Our Monthly Jazz Jam is in it’s second year, and Ernie Paik of the Pulse interviewed David Schwab and Sharon Dunn, who developed and direct the event, for the Pulse. Read it below or follow this link.
What makes the Monthly Jazz Jam work so well?
The Monthly Jazz Jam (MJJ) is its own special thing—to call it “Jazz Karaoke” or “Open Mic Jazz” would be both a disservice and inaccurate.
Held at Barking Legs Theater on the last Sunday of every month, from 3 to 5 p.m., aspiring players sign up at the door, listing two or three jazz standards, and have the opportunity to be backed by professional performers.
Drawing inspiration from similar events in other cities, this local incarnation—which is open to the public, including those who just want to listen—was started one year ago by vocalist Sharon Dunn and bassist David Schwab.
The two met as performers at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church two years ago and are getting married this October; they took the time to answer some questions via email for The Pulse.
“Sharon has been exploring the bluegrass scene over the last few years and had seen lots of jam sessions in that community, so she asked me if I would be interested in doing anything like that in Chattanooga with jazz,” said Schwab. “We brought the idea to Bruce Kaplan and Barking Legs, and he was behind the idea; so we did it!”
“We’ve attended jam sessions in Atlanta and one at the Nashville Jazz Workshop to see how they work,” said Schwab. “I lived in New Orleans for a long time, and I was not ever aware of a jam session down there, but everyone was always willing to let people sit in on the gigs.
“Our intent with starting the jam was to give musicians of all skill levels a place to hone their skills, meet other players, build the jazz community in Chattanooga, and provide a chance to play in a live performance setting,” said Schwab.
“It’s always surprising to find a new jazz player that you didn’t know,” said Dunn. “At the jam session in July 2018, there was a great moment when a young trumpet player got up and played two tunes.”
“He was very young, and his family was out there to support him,” said Dunn. “He represents the next generation of jazz musicians in this town.”
Currently a music instructor at the Montessori School in Cleveland, Tenn. and for local Musikgarten classes, Dunn began piano lessons at the age of seven, picked up the oboe and French horn in high school and also started taking voice lessons as a teen.
Dunn received her music education and vocal performance degree from Union University, focusing on classical music, but her interest in jazz didn’t begin until she was 28.“I wanted to improve my piano skills and learn to play chord charts for church in a contemporary worship setting,” said Dunn, whose piano instructor, Walter Scott, had encouraged her to listen to the local jazz radio station.
“I started listening to jazz nonstop, and then signed up for vocal jazz classes at the Nashville Jazz Workshop,” said Dunn, who cites greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and Blossom Dearie as inspiration to help develop her own style. “The music and its history grabbed hold of me and didn’t let me go.”
Schwab, who started with piano and trumpet as a child and picked up the guitar and bass as a teen, experienced parallel career paths—while working on his Computer Science degree at Vanderbilt University, he was also immersed in jazz and later earned a master’s degree in Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans.
Currently a lecturer at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga in Computer Science and working on a doctorate, Schwab had previously performed on a cruise ship for six months, and after Hurricane Katrina, he relocated to Chattanooga to teach jazz and earn his master’s degree in Computer Science.
“We have been very pleasantly surprised by the turnout for the events,” said Schwab. “It’s a really positive atmosphere at the jam session, and no one brings a bad attitude. Everyone is very encouraging.”
When asked about music advice, Schwab recalled a story from his bass teacher in New Orleans, Chris Severin, about a particular gig, and it can relate to how the MJJ can be enriching for both performers and listeners.
“It was not a great gig, but the clarinet player on the gig was having a great time,” said Schwab. “On the break, Chris asked the clarinet player why he was enjoying the gig so much.”“He said it was this little thing that the percussionist was doing that was really cool,” said Schwab. “His point was that no matter how bad a gig was, there’s always something good going on that you can learn from if you just listen.”
Monthly Jazz Jam
Sunday, August 26, 3 p.m.
Barking Legs Theater
1307 Dodds Ave.