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Ya Like Jazz?

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor

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Senior jazz studies major Clayton Ryan intently plucked the strings of his standup bass, his hands dancing like a spider, as the triumphant roar of a saxophone and the rhythmic pounding of drums spontaneously coalesced into a magical melding of melody.

This was just one of the countless moments of musical improvisation and collaboration from this past Monday night, when dozens of UNI jazz students and community members alike converged on the Octopus on College Hill to transform the Monday blues into an hours-long jazz jam session.

The night largely consisted of UNI jazz students taking turns performing and experimenting with popular jazz standards. The rotating band of musicians on the Octopus stage consistently featured a rhythm section that involved a keyboard, standup bass and drums backing the horn player.

Ryan, who organized Monday’s jam session, stressed the improvisational nature of a jazz jam, as well as the educational opportunity these sessions provide to students.

“The way I look at it, for the players, it’s a chance to learn, on the fly, things you don’t know, and to practice what we’re learning at the university,” Ryan said. “I hope it’s just a place where they can all learn from other musicians, because no one’s showing up here to outdo anyone else. The community of music here is amazing – everyone is just trying to learn and teach each other.”

Paul Lichty, a UNI alumnus who graduated this past May with a major in music education and jazz studies, was one of the many current and former students who took the stage Monday night. He played the trombone.

“Especially for the musicians, jam sessions are a great opportunity to play with each other in a live setting, but in a setting that’s not too stressful or formal,” Lichty said. “A lot of us spend a lot of time in the practice rooms, but seeing it pay off in a performance is a whole different aspect […] And from an audience standpoint, it’s just a lot of fun. If the musicians are up there doing a good job and having fun, then the audience is going to have fun as well.”

Emily Snyder was one of the audience members at Monday’s jazz jam. Snyder, lead singer in the band Goosetown, was in attendance to primarily support some of her band members who were participating in the jam session.

“This is sort of a place where people can be relaxed and get familiar with jazz and [see] how people express themselves,” Snyder said. “And for a lot of students that are kind of new to the area, hopefully it will make them more comfortable with the UNI jazz scene outside of their teachers critiquing them, where they can just figure out what works for them.”

Monday’s jam session was the second in a planned series of jazz jams at the Octopus, according to Ryan.

“I started this jazz jam a couple weeks ago because there’s a big jazz culture at UNI and the school of music,” Ryan said. “Cedar Falls is a very music-friendly area, and […] Dave [Deibler, owner of the Octopus] has been doing the best job of promoting music and keeping it alive here.”

According to Ryan, after initially holding jazz jams in his basement at his house, he was inspired to bring these jam sessions to a place where more people could enjoy them and participate. More than anything, Ryan was inspired to emulate the legendary jazz jams from the golden age of jazz.

“There’s a huge history with the jazz jam – like, back when jazz was like the pop music in the 30s and 40s, there were these huge jam sessions where they would play from 7 p.m. to six in the morning,” Ryan said. “And people would stay there and lose their s—t watching people who’d later become famous like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane – all these legendary jazz figures that started out showing up at these jams.”

Ryan said he plans on hosting a jazz jam at the Octopus twice a month, every other Monday. According to Ryan, there will never be a cover charge at these jam sessions, and while the bar will be limited to those of legal drinking age, admission to the jazz jams themselves will be open for all ages.

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Ya Like Jazz?