Every Monday evening, The Blue Room stage becomes an epicenter for a quintessential jazz experience: the jam session. Blue Monday jams are integral to American Jazz Museum programming, as well as the greater Kansas City jazz scene. For bassist Seth Lee, jam sessions are critical because they are where information gets passed along. He explains that, “historically, jam sessions were vitally important to the conditions that created KC’s rather unique role in the development of jazz,” and they still continue to be.
Gerald Dunn, Director of Entertainment and Blue Room General Manager (and killer saxophonist), reflects on the first Blue Monday the Museum hosted, back in 1997. “It was packed of course, and there were a ton of musicians waiting to get up and play. It was just a big party . . . standing room only. It even got to a point where we had to start limiting choruses on songs like Ray Noble’s ‘Cherokee,’ where people could (and would!) solo for days. We had musician after musician after musician.”
Dunn says Blue Mondays are an important part of AJM programming because “The Blue Room is a breeding ground for aspiring musicians. It’s a fellowship and workshop where cats come and get their tunes together. Or if you’re working on something, you can get a chance to have people listen to you and get constructive criticism.”
Each week, a different musician hosts the session, beginning with an hour long (or so) set, and then opening it up for others to sit in. Lee, who hosted a recent Blue Monday session, encourages young musicians especially to attend because it’s a great opportunity to meet other players and gain experience. “I’ve seen so many kids play for the first time at jams and later become the leading musicians in KC and beyond,” he observes.
For Zach Ruhmann and Brady Johnstone, two UMKC Jazz Studies students, Blue Monday jams are a unique opportunity to develop as young musicians. Both Ruhmann and Johnstone first began participating in jam sessions at the Kransberg Arts Center in St. Louis, before moving to Kansas City. Johnstone, a Blue Monday regular, remembers his first jam session experience and the anxiety that accompanied it. “It’s a hard thing to do, to put yourself out there as a young musician. But it’s necessary.”
The audience experience at a Blue Monday is also something special. Dunn describes it as “a harmonious event in a room filled with excitement and energy that inspires musicians to move to the pinnacle of their performance.” Ruhmann also enjoys the interaction with audiences at Blue Mondays. “I’ve known plenty of people who come to jams and they think it’s so amazing how people come up there and name a tune and a key, and they all play it and they’re all in sync together.”
Additionally, these guys appreciate that Blue Mondays are also an important opportunity to do business. Ruhmann particularly enjoys the weekly jams because “they’re an opportunity to see and experience everyone progress in the music . . . to meet new people and network.” Dunn agrees there is a high business value as well, and that “producers come in and listen, and cats get gigs from sessions. It’s a business.”
What better way to build up the next generation of jazz legends?
Jam sessions are every Monday, except the last Monday of the month. Doors open at 5 p.m., a featured artist hosts a set at 7 p.m., and then anyone who is in attendance can sign up to sit in! Visit americanjazzmuseum.org for the most up-to-date schedule.
–Marissa Baum and Luke Harbur