Popular DC Jazz Jam returns after COVID shutdowns, moves to Mt. Pleasant

A popular, free-flowing and free to the public musical get-together has weathered three years of the pandemic, and is trying to regain its momentum.

“The DC Jazz Jam was a weekly jam session on U Street, that we ran for a little more than 10 years, before the COVID shutdown,” said organizer Will Stephens. Started at Dahlak in 2009, then moving to The Brixton in 2015, the next DC Jazz Jam is Sunday night, March 19, at Haydee’s in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Northwest D.C.

“Mount Pleasant has a great commercial strip, that actually has a history of supporting live music and arts,” Stephens said.

Given the airborne nature of COVID-19, it was difficult to schedule jazz events. “It’s one thing to have a jazz combo in the corner, it’s something else to have a jazz jam session, where you might have 10 saxophones walking in the door, blowing,” said Stephens.

He added that each session has a house band, and musicians who sign up are welcome to get their turn.

“There’s probably about a couple hundred — maybe more — tunes that every jazz player knows,” said Stephens, which provide the framework for a performance that isn’t written on sheet music.

“You play the melody, and then everyone takes turns soloing over that, and then you play the melody again at the end,” he said. “All the part in the middle is improvisational.”

Stephens says the audience is generally a combination of musicians, jazz fans and people in the neighborhood.

“What’s fun is when people come in the door, they get to call their tune, for when they get called up to play with the band, so it’s a tune they know,” he said.

Sunday’s DC Jazz Jam is from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Haydee’s on 3102 Mount Pleasant Street NW.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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