|Musician Kaeli Roselle. Lucy Gellman Photos.|
Jeremiah Fuller had entered the flow state. At the back of the stage, he was all in, hammering away on a drum kit that seemed like an extension of his body. Tommy Carter slid a rhythm in, and Fuller snapped back with a response. Off stage, audience members followed their hands as they soared through the air, sticking the landing every time.
By the time the drum solo was coming to an end, no one could remember what the original song had been. No one cared, either. Which was kind of the point.
Friday, Fuller was one of dozens of musicians at a Holiday Jam at The State House, the fourth one of its kind this year. Over 200 people showed up for the event, braving subzero temperatures to keep the venue red hot into the wee hours of the morning. Many of them came to perform; others came to watch but ended up on stage before the night was over.
The mellifluous brainchild of Fuller and musician Paul Bryant Hudson, the jams began earlier this year as a way to give musicians room to play with each other in a relaxed, non-competitive environment. The idea was simple: a core group of musicians would come with equipment, the venue would provide mics and lighting, and anyone who wanted to participate could. At the first jam session in late July, over 100 people showed up and played late into the night.
“It’s not a show,” Hudson said at the first event in July. “It’s not for the audience. It’s for the musicians. It’s an invitation to create and be together.”
|Top: Paul Bryant Hudson. Bottom: Stephen Gritz King and Dylan McDonnell.|
Since, the goal has been to grow the event for the musicians, who still struggle to find venues where they can play together. For months, word has traveled primarily by word of mouth and social media, with both new folks and a core group of musicians who show up. Jam sessions start in the evening and go for hours, meaning they are open to musicians who are just getting off paid gigs at 11 p.m. or midnight on a Friday.
Several months in, the crowd felt like all the good parts of a family reunion. High school friends stepped in to sing with each other, sometimes for the first time in months or years. The audience never knew what was coming next, but was ready for it with cheers and applause every time ("That's some Black girl magic!" one supporter screamed from the middle of the venue after the first women drummer of the night took the stage). Reached Monday by text message, Hudson said he is excited to see the jam continue to grow in the new year.
“I’m really excited about the future of the Jam,” he said. “At its inception, Jeremiah [Fuller] and I really wanted to create a space where musicians could play, exchange ideas, and be in community. I love that it’s grown and taken on an even greater purpose as a place where music lovers can come out and be a part of the experience.”
“In the coming months, we’ll be introducing new musical elements, exploring new genres, and working to ensure that the Jam is even more inclusive and accessible,” he added.
In working to do so, he and Fuller have cracked a tough formula: how to fill a venue and provide some of the best, tightest sound New Haven has heard in years without losing a local audience or performers. It comes almost entirely from local musicians, showcasing the sheer amount of talent that is in the city.
Friday, attendees packed the State Street venue, shedding coats, mittens, hats and scarves as they wove through the crowd. Some headed straight for the stage or the packed bar; others snagged cabaret tables that were set up with white tablecloths and folding chairs. Friends found each other in the audience, many standing up to hug each other with holiday greetings.
On stage, it seemed like there was some solstice magic afoot. Just minutes into the second set of the evening, musicians packed the stage, sax and keyboard rolling out under smooth, undulating vocals. At the mic, a slowed version of Gnarls Barkey’s “Crazy” rose up to meet Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep,” lyrics melting right into each other. Musician Kaeli Roselle hopped on, in constant motion even as she belted and then flipped the mic for the audience to sing along.
“Yes!” she said. “We’re talking about live music that brings something to the heart.”
No sooner had Roselle stepped out than a trio took her place, slowing things down. On saxophone, Stephen Gritz King and Dylan McDonnell exchanged a quick glance, then hopped back in. Moments later, Westvillian Tim Kane showed up with a trumpet and jumped onboard. Musician Trey More walked on and slipped in, smooth as velvet. The trio ceded the mics to a musician who swerved hard into hip-hop. Drums slowed, and became a heartbeat.
By late in the night, Hudson had come down into the audience, and was pulling attendees onto the stage. From the front of the house, one performer conjured brass and funk, belting “I feel like funkin it up! Funkin it up!” in lock step with Kane’s trumpet. From the back, another trudged up to the stage after just coming to watch and left attendees speechless. Well past midnight, musicians kept trickling in, still carrying cases from evening gigs. Without fail, Hudson had something ready for them on the mic.
Outside, the longest night of the year crept onward. Inside, things were just getting started.
For more information on the next jam, follow The State House on Facebook or at their website.