Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Making It: LowJam

On a chilly Saturday we drove out to a low, mostly windowless brick building and followed paper signs in kid-scrawl around to a narrow side door. Stepping inside, we found ourselves in a kitchen adjoining a stage area lit by Christmas lights. The space thrummed with the sonic energy of a live dance party.

The music was fantastic. This was no surprise: the musicians performing included supertalented composers and multi-instrumentalists LeRoy Bach, Mikel AveryDan Bitney, Khari Lemuel, & Matthew Lux, known for their roles in bands like Wilco, EveryPeople Ensemble,Tortoise, Isotope 217 and others, and they were clearly having a great time playing together. The unusual thing about this show was that it started in the middle of the day, and in addition to familiar faces from the city's art and music scenes it was co-populated by a small mob of young children ranging in age from about 9 months to 9 years old. They bounced on parents' laps, rolled around on giant cardboard tubes of the type usually used for cement-pouring, and giddily ran back and forth to the kitchen area, where there were crockpots of homemade rice and beans, jugs of juice, and a big bowl of peanuts to keep everyone satisfied between sets.

This is LowJam, a series of impromptu underground dance parties for adults and kids organized by LeRoy Bach in collaboration with a bunch of amazing musicians, many of whom are parents themselves or have other close connections to parents / kids. Attending a Low Jam event is like discovering your favorite band playing a secret show in somebody's basement, with the added pleasure of sharing that magic with your own children.

After two sets and a short snack break, Mikel Avery equipped the kids in attendance with small instruments and schooled them into an impromptu marching band that kicked off the Open Jam part of the show, leading everyone back into the stage area. Children excitedly piled around the professional drum kit, piano, mics, and organ and started banging away. After letting them have at it for a few minutes, Bach stepped up and helped them structure their soundmaking into a loose composition, directing spaces for groups of kids to play solos on each instrument. As he laid down a solid beat on the drums, a surprisingly cohesive intergenerational performance began to come together, fronted by two young girls who alternated crooning and rapping, "I dunno / I dunno / because it's crazy like whoah." The adults in attendance grinned and shook their heads in wonder: it sounded great. The aesthetic strengths of the Open Jam were no doubt enhanced by the musical upbringings of many kids there, but the unpredictable impulses that children naturally bring to such a situation only added to the improvisational energy.

Letting the sound vibrate through me, I realized that I hadn't enjoyed a really good live show since I became a parent. What a shame, and what a crime never to have shared such an experience with my own daughter before. It should not be all that transgressive, but such an event requires letting go of some fundamental assumptions: that a good dance party should start after 10pm, that kids will only enjoy certain types of music, that all family events should be highly-sanitized, safeguarded and sanctioned, that art created by/for adults can't also be thoroughly enjoyable for children, and vice versa. Most 'family' programming is created for children with parents along for the ride. LowJam taps into the energy of everyone present to create a rich musical experience. Period.

The next LowJam is Saturday, March 28th. Band starts at 1:30pm and will play for 30 minutes. Open Jam led by Mikel Avery starts at 2pm. A donation of $5 per guest or what you can offer is requested. Email us at culturalreproducers (at) for location and other information.