There’s an easy method to test whether a song has melody, according to musician Dick Williams. Try whistling it.
Rap music, electronic, metal – it’s difficult to whistle.
But “Dixieland jazz music has a melody,” Williams said. “It makes you tap your toes. It makes you feel happy.”
Williams plays the cornet in the Bye Bye Blues Band, which was the guest band Sunday for the Modesto Traditional Jazz Society.
The club hosts monthly concerts at the Clarion Inn on Sisk Road, giving fans a venue to listen and dance and musicians a place to jam.
“Sometimes jammer sets are better than feature bands,” Williams said. “The crowd who likes to dance will like what the jammers do.”
Musicians from all over the state and beyond travel to different society concerts to participate in jam sessions. Some of them play in bands, others are retired, but they all go for the camaraderie and the love of jazz.
Williams said the jam sessions in which he plays usually are made up of about 10 tunes and last around an hour. But when the jazz scene was young, they’d go on all night.
“In the history of jazz, there have always been jam sets after (shows),” Williams said. “They finish at 2 o’clock and they go somewhere, particularly in the ’20s and ’30s when there were speakeasies, and they will play until 6 in the morning.”
Today, jazz still has a devoted following, but its musicians and fans are aging and the genre isn’t as often catching on with younger generations.
“When grandpa dies, his grandson doesn’t pick up a record … and listen to music of grandpa,” Williams said. “It’s a common problem. All the social clubs like Kiwanis, the Elks, the Shriners. The biggest problem they have is that not a lot of young people are joining. Same with us.”
The society’s president, Jan Leer, is hopeful the music will again appeal to more Modestans. She said the group has had its ups and downs in membership and concert attendance over the past 32 years but always bounces back.
“People that leave here are always happy,” she said. “It’s hard to get people to come out, but once they are here, it’s great.”
High spirits were evident as fans tapped their feet, clapped their hands and hit the dance floor as soon as the Bye Bye Blues Band started its first set.
Leer encourages anyone interested in learning more about jazz to come to one of the society’s monthly concerts. Listen to music first played in the 1920s or experience an impromptu jam session.
“(Jazz) is more innovative because so much of it is unwritten,” Leer said. “It comes from your heart, and your head, and your experiences. Jazz is a combination of so many different styles.”
AT A GLANCE
Who: Modesto Traditional Jazz Society
When: Concerts are held the third Sunday of each month, usually starting at 1 p.m.
Where: Clarion Inn, 1612 Sisk Road, Modesto
Upcoming bands: The Devil Mountain Jazz Band will play March 15. Founders Day, a fundraising event for the society, will be held April 19 and feature the Creole Jazz Kings and Ernie Bucio’s Little Big Band.