A List of Jazz Jam Sessions at Clubs in the Philadelphia Area
Keeping Track of Open Jam Sessions
Keeping track of open jam sessions that feature jazz is about as easy as nailing Jello to a tree. In other words, it’s a challenge. A session will start up at a place and then, before you know it, the club owner cancels it.
I have all the respect in the world for restaurant and club owners willing to give live entertainment and jam sessions a try. They have the overhead of the building and staffing expenses to bear whether five people come out or fifty. Plus, the owner usually must pay the two to four musicians who constitute the “base” band (also known as the house band or the rhythm section.) Since these cats are talented enough to improvise and transpose to any key, they demand a respectable fee. Therefore, the owner undertakes this to get a good reputation and at least break even – and always hopes to make a profit – through sales of food and drink, and sometimes through a cover charge.
Reasons Jam Sessions Fade Away
A jam session needs a solid paying audience. Usually that is why they happen at bars, clubs, and restaurants. As a result of the risks in the restaurant business, if the restaurant starts losing money due to fickle fashion, or competition, the cost of paying a jazz jam house band will be one of the first frills to go. Another unfortunate possibility is that the house band misbehaves (examples are members coming to perform under the influence, showing up late, taking too long breaks, and other offensive behavior.) If the jam session brings out a big crowd, that looks good on the face of it. However, if the people who come to the session to play or listen do not buy enough food and drink to make it worthwhile, a club owner will re-think hosting a jam. Furthermore, if a non-profitable jam session interferes with successful dining operations in other rooms (such as by being too loud), the jam session will soon be history. Sometimes this occurs without notice. I have been at a session that seemed swinging, and when I returned two weeks later, it was as if it had never existed.
A Partial List of Philly Jazz Jams
Below is a partial, and possibly ephemeral, list of some of the jazz jam sessions in Philadelphia and the greater Philly area (in Pennsylvania only.)
Sunday – usually the first Sunday of the month only from 2:30 to 6:00 PM at The Reading Ukrainian-American Social Club (known as “the Yooks”), 542 South Seventh Street, Reading, PA 19602. 610-373-2560. Skip Moyer, bass, leads the house band. $5 cover
Sunday – every Sunday from 8:00 to 11 PM at Dowling's Palace, 1310 N. Broad Street, Phila, PA 19121 in the Avenue of the Arts North neighborhood. 215-236-9888. House band features the Budesa Brothers, guitar/keyboard, with Lucky Thompson, drums.
Monday – every Monday evening 6:00 to 9 PM at LaRose Supper Club, 5531 Germantown Avenue, Phila, PA 19144 in the Germantown section of Philly. 267-231-6779 or 215-844-5818. Tony Williams, alto sax, leads the house band. $8 cover
Monday - almost every Monday from 5:30 to 7 PM in the Upstairs Live area at World Café Live, 3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 near 30th Street Station and University City section of Philly. 215-222-1400. Orrin Evans, piano, leads the session. NO cover. [Sometimes Jazz Jams are replaced by a private event or other show, so check before you go.]
Monday - every Monday night from 8 pm till Midnight, Open Jam at Chris' Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102 in Center City. 215-568-3131. The jam session is $10 cover if you are coming to listen, $5 if you are playing. Thank you, Herman D., for hipping me to this. amount.
Tuesday - every Tuesday from 8 PM until midnight at the VuDu Lounge and High Street Caffe, 322 S. High Street, West Chester, PA 19382. 610-696-7435. Very fast Coltrane style playing. No cover.
Tuesday – ENDING DURING THE SUMMER OF 2015 - every Tuesday 7:30 to 11:30 PM at 23rd Street Café , 233 N. 23rd Street, Phila, PA 19103 near the Art Museum section of Philly. 215-561-2488. House band features Jim Dofton, and Kenny Davis. No cover. Thank you, Herman D., for informing me about corrections for this listing.
Tuesday - first Tuesday of the month from 8:30 to 11:30 PM at Elena’s Showcase Lounge, 4912 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19143in the University City section of Philly. 215-724-3043. Jam session features the Budesa Brothers with Lucky Thompson. NO cover
There had been 2 venues for Wednesday -- but they have both faded away. Club owners - this night is ripe for starting something.
Thursday - first Thursday of the month only from 7:00 to 10 PM at Hard Bean Café, Ste 2, 128 East Philadelphia Avenue, Boyertown, PA 19512. 610-367-1788 $3 cover.
Thursday – every Thursday night, 9:30PM to 1 AM at Bookspace, 1113 Frankford Ave, Phila, PA 19125 in the Fishtown section of Philly. 215- 291-5880 BYOB.
Thursday – often the third Thursday of the month only from 7:00 to 11 PM at PUCK, Printer's Alley, 14 East Court Street, Doylestown, PA 18901. 215-348-9000. Larry Tamanini, guitar, leads the session. NO cover.
Philly Joe Jones
Friday – every Friday late-night from 11:30 PM until 2 AM at Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102 in Center City. (215) 568-3131. The jam is led by Luke O’Reilly, piano. Cover is either $10 in the dining room or $5 at the bar.
On Fridays and Saturdays because we hope all you musicians are gigging for pay. That’s why the session at Chris’ starts after you’re done performing.
Caveat: This is a partial list (I am already looking at it and thinking, “HOW could I have left out “xxx?”) and could have errors even as I go to press. If you are employed by one of these jazz joints, and I have incorrect information, please let me know.
A Quiz for Jazz Cats
What is the most important thing for a jazz VOCALIST to know when going to a jam session?
Related article on the Philly Jazz Scene
- How a Singer can break into Performing at Jazz Jams
Four tips for how to sing at a jazz jam session.
Photos and text copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan
- Music and The High Note Café, South Philly
A scrumptious dinner and world-class live entertainment join together at an establishment at the corner of 13th and Tasker Streets in South Philadelphia. Go to the High Note Cafe.