Column: Porch jazz jam survives pandemic
The pandemic has spawned a variety of free porch, aisle and cul-de-sac concerts. Now that it’s over, some of the music continues.
Almost every Thursday since April 2020, a small group of musicians have lined up outside the home of saxophonist Greg Pardue at 5626 Bloch St. in University City. They then embark on a two to three hour performance dubbed the Front Porch Pandemic Jazz Jam.
The artists plan to extend their free “concerts” until December 16, or at least until the time changes in November, Pardue says.
Every Thursday at 4:30 p.m., neighbors, passers-by and a handful of people from different parts of the county set up folding chairs, take out appetizers, uncork wine, sit down and relax.
In addition to Pardue, the line-up traditionally includes Jack Hoffman on keyboard or drums, Roy Jenkins on bass, Phil Marcus on guitar and Albert Rubidoux III on drums. Other guest players or artists rotate.
Pacific Beach couple Alicia Avila and Patrick Willart attended the July 8 jazz jam to celebrate the fourth anniversary of their first date. They prepared a banquet of appetizers and a bottle of the same wine they drank that night four years earlier.
Avila first attended the neighborhood happening to celebrate her birthday in April. She had gone online to search for live music, which was rare during the pandemic, and the porch performance appeared. Since then, Avila has attended five weekly sessions.
Catching the mood, the couple got up from their patio chairs and shook on the sidewalk.
Another regular couple bring their own foldable 4 x 4 linoleum dance floor and open it between the cars near the sidewalk.
The grande dame of the event is Jean Overstreet, 89, a long-time enthusiast. She lives around the corner with her daughter and grandson, who drive her every Thursday, set up a chair, and then pick her up about an hour later. Last Thursday, she brought some fruit from her apple tree to share.
“It’s a blessing to have this so close,” says her grandson, Jeremy Simpkins.
After Overstreet arrived, the musicians played some of his jazz favorites, “Tangerine” and “Dreamsville” by Henry Mancini.
Typically they serve a wide range of classic jazz and swing from the “Great American Songbook”, with a bit of bossa nova and samba sprinkled in, often improvising as you go.
But Pardue notes: “We have regulars (like Overstreet) who like certain songs.” Musicians can always accommodate themselves because, in addition to the scores, they have more than 1000 titles stored on their shelves. And, if that is not enough, they will improvise.
“We’ll try almost anything if we think we can pretend, even though we’ve never played it before,” Pardue said.
“We’ve only missed three Thursdays in the past year and a half,” he adds. Two were for bad weather and one was on Christmas Eve. They even gave free outdoor shows for Thanksgiving and New Years Eve.
“People appreciate it. We’re having fun, “he said. The ongoing event has even caught the attention of NAMM, the trade association for the global musical instrument industry, which recently published an article about that.
“We’ve been doing this for years,” Hoffman adds. They used to organize regular jam sessions at his house in Rancho Bernardo. When the pandemic started they wanted to keep playing but decided it was safer outside. So, they thought, why not turn their workshops into community shows?
Hoffman is still involved in pandemic North County jazz jams, including some of the same musicians, in two dead ends near his home at 17442 Plaza Sonada. One takes place on Monday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and the other on Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The atmosphere is relaxed. People come and go. They bring their dogs. They talk. They dance. There are 20-25 regulars on Bloch Street and up to 50 spilling onto the driveway and sidewalk on some Thursdays – a real Bloch party.
“They are very welcoming,” observes Chris Richards, there Thursday with his dog, Sandy. “I think it’s OK to come and not stay.” Her friend, Sharon, who lives nearby, said she just stumbled upon the jazz jam one day when she heard the music.
Bassist Roy Jenkins’ mother sat in a chair knitting a hat for her brother’s church outreach program in Colorado Springs.
Winemaker and cellar consultant Joey Hollacher, who lives in North Park and founded North Park Cellars, shared notes of wine (and wine) with other attendees.
Hollacher says he only misses a PJJ Thursday (Pandemic Jazz Jam), as he calls it, if he’s out of town.
Pardue’s wife, Betty, the accomplished hostess, says many of their neighbors just open the windows and let the music in.
Local visitors have come from as far north as Carlsbad and Oceanside and Imperial Beach to the south, Pardue says. Last Thursday, Sandy Adamson came from Lincoln Acres in the South Bay.
Before the pandemic silenced the live music scene, these musicians all played paid concerts with various large and small bands.
These concerts are starting to be booked. But the sidewalk shows, with their camaraderie and laid-back vibe, have created a socializing magic all of their own, and the musicians aren’t eager to break that spell.
It turns out that their show, which doesn’t need a purchased ticket, can be the ticket for community spirit in a very difficult time.