Calgary’s One Big JAM actually started as the result of one big mix up.
The jam sessions, which go ahead roughly four times a year, started about seven years ago after a live show fell through at a tiny Calgary Jamaican restaurant.
“The manager said, ‘Hey could we please do something right before Christmas?’ and so I said, ‘Let’s do a fundraiser, let’s call a bunch of people from different communities and see what happens… let chance take over,’” said Calgary musician and One Big JAM’s founder and Curator of Chaos, Chris Maric.
“It ended up being such an awesome night.”
More than 100 people showed up and it took the form of an open jam, where artists of all sorts could participate – with no real rules of engagement. That’s when it became known as “The Jam,” Maric said.
“Everybody kept asking us, ‘When’s the next jam?’”
The event kept growing – from smaller venues to the Ubu Lounge at Theatre Junction Grand and now both Festival Hall in Inglewood and the Palace Theatre on Stephen Avenue. Now they expect more than 500 people at their July 21 event.
Maric said this event is different than other jams that happen in the city in that there are no set lists, no signup sheets and no charge for musicians to participate. Most of the events are ticketed, but this one’s free.
“It’s really an opportunity for musicians and dancers to first really interact with each other, especially with people that may have been meeting for the first time on stage,” Maric said.
“It challenges them to legitimately jam and improvise.”
Maric said part of the success is in the vibrant and energetic community that grew around the music mash up. Many local artists’ first stage event was at the jam or the met their band at the jam, so the word of mouth around the jam’s success spread.
According to event manager, Pardeep Sooch, the jams used to start off with a piano player, a bassist and a drummer – and then artists would tag out different musicians and continue “seamlessly” playing with the remaining artists.
“Basically, from about 7 to 11 p.m., music would be playing continuously,” said Sooch.
He said the jams had both Juno-nominated musicians play and some people just walk in off the street.
Sooch describes one of his favourite memories at the event was when a woman walked in off the street and asked if it was essentially an open mic-type event, along with the open jam.
“Chris was like, ‘Absolutely. Here’s a microphone, do your thing,’” Sooch recalled.
“And this woman belted out Alicia Keys better than Alicia Keys. Everyone was floored. Then she just disappeared.”
Sooch said success of the monthly jam sessions ebbed and flowed for a while. They’d never advertised the jam; it was word of mouth from musician to musician.
Three years ago, Maric and Sooch partnered to bring it back in a much bigger way – and give it a name: One Big JAM.
Sooch said there’s now a little more form to the event: Doors open and headline artists perform on the hour. They’re local artists or bands that get 15 minutes to do a set and then they have to open the stage to anyone that wants to join them.
“It’s a unique kind of mish mash… and it just works,” Sooch said.
This upcoming event is July 21 at Central Memorial Park, 1221 – 2 Street SW from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information visit their Facebook page.
The July edition of One Big JAM is done with support from the Calgary Public Library, the City of Calgary, the Victoria Park BRZ, Long & McQuade Musical Instruments and Sun Life Financial.