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Tommy Basha rips a guitar solo during Swirsky’s Wednesday blues jam.
©Nicholas Mercer/TC Media
It’s just a short walk from my car to the entrance to Swirsky’s on Broadway this week.
Aside from the smell of sulfur coming from the mill, ice cracking beneath winter boots and the usual night sounds, there’s something else piercing air this evening.
The closer you get to Swirsky’s doors, the shrill of a guitar and the low beat of a bass drum leak out into the cool winter evening.
The opening door slowly reveals a trio of musicians running through a couple of songs to a small audience.
The venue's owner Jim Parsons calls it the pre-jam jam and it’s just to get things warmed up before the real show starts.
For the small group enjoying the evening, it’s a way for them to entertain themselves with tales of their youth — days spent in pool halls selling makeshift cigarettes back to smokers or when that one girl from high school announced the after party for the all-city final was at her place.
It’s Wednesday at the performance hall sandwiched between the Newfoundland Emporium and an empty building just before Broadway snakes and heads back towards the city hall.
More specifically, it’s the night of the bar’s regular blues jam, a night where musicians come to just play.
For two years it’s been like this.
Spawned from an older jam session run by Max Simms, the Wednesday night jam brings out musicians who have a bit of pent-up energy and want a break from playing at their places.
According to drummer Greg O’Brien there are usually a dozen or so regulars who come out for a chance to play and hang out.
They’ll take their turns on the guitar, bass, with the harmonica or banging away on a set of bongos to the left of the stage.
Tonight’s lineup is small by comparison. Aside from O’Brien, there’s Marcel Vincent, Tommy Basha and Tim Dollimount.
Parsons takes the stage when the feeling strikes to belt out a couple of songs.
On this night, he churns out Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s love song to the south, “Georgia on My Mind,” and George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” among other numbers.
Between Parsons’ time on stage, another growls out familiar tunes like “Roadhouse Blues” and “Light My Fire.”
A great blues riff tends to hang in the air for a few fleeting moments before it grabs ahold of you. It waits to decide the best way to attack your appreciation for it. It decides the best way to your heart and then makes it’s move.
A good blues, or any song for that matter, comes together best when the players are finding their way through a song.
At Swirsky’s, the musicians on stage play off each other and feel their way through a song.
When they hit the right groove, which is a lot, everything comes together in an explosion of sonic supremacy.
It says blues jam on the window, but that’s not necessarily where every song comes from. Chances are you’ll hear some jazz, rock, bluegrass and maybe some country resonating through the speakers.
Coincidentally, they’re all genres that can tie themselves back to the blues.
For the guys on stage, the night isn’t about entertaining a large crowd. It’s more about forming a bond with the others on stage and becoming better musicians.
“This once-a-week thing just gets the music community together,” said Dollimount.
Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with the Western Star. His favourite bluesman is Howlin’ Wolf. He can be reached at email@example.com.