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Tuesday Night Jazz Jam Sessions: The Beat Goes On At The Manayunk Brewing Company

The long tradition of Tuesday night jazz jam sessions at 23rd Street Cafe in Center City continues in August, 2015 at Manayunk Brewery.

This past spring, the site of a weekly jam session celebrated a quarter century of making music in the shadow of the Vine Street Expressway. Now, as the informal jazz nights relocate from the 23rd Street Café to the Manayunk Brewing Company and Restaurant ,we return to Meridee Duddleston’s look at the friendly vibe that’s their hallmark.

Herman DeJong is an architect who came to Philadelphia from Holland in the mid 1960s. He played the bass and started connecting with local jazz enthusiasts. He wanted to find a place to invite them to jam. 

Credit Press of Atlantic City
Press of Atlantic City
Herman DeJong with WRTI's Bob Perkins in 2014.

Eventually, in April 1990, the Tuesday night sessions began at the 23rd Street Café, thanks to the owners. Over the years, locals and people from around the country and the world have stopped in. 

There was the British Airways pilot who carried his flute across the ocean.  An elderly man from Cherry Hill showed up with a trumpet in a burlap bag. Two young men – a drummer and a bass player - stationed at Ft. Dix spent time there in between flying tanker planes over Saudi Arabia.  A trumpet player let lose two white doves on the night he received a marriage proposal on the bandstand. Jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson once mesmerized the Tuesday nighters, and local saxophonist Bootsie Barnes would come just to listen and have a good time.   

The Tuesday evening sessions at the 23rd Street Café ended in July, but the welcoming atmosphere will pick up where it left off at the Manayunk Brewing Company and Restaurant on Main Street in Manayunk, starting Tuesdays in August, 2015.

Radio script from April, 2015:

Meridee Duddleston: The 23rd St. Café is tucked into North 23rd St. in Philadelphia, just south of the Vine Street Expressway.  It’s Tuesday night and the weekly jam session starts with a piano, drums and bass. It’s Kenny Gates on piano, George Livanos on bass and “Big Jim” Dofton on drums,  and after their opening number the evening takes off.

Herman DeJong: The trio might be complemented with five, six, seven or eight different horns. A couple of saxophones a couple trumpets.  They all play the melody and they do a little arranging. It’s not like a big band arrangement – it’s like organized chaos. 

MD: Organized chaos as a synonym for a jam session. Architect Herman DeJong -  an amateur bass player - initiated the Tuesday night sessions at the 23rd Street Café back in 1990.  There are regulars: a cardiologist who plays masterful saxophone. A multi-talented cornet player.  There’s an equalitarian approach to abilities and ages.

HD:  You’ve heard the traumatic stories of  ‘a kid goes up to the bandstand and has a trumpet and gets totally humiliated by the band, or by the audience.’ Everybody gets a chance. Everybody gets a chance. 

MD: It's not as quiet as a church, DeJong says, but improvising on Tuesdays at the 23rd St Café really is the main event. And there’s a fun sense of possibility that comes with not knowing who will walk through the door, or how the night will unfold – musically or otherwise.

The last session at the 23rd Street Café was July 24, 2015.  The Tuesday jam sessions move to the Manayunk Brewing Company and Restaurant this August.