The jam session at the Jazz Showcase has been canceled. The Velvet Lounge closed down. The Green Mill's session doesn't start until 1am.
In a city where jam sessions are an endangered species, hope finds itself at an unlikely venue coming from an unlikely source. When one thinks of the stage at Lilly's on Lincoln, jazz doesn't immediately come to mind, if at all. However, every Wednesday night since December of 2010, Lilly's has been home to the jam session hosted by saxophonist Corbin Andrick, a native of Decatur, Illinois.
"You won't find any TVs here," jokes Mike Fleming, the usual bartender on Wednesday nights. He says that Lilly's is the kind of place that people go to hear live music every night of the week, but it's rarely ever jazz. "A lot of times we'll have folk, rock, country bands," Fleming says, "Maybe every once in a while we have a jazz-fusion-type group in here on a weekend."
Being a student of DePaul University at the time, Andrick stopped by the nearby Lincoln Park bar to have a drink. "I told the bartender that I was looking for a place to just play," explains Andrick, "and it just sort of took off in a way that we didn't really expect it to." And take off it has. Now, on an average Wednesday night at Lilly's, one can expect to find anywhere from 40 to 70 young jazz musicians hanging out, drinking, and enjoying each others playing.
It's not just jazz musicians, either. A glance around the crowd reveals full tables without instruments underneath. Sarah Cornish, an Arts Management and Entrepreneurship student in her senior year at The Ohio State University, has been to the jam session three times and plans on going one last time before her summer internship in Chicago is over. "I have next to no musical knowledge," Cornish admits, "Playing the piano when I was wee hardly counts as playing a musical instrument." However, she has several friends on the jazz scene and got the invite to tag along. "I had a really great time and liked what I heard during my first visit, and five-dollar Long Island iced teas don't hurt."
In fact, the session has gained so much popularity that owner of Lilly's had to hire a second employee to work the door on Wednesday nights. Andrick said that he felt "honored" when he showed up one week to find an extra person there to check the IDs of the incoming crowd. Fleming stated that typically he and one other bartender are the only employees but that Lilly will hire a helping hand every now and then on the weekend depending on who's playing.
Despite the popularity of the session, Andrick has maintained the ingredients that made it successful. "I'm not trying to restrain anyone from doing their thing. I only made two rules that you can't blow on a tune you didn't play the melody or on two consecutive tunes." This makes for a very relaxed atmosphere that encourages musicians to be creative. "I think that [jam sessions are] great if you provide the right environment for people to feel comfortable being themselves. In turn, they end up playing like themselves."