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Atlanta Jazz Scene: Rich in Jam Sessions, But Gigs?

Paul Fischer

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Atlanta Jazz Scene – I moved to Atlanta from Seattle in the summer of 2013…

…two weeks after the birth of our first son. I had lived in Seattle for ten years and was busy teaching, recording and performing.  Being that my wife is from Atlanta, once our son arrived we knew we needed to be in the same city as her parents.  I left my network of Seattle musicians and stable of students to start over in the South.

I decided that after moving to Atlanta I would pursue my Master’s degree from Georgia State University. After a year of being the primary caretaker to my son (and furiously practicing during his naps), I enrolled at GSU. I wanted to be able to teach in college (something I now do), expand and challenge my musicianship, and meet people. GSU delivered.  I was able to quickly create a new network of musicians and playing opportunities.  Those playing opportunities came in the form of jam sessions, casual gigs, and performances.

To its benefit Atlanta has a slew of weekly Jam sessions which cater to different performance atmospheres and musical situations.

There are sessions every night of the week (save Friday and Saturday) with some nights having as many as three different Jam sessions.  My favorite Jam sessions, of which I am a regular, are Tuesday nights at Venkmans hosted by Joe Gransden, Wednesday nights at Apres Diem with guitarist Dave Frackenpohl (my favorite and no need to bring an amp), Wednesday nights at the Redlight Café with Gordon Vernick, and Sunday nights at Zibas with Jon Mills.  These sessions all balance a high level of musicianship with a welcoming spirit to new and younger musicians.  The Jam Session scene in Atlanta offers the chance to play with exceptional house bands any night of the week, in many different parts of the city.

When I first moved to Atlanta there was a dedicated Jazz Club: Churchill Grounds.  Owned and operated by Sam Yi for almost two decades, this club was dedicated to presenting Jazz every night of the week. The early part of the week was focused on up-and-coming local musicians; Thursday nights were reserved for a high-level Jam Session hosted by Danny Harper (and then later his son Terrence).  Weekends were set aside for more established locals as well as touring musicians.  I spent a lot of nights performing or supporting my friends at Churchill; while the club (and Sam) served as a musicians’ hub, more importantly, it was a place where the performance of live Jazz music was the focus.

About a year after I moved to Atlanta, Churchill Grounds had to close its doors.  Sam has kept the spirit of his beloved club by hosting “pop-up” sessions and Jazz nights at local establishments (currently his Monday night Jam Session at TENATL is very successful); however the loss of a six-night-a-week Jazz Club is tangible. In Alpharetta (40 mins north of Atlanta) there is The Velvet Note which features a Thursday night Jam session (often hosted by JGT leader Bob Bakert) which also occasionally attracts truly international musicians (Jimmy Cobb, Wallace Roney, Julian Lage, Larry Carlton) to its 40-seat venue.  The newest Jazz venue is Zibas in Grant Park.  Zibas started out as an early evening Sunday night Jam session and has expanded its music program to include local Jazz music every Friday and Saturday night.  Caline Jarudi, owner of Cacao Chocolate in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood, features live Jazz Saturdays from 3-5 at her exceptional café.

Paul Fischer out at an ATL Jam / Opening Photo Atlanta night skyline: Joey Kyber

All-in-all, Atlanta has a thriving Jazz scene.

People take the music seriously and the result is a very high caliber of musicianship, on display every night of the week.  The Jazz scene here is respectful and courteous, with older musicians going out of their way to impart their knowledge on less experienced performers. Atlanta affords Jazz musicians opportunities to perform, be mentored and have community.

Jam Sessions

Sunday

  • Ziba’s (Jon Mills)
  • Chairs (Jacob Deaton)
  • Gallery 992 (Kebbie Williams)

Monday

  • TEN ATL (Churchill Grounds session)

Tuesday

  • Venkman’s (Joe Gransden)
  • Ellioit Street Pub (Kevin Scott)

Wednesday

  • Apres Diem (Dave Frackenpohl)
  • Redlight Café (Gordon Vernick)

Thursday

  • The Velvet Note (Rotating)

Clubs

  • The Velvet Note
  • Ziba’s
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