What do Prince, Eddie Van Halen,Dr. John, and the late, great jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard have in common? They each, at some point over the past ten years, stopped by the Baked Potato on a Monday night to check out the Los Angeles jazz club’s famous open jam.
Another one down—John Ziegler (left) and Jamie Kime outside the Baked Potato after (approximately) the 520th Monday night jam.
Other high-profile musicians—including Steve Lukather, John Mayer, and Tool/Volto drummer Danny Carey—like to hop up on stage and perform when they’re in the house. The beauty of this open mic, though, is that you don’t have to be a big shot to plug in. Anyone who puts his or her name on the list gets to play a tune and, if they like, stretch out on a big solo—which is one reason the jam has been going strong for ten years and counting.
“Another reason this night has been successful is because it’s so eclectic,” says Volto guitarist John Ziegler, who launched the jam with co-guitarist Jamie Kime back in April 2005. “Blues jams can get old, and bebop jams alienate a lot of players, but on Mondays at the Potato, anything goes. This is probably the only place where you might hear ’50s bebop, bluesy ’60s stuff, ’70s fusion and R&B, ’80s rock, and maybe even some Iron Maiden—all in the same night.”
Before guests are called up to play, the evening opens with an adventurous set by the house band, which typically features Ziegler and Kime backed by founding bassist Chris Roy and any of several virtuoso drummers and keyboardists that the band has on its roster. ’70s fusion tunes and ’60s modal jazz classics often make the set list, because they foster epic take-it-to-the-moon-and-back improvised solos.
“If this jam makes me proud of anything,” says Kime, “it’s the fact that we help keep the art of guitar improvisation alive. To a lot of younger players, improvisation is a dying art form. To them, guitar is all about patterns, working everything out in advance, and cutting everything to a grid. We introduce them to the other part of being a musician—the part where you get onstage with people you barely know and make something happen.”
No musician has played more Monday jams at the Baked Potato than Ziegler, who has done the gig more than 500 times. There is one person, however, who has been present for every Monday jam at the Baked Potato: Doorman and veteran saxophonist Chuck Camper.
“I’ve never actually played at the jam, though,” says Camper. “At this point, I’m afraid that if I pulled out my horn, I would somehow jinx things, and the ten-year-and-counting streak would end.”