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On Jam Sessions, Ass Kickings, and The Yardbird Suite


I believe it was sometime in 2004 that I first attended a professional jam session. I was 15 or 16, and my teacher was hosting an open jazz jam at the Yardbird Suite, Edmontons hidden jem of a jazz venue. I remember very little of this particular outing, I do remember that I wound up playing with the house band one of very few standards I had learned at that point: 'All The Things You Are'.

The venue looked different than it does today, the entrance on a different side of the building, the interior more reminiscent of a dive bar than a concert venue. I returned eager to be thrown into the fire as many Tuesday nights as I could. Some evenings felt successful, others were less encouraging. There was once a time when the entire band needed to be stopped because the book I was bringing with me had an incorrect chart for Blue in Green, and another time when I got so horrendously lost in the changes to Stella by Starlight that a musician many years my senior decided to cut off my solo.

The sign up sheets for these jams weren't kept at the door the way they are now, it was a comically oversized note pad that sat to the left of the stage and was lit by a lone lamp. I remember initially being intimidated by this, though I suppose it became routine. I signed up every week, but I didn't always get a chance to play. This disappointment helped me to learn humility, and reminded me I still had a great many dues to pay.

I likely owe my passion for jazz music to these sessions, and the fact that they were made available to me at such a young age. Were it not for my Tuesday evening tradition, it is unlikely I would have gained the desire to improve that I am still feeding to this day.

In the years since, I have seen a number of young musicians grow into mature musicians, Tuesday nights offering a venue for us to experiment, and at times, to fail and as a result, grow. I am encouraged to see that young musicians, whether they are Macewan students, advanced (and ballsy) high-school players, or just fellow humans trying to stoke the fires of creativity. I cannot begin to explain the value associated with putting yourself on a stage with a group of players, some of whom you may not play with, others who might be total strangers, and being given the task of creating music.

So if you're ever wondering what I'm doing on a Tuesday night, drop by the Suite.


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©2020 by John Sweenie. ​

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