Weeknights are when Westchester’s amateur bluesmen and blueswomen come out to play at local blues jams. Leaving their “regular” lives behind at around 9 pm, they grab their guitars (and sometimes their favorite amps), basses, drumsticks, or horns and go play the blues. Goodness knows they don’t do it for the money.
At the host venue, jammers place their names on a sign-up sheet, and at some jams are asked to pay a minimal cover charge (usually around $5) towards the host band. But what’s five bucks when you can perform in front of a live audience?
The host band, which provides the drums, keyboard, microphones, PA system, and amplifiers for the jammers’ use, plays a few tunes before the jammers are called up for sets of two or three songs. Musicians from the house band often sit in as needed. Usually the lead singer “calls” the song choice to the other musicians: “It’s a shuffle in A,” or, “It’s a slow blues in B minor.” The jammers find the tune and make it work.
For ease of recognition, some jammers are known by nicknames. At a recent Tuesday night jam at Jackson & Wheeler in Pleasantville, for instance, there were Big Al, Medium-Sized Al, Amazing Larry, and Larry B. “I basically go to a minimum of three jams a week and I’ve been doing this for three to five years,” says “Amazing” Larry Handwerger, 55, a resident of Yorktown Heights who works in the insurance business by day. “Any excuse to play, I am there.”
The blues developed as the African American musical expression of struggle and longing—yet the blues, as any aficianado will tell you, is uplifting. Melodies and lyrics can be shared even if all experiences cannot. As Pleasantville resident and professional musician and jam host Geoff Hartwell, 31, says, “The blues jam is a community music event in the old-school sense. It’s made for people of all ages and technical levels to be able to come together and find common ground through music. That common ground is the blues tradition and respect for each other.”
As the song goes, “the blues is here to stay…”
“Amazing” Larry Handwerger (guitar above) plays the blues with fellow jammers.
Here’s where you can find local blues jams. (Call ahead for schedule changes.)
599 E Post Rd, Mamaroneck
Westchester- and Fairfield-based guitarist Johnny Feds and Da Bluez Boyz perform both classic and contemporary high-energy electric blues. As their website promises, “Once Da Boyz get cookin’, they’ll boogie your woogie ‘till you can’t find your way back home!”
Geoff Hartwell Jam
Geoff Hartwell—whose Geoff Hartwell Band hosts this jam, which, until recently, took place at Jackson & Wheeler in Pleasantville (check his website for the new location)—is a New York-area guitarist, singer/songwriter, teacher, and clinician. In addition to maintaining a busy clinic, teaching, and recording schedule (look for the band’s new album), Geoff Hartwell continues to perform roughly 200 nights per year.
Globe Bar & Grill
1879 Palmer Ave, Larchmont
Drummer (and drum teacher) Gary Schwartz (of The Blue Rays), guitarist “Little Marty” Schecter (of The Greenville Glide), and bassist and singer/songwriter Rich Kelly (of the Geoff Hartwell Band) can be found regularly leading and participating in working bands, ensembles, and jams any night of the week throughout the area.
Hyde Park Brewery
4076 Albany Post Rd (Rt 9), Hyde Park, NY
Hyde Park Brewery’s jam is hosted by Petey Hop. A guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Hop is equally at home playing down-home blues, folk, country, rockabilly, funk, rhythm & blues, reggae, ska, and blistering rock ’n’ roll. He specializes in acoustic country blues, Delta blues, electric blues, and country styles and performs locally and throughout the tri-state region.
152 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains
The Curtis Winchester Band, based in the metro New York area, is a rhythm & blues band playing a wide variety of styles that gets listeners up and dancing. Guitarist Gil Parris, also based locally, has released R&B, smooth jazz, traditional jazz, and blues albums nationally. Vintage Guitar Magazine has described Parris as “…one of the finest players around” and his music as a “dazzling mix of jazz, funk, and even country.”
166 Stoneleigh Ave, Croton Falls
This jam is also hosted by Gary Schwartz, “Little Marty” Schechter, and Rich Kelly.
Larry Berglas (“Larry B.”) is an arts business lawyer and freelance writer based in White Plains (when he’s not out blues jamming). For more information, visit artbizlaw.com.