Jammin' is almost a must do activity for blues and jazz players. Playing in a jam is usually a loose situation, with just enough structure to keep the groove in groove. It's a chance to stretch out and play with some folks one may have never seen before.
There is quite a history to the jams in the Twin Cities. Through the 1980's, the legendary Sunday afternoon jam at Red's Roost (now known as Blues Alley in Minneapolis) spawned many of the currently popular musicians and working bands in the area.
One of the longer running jams in the area has been at Whiskey Junction with a few fine hosts over the years including R.J. Mischo and Joel Johnson. Another long running jam is at the Blues Saloon, formerly hosted by Dan Neal among others. Then there's the St. Paul area jam with Joe Juliano which once was at the Brown Derby, later at the Rockin' Eastside and then found a new home at the Minnesota Music Cafe. The jam at the Brown Derby has continued with other hosts including Andy Baily and now with Gerry Francis. A few more jams have sprung up over the years and now there is more than ample opportunity to participate.
Every week, in fact, nearly every day of the week there's at least one jam session going on. Working players who are looking for a little extra stage time, players who are between projects and want to keep their chops up, players who are scouting for potential band members, closet monsters and outright beginners meet for a few hours of music Sundays through Thursdays at several local clubs.
Music lovers are attracted to the jams because the quality of the music is generally good and sometimes it's phenomenal. One never knows who might show up or what might happen. When the jam takes off it often generates a life and an energy all it's own -- like a new band with out any polish, but with many ideas -- some work and some don't, but that's okay because, after all, "it's a jam."
The jams are often interesting and possibly even more entertaining than just going out to hear a band. Of course, at most jams, there is often an army of guitar players on the sign-up list, and frequently a brigade of harmonica players but, every once in while a violin, cello or stand-up bass shows up. And, it's not too infrequent that enough horns come around to put together a large section. Between the hosting band and the players who sign-up, there is very often a good mixture of instruments on stage along with enough talent and fun to make it all work. And audiences really get into it all -- applauding the solos, dancing and encouraging the musicians -- even playing percussion instruments on the dance floor. So pick a night or two and check out some of these more popular jam sessions:
Moses Oakland on guitar and vocals hosts a blues jam at Famous Dave's BBQ & Blues in Calhoun Square, Lake and Hennepin, Minneapolis. The jam starts at 8:00pm and runs until 12:00 midnight.
The Brown Derby in St. Paul is host to a jam with Gerry Francis on guitar and vocals, Jimi "Prime Time" Smith on guitar and vocals, Leon McCormick on bass, and either Doug James or Donald "Hye Pockets" Robertson on drums.
The Poodle Club at 30th and East Lake Street in Minneapolis features a Sunday Jam that was originally run by Big Bob Scoggin for a few years. Bob recently moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and the jam has been taken over by Phil Kitze and the Resonators.
The most common jam night gets an early start with Willie Murphy on guitar, John Beach on keys, and Doug James on drums at the Viking Bar, Riverside on the West Bank, Minneapolis. The jam begins at 5pm and runs until around 8:30. Between Willie's searing guitar solos, the solid groove and the assorted horn players and singers who frequently show up, this jam is great fun to watch and hear. The jam is mostly blues and some funky rock & roll. Happy hour just doesn't get any happier.
Those who want to stay on the West Bank can move on down to the Whiskey Junction, 901Cedar, Minneapolis, for the jam with Dan Lund and Mic McCormick on guitars, John Iden on bass, Bronson on drums, and Mary Rancone on guitar. This jam is a mixture of musical styles with blues and country dominating. Dan Lund and Mic McCormick are Telemasters with different but complimentary styles. Their guitar work is simply fascinating to hear and to watch. The jam gets rolling around 9:30pm and goes until 1:00 am.
Similar hours are kept at the Blues Saloon at Western and Thomas, St. Paul, where Moses Oakland and Blues Maniacs, including Randal Pye on the drums, are hosts. This is a blues jam for the most part with a usual horn section and occasional keys. The crowd is a mix of urban and suburban visitors, including a fairly high number of college age players and their friends.
The newest kids on the jammin' block are at Half Time Rec, 1013 Front, St. Paul. This jam just started in March and is hosted by Elijah Blues. Jim Steinworth is on the keys. This is a blues jam with a rock edge. High energy and lots of fun.
Brewbaker's, McKnight & 36 Plaza, North St. Paul, is the site of the Tuesday blues jam hosted by Kurt Koehler & the Inside Straight Blues Band; with Koehler on guitar and vocals, Pete Meyer on guitar, Greg Beach on bass, and Rick Johnson on drums. Also on the bill are the "Brew Horns" with Joe Alley on saxophone (and keyboards) and Jeff Carver on trumpet. Both Joe and Jeff are regular members of the band, Power of Ten. It's not unusual to see as many as twelve or fifteen musicians on stage at one time at this jam, depending on the number of horn players who sign- up. On the last Tuesday of each month, Big Walter Smith is a featured guest artist. This high quality jam features almost entirely blues. Music starts a 8:30pm and runs until 12:00 midnight.
Joe Juliano and a Hot Cup of Rhythm & Blues are on tap at the Minnesota Music Cafe, featuring Joe on guitar and vocals, Leon McCormick on bass, Andy Baily on keys and vocals, and Craig Gallus on drums. This popular jam is marked by it's fine musicianship, and by Joe's entertaining style of fronting the band with wit and soul. This jam is frequented by many of the area's heavyweights in the music biz. The style of play is mixture of blues, R&B, soul, and funk. Music begins at 9:00pm and runs until 1:00am.
Another of the newer jams in town is at Mario's Keller Bar on University Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis. Alternating hosts include Foster Willy and Terraplane, and the Don King Blues Band.
The Brown Derby in St. Paul is host to a jam with Gerry Francis on guitar and vocals, and much the same line-up as the Sunday jam there, with Jimi "Prime Time" Smith on guitar and vocals, and Leon McCormick on bass. Doug James and Donald "Hye Pockets" Robertson, on drums, share this job. When you go, you will likely find one or the other on the skins.
Go to the Blues Jams page for more blues shows and jams around the area. If you are aware of other jams or corrections to this article and the Jams Page please send an e-mail.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Kurt Koehler, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.