This coming Monday night, the Library Coffeehouse will host the first Long Beach Jazz Lab + Experiment. This is an opportunity for players of all stripes to sit in with top notch professionals, share new work or just have fun. The jam session takes place every other Monday. Saxophonist Jonathan Rowden was instrumental in creating the series, which began in Brea, and continues at McClain’s in Fullerton.

“My original intentions were twofold. The jazz scene in OC is very splintered, and there is not a lot of jazz in general. I thought this was a way to help strengthen the jazz community. Second, I selfishly wanted a place to try out all my new stuff every week with great musicians!”

According to Rowden, the vision is summed up in a three point statement.

“A Place To Create: Come, bring your axe, and play your heart out; but that’s not all. Openness to original compositions and arrangements is a cultural reality here. Bring your audio recorders too, and record your tunes to get a fresh perspective on them.

“A Place To Connect: Make new friends, connect over coffee, share ideas and concepts, and birth new projects together.

“A Place To Cultivate: A place where we are all peers, and are open to a time of giving and receiving thoughtful, constructive critique about our tunes and our improvising. A time to try out new concepts, approaches, and ideas together!

“A jam session is an event that is designed to build community in a particular genre, and give players an opportunity to work out their ideas, and to rub shoulders with others that will help them grow into the musician they want to be. Call it mentorship by association.

“I think the beauty of what we’ve created is that, while the players are mostly professionals and students of music, the culture is such that anybody can enjoy coming. A typical problem associated with the jam session scene is that people often feel ‘vibed’ by other musicians who are more advanced than them. They essentially get cold-stared off of the stage, which is not cool. Our motto is ‘leave your ego at the door.’ The guys hosting with me have been awesome at this, and we consistently have people with a wide range of skill sets coming in, and enjoying themselves immensely. And with so many pros coming, audiences have gotten a heavy dose of great improvised music, perhaps more than they might even at some of the more mainstream venues around.”

Like many jazz players, Rowden is aware that venues are actually in short supply.

“It’s sort of an urban jungle, and in L.A. it can take twenty to fourty minutes to get from one venue to another. In Orange County, there simply aren’t many jazz venues. Plus, musicians are spread out. If musicians were more localized, and if cities had more of a focus on creating venues for great musicians to play at, I’d like to think that the scene would be heavier. Hopefully we can create an alternative venue.”

Several Long Beach players are part of the core group, including bassist Anthony Shadduck, drummer Jacob Wendt, and saxophonist Alex Sadnik. On keyboards is Ryan Pryor.

“Ryan and I met in graduate school, I met Jacob through the jam session, and I’ve known Anthony for a few years through other musicians. Alex is the mastermind behind Break The Mold, a local-artist based podcast series and concert series that features the best jazz.”

In addition to the core group, many notable guest players have popped in unexpectedly.

“Kei Akagi, who played with Miles Davis, popped in randomly and tore the roof off. Evan Stone, one of the greatest OC jazz drummers, started showing up at the McClains location. Nancy Sanchez [OC Music Awards winner] popped in, and ended up joining us a number of times. Saxophonist Jeff Ellwood, who is sort of underground but one the best in LA, came out. We’ve got a great list of musicians waiting to come and play or host clinics or workshops with others, including Grammy winning pianist Bill Cunliffe. Bill will be doing a composer’s workshop. We are very excited.”

Rowden credits his father’s influence for bringing him to music.

“My father is a singer-songwriter, so I always heard him writing music and listening to music. He had a pretty varied collection, from Freddie Hubbard to John Denver. He was recording what I believe was his first album in our garage, and he had this saxophonist, Richard Cole, playing for him. At the time, he sounded just like Michael Brecker. Just an amazing player, then and now. I asked him to teach me how to play. I was 7.

“My dad thought I might be too young, but Rich seemed to think my arms were long enough to hold the horn, so we tried it out. It caught, and I took lessons for a year. Then we moved to Bakersfield, and I was on my own until college. [laughs] I dont know how, but I never quit. So from age 8 until 18 I kept playing on my own. Bad habits included. Luckily, I had some facility on the horn, so when I got to college it was a somewhat fast process of getting everything locked in technically.

{loadposition latestlife}”Before college I played pop and R&B styles at church, a lot of classical music in school, and jazz in school and with buddies a little. I was actually very interested in video game music with my friends, so we came up with little arrangements for two saxes, things like that. I listened to everything from Smashing Pumpkins to Bach and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. By my junior/senior year of high school I was really playing as much jazz as I could.

“As far as improvisation goes, I had been doing it, but college laid the groundwork for me theoretically, and in terms of expanding my improvisational repertoire. I know that is oxymoronic.”

Rowden’s broad musical tastes naturally influence his compositional efforts.

“I am very open to different concepts, but I’ve really been exploring certain sounds with my main quartet. In particular, the music is influenced a lot by classical, electronic, world, and jazz.

“I usually write based around whatever idea seems the most concrete. I keep an extensive audio journal of chord progressions, melodies, ostenatos, bass lines, and rhythmic ideas that seem interesting. If the melody is really happening, I’ll record it or write it out, and then flesh out the foil of it.

“I tend to gravitate, currently, towards a sort of subtle uniformity. I try to maximize creativity with as little material as possible. I love minimalistic music a la Steve Reich, so I think I have a tendency to favor things that have evolving architectures. Still, within all this, my latest project with my quartet stays lyrical, stays melodic, dramatic.

“The music is part form, part freedom a lot of time. There is a lot of free improvisation, but within the vision of a composition. I think the hard fast line between form and freedom is a modern, social construction. So a composition may have very open, free sections, but the source material of the tune is, hopefully, compelling enough to invite players to participate in the world of that tune, instead of departing from it.

The Library on Broadway: A Coffee House is located at 3418 East Broadway. Event starts at 8PM. Check out the North Orange County Jazz Lab + Experiment facebook page

For more information about Jonathan, visit Jonathan’s quartet is playing at Southern California’s most interesting jazz club, the Blue Whale, on July 31st. 

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