Jay Golden’s Wednesday night jam sessions at Les Disquaires

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What distinguishes these sessions from any others? Well, first it’s the fact that the musicians actually prepare for the jam. They practice beforehand and sign up for specific songs when they arrive. Secondly, the style changes throughout the month from jazz, to funk to blues and rock with a soul night on the fourth week. When there is a fifth week, the session is prepared as a tribute to a deceased artist. To date these have included Prince, BB King, David Bowie, George Michael and Michael Jackson.

Photographer: Bilal Tarabey

The man behind this ‘Jam School’ concept is internationally renowned bass-guitarist, Jay Golden . He posts a selection of titles for each session on his Facebook page, with links to the original versions, so that musicians can really learn the songs before they arrive. Jay has played with many of the industry’s big names including Marvin Gaye, Luther and Bernard Allison, Liz McComb, BB King and George Benson, to name just a few. He says, «I love playing bass. It’s not what I do, it’s what I am. Music is my sanctuary. It’s my life.»

Photographer: Bilal Tarabey

So how did it all start?
Originally from Baltimore, Jay was brought up with music. His father was, and still is, a well-known Gospel singer and his mother played piano. «I started playing bass with my father in church and when I was about 9 years old we had a concert in Washington DC. We had to perform at Marvin Gaye’s father’s church, and Marvin Gaye was there singing with his old group, the Sons of Zion. This day, Marvin came up to my dad and said ‘Hey can your son play bass for me? My bass player’s drunk and I can’t bring him in front of my dad.’ When I finished playing with them, he came up to my dad and said ‘Your son’s gonna be a good bass player.’ I decided to take it really seriously at that point.»

Jay followed a music careers program at Douglass High School, America’s first school of performing arts . «At the period of graduation I started meeting a lot of good jazz musicians in Baltimore. Two who were very important were Mickey Fields, saxophonist , and Johnny Polite, drummer. They played with a lot of people back in the 40s and 50s. They were the masters who incited me to do what I do now.»

His ensuing career took him all over the US playing with many big names (opening for Prince’s first tour ) and covering all kinds of musical styles from jazz to fifties rock ‘n’ roll, to funk, to hard rock, soul and even punk. He was the ‘hitman’ who got called out when bands needed a bass player.

«I’ve been playing now for almost 50 years. For me it’s all music, but different styles do teach you things you didn’t know before. I learnt that. I think the most important thing a musician should be is open, versatile, because you never know what you can learn from someone else’s music.» Today Jay tries to pass this precept on to the musicians who come to his sessions.

What inspired him to start his own ‘jam school’?

«I’d been sitting in a bunch of jams around Paris, and I just found that they were all the same thing: the same musicians, the same songs, the same atmosphere. Maybe one night it’s blues another night it’s jazz, but it’s still the same guys coming in playing the same thing. I wanted to do something special. Instead of people just coming in and playing what they want, I said ‘Let’s make people learn songs.’ I decided with each style I would give people a list of very good songs to play at the jam. So the jam became not the musician, but the music. Which is what it’s supposed to be in the first place.

«For me, the jam serves two purposes. The first is to get the musicians to expand their horizons; if you’ve been playing blues all your life, come and play funk, come and learn some jazz, come and learn some soul… My jam is for people to discover what they can do. For the people who don’t play music, they learn what it takes to actually play.

«The second purpose is to entertain. People are entertained because each week they come, it’s not the same thing. Every four months I change the list. In the four years I’ve been doing it, I think I’ve posted roughly 500 songs. I choose good songs that people like to hear and I try to make it fun.»

Photographer: Bilal Tarabey

What kind of musicians come?

«Generally bass players, guitar players, keyboards, drummers, occasionally horn players or harmonica, but I would like different instruments to come in. Actually what I really want is singers. I choose songs that singers can’t help but love!»

In spite of all the famous musicians he has played with, when asked about the highlight of his career Jay says, «For me, the highlight of my career is when I see a young musician come in, and he takes what I give him and he expands on it and he goes somewhere with it. That, for me, is a highlight.»

Photographer: Bilal Tarabey

Find out more about Jay Golden’s Jam School on Facebook (@JayGoldenJamSchoolParis)
Or check it out every Wednesday evening at Les Disquaires 4-6, rue des Taillandiers, 75011 Paris. *Jay performs with his band and special guests at 8.30pm, and the jam session starts at 9.30pm.