It’s been a while since I visited Toronto’s beloved uke jam. Going strong for over 6 years now, the jam has recently moved to the Paintbox Bistro which seems to suit the event well. (This venue is an interesting venture in itself.) A clear wall separates the front of the café from the performance space so that it still feels like a part of the café but ambient sound of non-music-loving patrons, cash register, etc is blocked. And the food is good – worth having dinner there before the music starts.
The workshop portion of the evening is still lead by the dauntless Steve McNie. This particular evening the whole group participated in a kind of sound experiment that included rhythm (“the New York strum”), harmony and cameos from some stellar regulars at the jam. It was a “you had to be there” moment – really fun.
The open stage was hosted by Brendan O’Malley. I did pluck up my courage to sing an original, supported by the “A-list” musicians on stage (Richard Bales & David Olson), teased by the host that in doing so I was slightly cheating : ) Since the open mic requires performers to sign up on-line in advance, it makes it harder to chicken out at the last minute. This is more of a commitment than most open mics which might contribute to the quality of the performances.
The third portion of the evening was the group jam. This is a great place to pick up new techniques as well as new chords or alternate voicings of the old chords you already use.
One thing I like about this event is there are access points for participation of all levels of players. Beginner? Join in the group jam with help from Steve and the chord charts displayed on the front screen. No pressure – pull back when you’re lost, join back in when you’re able. Proficient? Bring your best to the open stage. Somewhere in between? Always something new to learn – new repertoire, theory, technique. If you want a little primer to get started visit the Toronto Ukes website.
Is this inclusive character the secret of the Uke Jam’s success? It could be the passion that host and uke aficionado Steve McNie brings to the group. There is also a sense of community. Folks here embark on music-themed adventures that go beyond the Wednesday night jam, from concerts to uke infused yoga sessions. There is a sense of mutual support and appreciation that makes it a safe place to explore, express and have fun.
[Corktown Ukulele Jam, The Paintbox Bistro 550 Dundas Street East, Toronto; every Wednesday; workshop 8-9:30 pm followed by open stage and group jam; $6 cover for workshop; $3 cover for theme night open stage first Wednesday of the month]