Mo Gilkeson, Kuya the Italian Greyhound, and Davy Nefos photo by Nox Svyatenka
BY LILY RODRIGUEZ
Strolling through Fremont on a Monday night, you may encounter the sounds of a slapping bass, an electrifying saxophone solo, and perhaps even the occasional ring of a French horn. Follow the noise and you will end up at Mo’ Jam Mondays, a weekly open jam session at the Nectar Lounge that welcomes any and all musicians to the stage. Mo’ Jam’s energized ensemble of artists congregate from across the Seattle area for the thrill of improvisation and the chill nature of the scene. “I wanted it to be the jam in your basement where you’re playing with people you haven’t met before and you’re making up a song on the spot. It’s totally become that vibe. We get the best musicians out every week,” remarks Mo Gilkeson, the founder and CEO of Mo’ Jam, when reminiscing on the original vision behind the event. “People are so used to jams where they’re calling covers or jazz standards. This is totally the opposite. I wouldn’t even call us a jam if those are called jams, I’d call us…Mo’ Jam.”
With over 75 musicians creating a line out the door each week, Mo’ Jam has exploded into a buzzing destination for local artists. “We’ve been getting 20 guitarists lately, so we have to do two guitar amps so they can play,” says Gilkeson. Regulars know that to secure a spot in one of the dozen or so nightly jams, one must arrive before doors even open. Though getting assigned to a jam takes some preparation, the music itself is a blank canvas for all types of instrumentalists, vocalists, and performers. “We’ve had banjos, harps, tubas, violins” Gilkeson details, to which Davy Nefos, Mo’ Jam’s jambassador and creative director adds, “We accommodate anyone who wants to play.” The inclusivity of Mo’ Jam is one of the essential elements that make the music so unique, producing cross-genre collaborations which emerge from a common groove. Gilkeson goes on to say, “When you bring bands of strangers together, you’re bringing in people from the funk scene, the hip-hop scene, the jazz scene, at all different levels. It’s a platform of unity.”
That sense of unity has attracted a number of artists from different mediums to the event, from painters to craft vendors to videographers. Local filmmaker Suzanne McAuley, who originally attended a jam session to support a friend, recently approached Gilkeson and Nefos to start production on a documentary to capture the energy of Mo’ Jam. Combining live jam footage and interviews with over 40 musicians, the film crew aims to bring the distinctive vitality of this artistic community to wider audiences. Nefos notes,
You go to see a show and you watch the band play, and wow they’re great, but you know what to expect. But if you go to a jam session and you see it connecting and working on stage, that’s a different thrill for the musician and the music lover. Hosting something like that, we get to see it every Monday night.
This year, Mo’ Jam celebrates 10 years of jams and community. Since the first jam in December of 2013, Mo’ Jam has evolved into a staple for musicians looking to get into Seattle’s music scene. From the early days of venue hopping and house bands, the jam has taken on a life of its own, opening up the Nectar Lounge on Mondays, welcoming individual featured artists each week, and hosting a space for artists to form their own bands. Gilkeson explains, “Every two years, we have that generation that finds their bearings in the jam, finds their community and then they start getting gigs. These Mo’ Jammers have their careers take off, and it’s really cool to see.”
Gilkeson’s vision for Mo’ Jam was inspired by her background as a jazz drummer and her experiences with mental health. “I saw this concert before I created it,” Gilkeson shares, “it inspired me to make a platform that I thought would bring in all types of musicians and artists.” Channeling her struggles and creativity into a jam designed to bring people together sparked the energy Mo’ Jam is known for. As Nefos says, “There is definitely energy in the air at Mo’ Jam, you can see it on their faces. You can see it when they play.”