The jam session has proved to be a durable institution in jazz for a number of reasons. For musicians, a jam session can be a proving ground, a laboratory and a networking opportunity. For listeners, it's a source of novel, spontaneous entertainment. And for bar, restaurant and club owners, a jam session can be a way to vary their musical offerings and perhaps attract additional patrons at times when business otherwise might be a bit slack.
No surprise then, that even as the rest of the music business has changed drastically, the jam session has remained something of a staple over the years. One current local example of the format is the weekly Tuesday night session at Robbie's House of Jazz, a venue that also hosts a "jam" expressly for vocalists on Wednesday nights. Certain other regular gigs, such as the Voodoo Blues Band's weekly Sunday matinees at Hammerstone's, may not be billed specifically as jam sessions, but have developed a reputation as being open to sit-ins from visiting musicians.
Now, whether it's a sign of impending Spring or just a coincidence, it looks like the local jam session scene is about to enjoy a growth spurt, with three recurring events being added to the musical menu:
* The group Nu-Element, which previously has been involved with jam sessions at a couple of different local venues, now will hold forth from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. every Thursday at Hwy 61 Roadhouse in Webster Groves. Trumpeter/leader Keith Moyer says the band, which also includes Grant Krener (guitar), Charlie Brown (piano), Rich Mendoza (bass) and Ron Carr (drums), will welcome sit-ins on the gig - and with thriving jazz programs nearby at both Webster University and Webster Groves High School, there's already a good-sized pool of potential jammers right in the neighborhood.
* The Tavern of Fine Arts, located in the Central West End at 313 Belt Ave. (near Pershing), now is sponsoring a monthly "Avant-Garde Arts Night" starting at 7:30 p.m. the last Tuesday of every month, with the next one scheduled this coming Tuesday, February 28. While it's not quite an open jam per se, percussionist Thomas Zirkle leads a core group of players - some associated with presenting organization New Music Circle - in a free form improv session, with guest musicians joining in and painters or sculptors creating new works on the spot.
* Starting on Sunday, March 4, bassist Willem von Hombracht, a mainstay of Tuesday nights at Robbie's, will add another session to his portfolio with "Willem's Sunday Jazz Jam," a weekly event at Johnny Gitto's bar and restaurant, 6997 Chippewa (just inside the city limits). Singer Joe Mancuso, who's organizing the sessions with von Hombracht, says the bassist will anchor a three-piece rhythm section for an open jam from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. each week. Gitto's also will be offering specials on food and drink during the weekly sessions, said Mancuso.