New weekly jazz jam sessions a hit at Studio 116 pocket park
FARMINGTON — A new series of weekly jazz jam sessions in downtown Farmington got off to a fast start last week, with several dozen people crowding into the new pocket park behind the Studio 116 art gallery for free live music, hot dogs and bottled water.
The gatherings, which resume Wednesday, take place at 7 p.m. each Wednesday through Sept. 5 at Studio 116, 116 W. Main St. They are led by local jazz bandleader and trumpet player Delbert Anderson, and feature a host band and a rotating cast of other musicians.
The events are financed by a grant from the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation. It was Anderson who came up with the idea for the sessions and wrote the grant proposal. He said the idea came to him last spring when he was organizing the annual Jazz Festival at San Juan College, where he serves as an adjunct faculty member in the music department.
Anderson brought in one of his mentors, trumpet player Brad Goode, to perform at the festival in April, and Goode agreed to lead a jazz jam session afterward at a local restaurant. Anderson was so pleased with the way the evening went, he wondered to himself if it might not be possible to stage such gatherings on a regular basis, giving his students a chance to work on their chops while sitting in with a crew of local professional musicians.
When Studio 116 owner Karen Ellsbury opened her long-planned pocket park and performance space behind her gallery last month, Anderson realized the perfect venue had become available for what he had in mind. And when the foundation responded favorably to his grant proposal, all the pieces had fallen together.
The only question that remained was whether the public would respond to it. As it turns out, Anderson needn't have worried. By the time the first of the weekly sessions ended on July 11, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people had assembled to enjoy the free music, food and drink.
"It was a great turnout, and I think it shows people really do appreciate things like this," Anderson said.
Ellsbury was enthusiastic about the idea for the sessions as soon as Anderson presented it to her, and last week's event helped introduce her new facility to many people.
"We were thrilled," Ellsbury said. "It was amazing. It's clear the community is hungry for these kinds of events."
This week's session will feature a new twist – the creation of a painting by artist Winona D. House, who will work in front of the audience while the jam session unfolds. At the end of the night, the painting will be sold to the highest bidder.
Ellsbury wanted to make the addition of a painter part of the jam sessions from the get-go, but Anderson said he preferred to wait a week to see how the first gathering went before he tweaked the formula. The success of last week's event gave him the confidence to add that element to the gatherings, and now a different painter will be featured each week.
The idea of creating the pocket park is something Ellsbury has kicked around since opening her gallery five years ago. But it wasn't until plans for the downtown Complete Streets renovation became a reality and Ellsbury received a grant helping to fund the project that she saw her idea reach fruition. Last week's jam session epitomized what she hopes her new pocket park will become – a relaxed community gathering spot that promotes the local arts scene in various forms.
"You talk about the struggle being worth the outcome," she said. "We struggled for five years to make it happen, but it did, and we've gotten a big emotional reward."
Anderson is pleased with the public response, but he's just as happy about the opportunity the jam sessions offer to his San Juan College students. He said jazz jam sessions have a long history of breaking down racial, age and other barriers between musicians, allowing younger players to experiment with and develop their skills, while offering older professional players the chance to share their wisdom and experience.
The grant only funds the sessions through Sept. 6, but Anderson said the possibility exists for the grant to be extended to later in the fall if the events remain as successful as the first one was.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.