Photograph by Michael Klayman
Ben Wanicur was once kicked off a bandstand mid-song.
Bassist Ben Wanicur knows a thing or two about hosting a jazz jam session, having led one for five years in University Heights at the work-share studio 3rd Space.
Part of Wanicur’s expertise came about through some hard lessons in his youth. The Washington, D.C. native winced when re calling his first experience on the jam session stage. “I got kicked off the bandstand at Twins in D.C., right in the middle of a song,” says Wanicur. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had to deal with. They didn’t even wait for the tune to end. It was humiliating. I had to walk off the stage with my head down.”
What was Wanicur’s offense?
“They had called a tune I didn’t know, and there was a singer, so I was trying to sight-read the chart and transpose it into her key at the same time, so it was a train wreck. “
Wanicur doesn’t want to make any younger players re-live his experience, but he’s also not keen on cosseting up-and-comers or confirming any sense of entitlement.
“So we’re looking to strike a balance between that extreme and one that coddles younger players. We want to be empathetic but we also want to be mentors to the ones who are really serious. Sometimes some tough love is in order. If a player comes in three weeks in a row without learning a specific tune, it’s probably time for them to learn it before coming back.”
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Until recently, Wanicur’s jam session had found a home at the Til Two Club in City Heights on the third Thursday. The sessions featured Mikan Zlatkovich on piano and Duncan Moore on drums. But in late April, Wanicur got a phone call from the club management cancelling any future shows . “They said they want to try again in the fall,” Wanicur relates. “But you know how that goes.”
Til-Two Club canned the jazz jam.
His advice to players seeking to sit in, if the session rises from the ashes?
“We don’t have a signup sheet. This is more ‘old-school’ than that. They should go to the gig and listen first, then introduce themselves. We’ve got a really good house band, and the best way for these youngsters to learn is by playing with great musicians honing their craft.”