Ask someone about jazz, and images of dark clubs – hazy with midnight light and the ooze of smoke, dripping with liquor and centered around the wail of horns – will flit their way across the mind. Musicians are sprawled across the place, bumping elbows with other greats, and waiting for the mood to strike so they can clamor onstage. This is the late-night jam scene, and the place to experience of the future of jazz.
Today’s jams are certainly different from this image, though not by too much – they still represent a vital pillar of the jazz community, and the growing jazz/hip-hop scene that is as much experimental and improvised as your more frequented and accustomed sessions. Each place exists as a place where musicians are free to explore “their sound” and showing up for a celebration of one another’s art – pure freedom to express, no matter what genre.
Where generations mesh, and old & new sounds mingle, here are 5 New York jam sessions musicians and music-lovers alike ought to check out:
1.) Smalls Jazz Club (Greenwich Village)
Smalls originally opened in 1994, with the likes of Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Norah Jones and Kurt Rosenwinkel frequenting the sessions. Rebirthed in 2007 by pianist Spike Wilner, this West Village basement club is a staple to the Village jazz scene. The space is strewn with carpets, mirrors, and the latest rising artists in jazz – from the New School Jazz students looking to cut their teeth, to young and heralded artists like Josh Evans, to the beloved pianist Johnny O’Neill, Smalls is never one disappoint. Check out their extensive archives for a taste of what the jam has to offer. If you don’t live in the city, don’t fret, Smalls streams every show live online. Support the scene by becoming a member and read more here about the Smalls Live Revenue Share Project. Also check out Mezzrow right around the corner – founded by Spike Wilner and endorsed by Steinway – which features many unique duo collaborative performances.
2.) Evolution Jam Session at Zinc Bar (Greenwich Village)
3.) Marc Cary’s Harlem Sessions at Ginny’s Supper Club (Harlem)
The newest jam on the list, Marc Cary has been hosting his “Harlem Sessions” for over a year now. But within that first year, The Harlem Sessions stage has been graced by Vijay Iyer, Ben Williams, Bertha Hope, Kebbie Williams, Braxton Cook, Tom Brown, Terreon Gully, Maya Azucena, Alison Crockett, Jessica Care Moore, The Office’s Craig Robinson, Jean Baylor, Sullivan Fortner, Al B Sure, Igmar Thomas, Corey Wallace, members of The United Nations Youth Orchestra and nearly 100 other musicians, poets and dancers, who make up the fabric of our scene. Musicians are free if performing and welcome to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you are looking to join the jam’s homage to late and great black and american composers, occurring at Ginny’s Supper Club every Thursday night.
4.) The Shed at Silvana (Harlem)
4.)The Lesson at Arlene’s Grocery (Lower East Side)
The New York experimental hip-hop-soul jam sessions, The Lesson is one of the most renowned sessions and is reminiscent the immortalized Black Lily jam sessions at Wetlands, led by The Roots. Gentei Kaijo heads up this session led by drummer Lenny Reece (DJ Premier live band) & Phaseone Yeah. Lead vocalist Jonathan Hoard has been churning out melodies for over 2 years now. The crew has been serving up audiences the next generation of artists working between the lines of neo-soul, hip-hop, jazz, R&B, funk, and everything else in between. Hosted every Thursday night at Arlene’s Grocery, The Lesson is renown for its eclectic mix of vocalists, instrumentalists, emcees, turntablists, and producers. RSVP here to join the ranks of the many who have passed through the doors of The Lesson.