted March 27, 2019 by Mina Keohane
WRITTEN BY
Mina Keohane
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March 27, 2019
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Heya! Mina here. I read an article a while back on NPR’s blog with the headline “The Once-Thriving Jazz Scene of…Indianapolis?” There’s no denying our rich Jazz History with Indiana natives J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, David Baker, Slide Hampton, Mel Rhyne, David Young, Virgil Jones, Killer Ray Appleton, the Hampton Sisters and Wes Montgomery. Not to mention ALL the heavies coming through Indiana Avenue as a destination to play, not just a stopover, back in the day. It really got me thinking about the current jazz scene and how the headline struck me as (not only) implying that Indy would be the last place you’d find good jazz, but that there isn’t a thriving jazz scene anymore. Although the names may not be as recognizable as the players of yesteryear, I’d beg to differ. We have fiercely creative players/composers like Rob DixonThe Tucker BrothersAmanda GardierCharlie BallantineSophie FaughtThe Sean Imboden Large Ensemble, the BWJOKenny Phelps, Jared ThompsonFranklin GloverBrandon MeeksSteven JonesSteve Allee…the list goes on and on. They not only kill it here in Indy, but often tour and garner accolades nationwide. Another place I’ve really noticed a blossoming interest in jazz is the amount of jam sessions springing up around the city. 
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Kevin Anker at the Jazz Kitchen Monday Jam

The jam session is really THE place a budding jazz musician goes to cut their teeth, learn, be mentored, grow, network and truly immerse themselves in the community that is jazz. This is super important because it really is a communal music. It’s conversation. It’s back and forth, call and response and action/reaction. All the hours of practicing alone in a room or transcribing can only go so far. The ultimate goal is to eventually play with other humans, and a fantastic way to do that is to go to jam sessions. Fortunately for us, Indianapolis now offers a great many opportunities for people to play. The Jazz Kitchen hosts their long-standing jam session (25 years!) every Monday starting at 7:00pm, Square Cat Vinyl hosts an all ages jam one Wednesday per month (it floats so please check their calendar), you can play at the Mousetrap with Rob Dixon on Tuesdays late night, Healer will be starting a jam in April that will be on the 3rd Thursdays of each month with Pat Petrus, the Chatterbox has a Sunday jam (but may be changing their format soon), and you can come to 3rd set on a Wednesday at the Chatterbox with the Tucker Brothers to sit in (fair warning on this one though, it’s a more advanced hang. If you come to jam you better come to slam!) I'm sure I've left some places out, but it’s a good start!

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Mike Kessler & Charlie Ballantine at the Jazz Kitchen Monday Jam
 
If You’ve Never Been to a Jazz Jam and Would Like a Little Insight Before You Go:

I spoke with Mike Kessler (who co-hosts the Jazz Kitchen jam) and Charlie Ballantine (who is often a weekly house band regular) about some helpful tips and etiquette for attending a jam session.

Charlie Ballantine: I feel like there is so much that goes into “the jam session” that you just have to be there to experience it, so I’ll just try and hit some things that I’ve picked up on over the years.

There is always a lot of contention over what tunes to call at a jam and one thing I try to do is think of songs that most people know, have heard, or can read down with ease.  Contrary to popular belief I don’t think it should be used as an opportunity to call your fastest or most harmonically complex tune.  Sometimes at a jam none of the players on the stage have ever met each other so in that context the best things happen when every player is comfortable and having a good time. Music should always be fun!

Another thing that I think can hold people back at a jam is being afraid of folding. The fold is a huge part of this music. We have all done it many times and we will do it many more. Folding on stage has taught me so many things like how to trust and listen to the musicians around me, how to turn mistakes into something that works, and that I learn more from trying new things in a performance setting than any amount of hours I’ve spent in a practice room. 

Lastly, the most significant thing I’ve learned from jazz jams is to try and make everything I do reactionary and complimentary. I use the first rule of improv comedy “agree with everything”.  Sometimes it’s kind of uncertain what I should be doing or what my function is at any given time (especially when there are multiple chordal instruments) but if every one of my actions is a reaction to something the bass player, drummer, or soloist does, it will help the flow of everything while also connecting the band on a deeper level.  It also forces me to play ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. 

Mike Kessler:

#1 If you are a singer, pick a song that is an actual jazz standard and know what key you sing it in.

#2 Know the form of the tune, and realize that the band will be soloing on that form. A lot of people come in and lose the form or don't follow it when we are soloing and don't know when to come back in.

#3 Be prepared.

And be prepared to fail. This should actually be number one. Regardless of how much preparation you do on your own, you will fold, you will make a fool of yourself. Playing jazz is more than just practicing scales and chords. It is creating a group statement on the spot, which takes time to learn how to do. You are basically trying to let 4 or 5 people all talk at once, and have it make sense!

#4 Be a nice person.

The jazz community can be pretty harsh in their criticism of other musicians. If someone tells you something you are doing wrong, they are helping you - even though it might not feel like it at the time. If you are nice, and a "good hang" folks will be more forgiving if you don't have your playing completely together.

#5 Be aware.

Jazz is a conversation - don't hog it. Listen to what others are "saying" and respond to it. This is true when you are off the bandstand as well. Listen to the players everyone seems to enjoy. What are they doing that you need to do?

#6 This also falls under the awareness heading, but if the session is about to end and you haven't played yet. Tell the guys in the band you'll come back some other time. Musicians don't like working overtime any more than you do.  If you must sit in close to closing time, keep your solo short, the guys in the band will appreciate that more than even the most blistering solo.

#7 Tip the band well! 
 
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