Jazz after hours 

click to enlarge Guitarist Bob Sneider leads the Squeezers Jam Session on Monday, June 24 at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • Guitarist Bob Sneider leads the Squeezers Jam Session on Monday, June 24 at the Rochester International Jazz Festival.
By 11 p.m. on Monday night, guitarist Bob Sneider’s dizzying melodies were the center of attention at Astor on Main in the Hyatt Regency. The restaurant's dining room, where CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival's late night jam sessions are held, was not yet filled, but a growing lineup of young musicians had already started to assemble, instruments in hand, waiting for a turn to take the stage and improvise with Sneider and his trio.

Sneider, an Eastman School of Music professor who has hosted the late-night performances since the festival began 21 years ago, said the jam sessions are a spontaneous musical experience that gives audience members and musicians alike the opportunity for “up-close access” to hear featured festival performers.

There’s also the chance for aspiring musicians, some of whom may still be in high school, to jam with elite musicians at the top of their game.

“There’s an honesty of making music with no rehearsal, with people you may have never played with before,” said Sneider.

From an observer’s perspective, the jam sessions can be a chance to experience jazz at the festival in a more relaxed setting, without the time constraints of the regular concert schedule. The performance starts at 10:30 p.m., but there’s no telling exactly when it will end — in most cases, not until every musician who wants to jam gets the opportunity.

Retired arts journalist Jeff Spevak, formerly of WXXI News and CITY Magazine, has attended the sessions for 20 years.

He recalled former iterations providing an intimate setting in which to rub shoulders with jazz greats who performed to large crowds earlier in the evening.

“At the jam session, at least you can drink your beer and finish it,” Spevak said.

For up-and-coming musicians, the sessions can be an invaluable learning experience. Drummer Brock Williams, a recent School of the Arts graduate headed to SUNY Purchase for Jazz Studies in the fall, has been attending the jam sessions since the summer he began eighth grade.

“Having the experience of playing with new people all the time, every night, is just so influential on my playing,” Williams said. “It just makes me a better player.”

click to enlarge Guitarists Bob Sneider and Jazyear Redd play the blues on Monday, June 24 at the Squeezers Jam Session. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • Guitarists Bob Sneider and Jazyear Redd play the blues on Monday, June 24 at the Squeezers Jam Session.

For Williams, getting constructive criticism from professional musicians at the sessions is “a profound experience.” This late-night music-making at the festival is something he looks forward to all year, and he tries to make it to as many nights as possible. On Monday night, he met a 15-year-old guitarist he plans to busk with at the festival.

A highlight of Monday night's jam session was the performance of young blues musician Jazyear Redd, who paired atmospheric emoting on the guitar with Sneider’s guitar support and backing from Williams on the drumkit.

The element of improvisation at the jam sessions — and in jazz music in general — can’t be overstated.

“It is the music — it’s the way to express yourself beyond what words can do," said Williams. "I can be far more expressive with my playing than I can be with my conversations, which is why, when I go down there, I’m really connecting with people and having a great time.”

The Squeezers Jam Sessions at the Hyatt Regency Rochester continue nightly at 10:30 p.m. through the end of the festival, June 29. Sneider hosts the Wednesday, June 26 and Thursday, June 27 sessions; while trumpeter Mike Cottone hosts Friday, June 28 and Saturday, June 29. rochesterjazz.com

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].
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