Clutching a mic and framed in twisting shadows cast by bright stage lights, twenty-seven-year-old Kelly Sutton belted out “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” Having finished her Sunday shift at Kathy’s Pub, she got on stage and captivated patrons with her powerful voice. The long, dim bar acknowledged her sparkling performance with a loud whistle-sprinkled round of applause.
Despite her tremendous performance, she hadn’t rehearsed the song previously and had just met three of the other musicians on stage. Sutton was a guest performer with the band Brian Olson put together to host Kathy’s newly launched weekly jam session.
The sessions kick off every Sunday at about 8:30 p.m., and area musicians are encouraged to sit in. The jam is open to a wide variety of music. Olson lists his favorite genres as blues, rock, country, and jazz, but songs on his set list included everything from “Oye Como Va” to “Stormy Monday.”
“I really enjoy the jam sessions because it is a fun way to get up and sing with talented musicians even though I don’t always have time to organize, practice, and perform,” explains Sutton.
“Rochester has a long history of jam sessions, and I wanted to bring that history back,” says Olson. His project follows in the footsteps of jams that took place in the same location in the ‘70s when Kathy’s Pub was known as the Hollywood.
Olson, a veteran singer and guitarist, fronts a trio of some of the area’s finest rock, blues, and jazz musicians to host the jam. Steve “Dancin’” Hansen, who plays with groups like Blue Rooster, holds down the bass lines, and Miles Johnston drums up some tight rhythms.
From the stage, Olson referenced the famous America song and dubbed the jam’s host band “the band with no name” as Jim Rownd joined the musical melee on guitar. Rownd advises, “If something cool is happening, go with it.”
“It leaves more room for improvisation when you are mixing styles and abilities. It can lead to places a more formal practiced performance can’t take you,” notes vocalist and harmonica player Rick Miller when he considered the benefits of a jam session. Miller, joining the session for a few songs, usually performs with the zydeco and blues influenced Swamp Kings.
Describing what its like to play with musicians you’ve never met, Johnson says, “You’re on your toes and listening intently. Your own performance, then, will better fit with theirs.” In addition to manning the drums, Johnston plays cornet, and he switched over to the horn when another drummer, Pat Cunningham sat in.
In Cunningham’s opinion, the jam sessions are important because they give “musicians who don’t get to play on a regular basis a chance to get up and play on stage.” Olson notes that the session is a great networking opportunity.
Johnston invites everyone to join in: “Don’t be afraid, just come out, relax and have a good time. Everybody should just have fun and enjoy the camaraderie.”