Jazz Jam at Annville’s Allen Theatre and MJ’s Coffee House
Jazz Jam in South-Central Pennsylvania
Across from Lebanon Valley College
Annville is a small college town in south-central Pennsylvania. The college has been known for decades as a strong music school. Thus, it is doubly natural that an intellectual (yes, jazz is brain candy) activity situates itself immediately across the street from this institution for learning.
Bop Style Jazz
A Coffeehouse AND an Art Theatre
Along the lines of a popular print comic strip’s appellation for a boyfriend and girlfriend with boundary issues, one could easily call the establishment at 36 E. Main Street the allentheatreandcoffeehouse. Although independently owned, they are inseparable. Art films and oldies play in the theatre and the coffeehouse bills itself as a magnet for creativity. The coffeehouse hosts poetry reading and a rotating art exhibit, in addition to its boosts to local musicians.
Before the Jazz Jam
The Jazz Jam
Sometimes it follows a schedule and other times the jam session is ad hoc. It is co-sponsored the Central PA Friends of Jazz and M.J.'s Coffeehouse at the Allen Theater. One of its schedules was to run on the last Sunday of every month.
It is an intimate operation. The tables along the walls remain in place, but many of the 4-seat square tables are re-arranged together in one long line – rather resembling a row of seats in an auditorium. In the half hour before the performance, patrons dining are politely asked if they will be staying for the music. If they answer affirmatively, a $5.00 cover charge is requested. Once the music starts, anyone entering is asked to pay the cover. Exempt from the cover charge are any musicians who sit in during the jam. If a film is in progress at the adjacent movie theater, the jazz cats must keep their volume down until it finished. Fortunately, the all-around set-up man and cover charge collector monitors this and lets the musicians know if they need to turn it down.
At a recent jam, the house band was composed of Dave Santana on drum kit, Keith Mohler on double bass, and Andy Roberts on keyboards. In addition to the house band, the following instrumentalists jumped in: tenor sax, alto sax, flugelhorn and trumpet, mouth harp (a/k/a harmonica), and four guitarists. It is somewhat unusual that no drummers came out. Furthermore, no vocalists offered their talents (which most jazz instrumentalists view with trepidation. Some real disasters occur with amateur vocalists.) All in all, it was a great night of music with a great crowd.
Great learning occurs at a jazz jam. Players must keep an eye out for the eye signals and the hand signals from each other. For a new “cat,” this is very different from traditional, classical performing. Few tunes are prepared in advance. The songlist evolves as people sit in, so the house band must have a huge list of jazz tunes in its repertoire. It is a spontaneous and very dynamic evening of creating and improvising.
A Hip Jazz Cat
The coffee house has an upscale menu with pannini, other deli sandwiches, soups and salads, specially blended brews, as well as rich pastries and ice cream desserts. The venue permits BYOB and will provide wine glasses. Food prices are $$ to $$$. Although there is no pressure to buy food or coffee, by purchasing coffeehouse products one gives further support for the performance of live music.
36 East Main Street, Annville, PA 17003
MJ's Coffee House in Annville, PA
The location of the jazz jam in Annville. Parking is on-street, but not too difficult to find.
It is never to late to take in a jazz jam, either as audience or as a player. Enjoy!
Photos and text copyright 2013 Maren E. Morgan.