March-April 2015



By Roland Sturm

CTMSLast month, I went to an old-time jam, which seemed to be just the same crowd as at the old-time jams at the California Traditional Music Society, which closed in 2012. That made me wonder what happened to the other regular activities that used to happen at the California Traditional Music Society: The weekly bluegrass and Celtic sessions, the Scottish fiddle classes, etc. Did they disappear? Were they replaced by something new?

Organized events are essential to keep traditional music alive and get new people involved. Anybody can go to the store and pick up a book on how to play an instrument or take lessons. But music is a social activity and practicing on your own at home is rather limiting and more often quickly leads to a dead-end. The energy and the intricacies of traditional music are not captured in sheet music, but needs to be experienced live.

It turns out that there are great replacements, so the demise of CTMS did not leave much of a hole, even though the Encino CTMS building was an ideal place. The jams and classes just spread a bit further apart and instead of being centralized in Encino are now held in Burbank, Pasadena/San Gabriel, Westchester, Palms, and Santa Monica. New locations include churches, schools, and restaurants. Here is the status as of February 2015:

The Celtic session split a bit into a slower and a faster group. The slow or intermediate Celtic session, which I led at CTMS for 4 years, has moved to a church building in Westchester. Patrick Melly, a mandolin player who used to be a regular at the CTMS session from its very beginning, is currently leading it. The group has a Facebook presence and lists the tunes they are playing.

A faster, more regular pub-style Celtic session, is on Sunday nights at O’Brien’s Irish bar on Wilshire in Santa Monica (not to be confused with the other O’Briens bar on Main Street, there are 2 different O’Briens in Santa Monica). The O’Briens session is going strong now (since 2013), but lifecycles of pub sessions can be short and it may be gone in a year or two.

Sunday night session at O'Brien's

For Scottish music specifically, taught by Jan Tappan at CTMS, the group to join is the Scottish Fiddlers, who practice every Sunday afternoon in a private school in San Gabriel. They feel more like a community orchestra with sheet music and regular rehearsals. Unlike the more informal jams, the Scottish Fiddlers also have regular performances, with their next one on March 7 in the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. Their practices tend to be concentrated in late winter/early spring with less activity during the rest of the year unless they play concerts. 

The CTMS old-time jam seems to be essentially unchanged. It is still led by Steve Lewis with many of the same people. They meet the first Sunday of every month at Viva Cantina, a Mexican restaurant in Burbank that has live music most days of the week and an updated calendar. 

The bluegrass jam seems to have spawned two groups. There is one BASC jam at the West Valley Music Center every 4th Sunday. On the West side, a jam organized by Jeff Fleck has moved to a new location in Palms, Westside LA. The Wilde Thistle is a fairly new small café, very pleasant, and they have started regular music events and concerts.

Of course, there are many other jams in the LA area. FolkWorks has a good list, which is kept current. The ones listed here are active as of February 2015 and are more solidly established. In the case of the Scottish Fiddlers, that means more than 30 years!

Roland Sturm is Professor of Policy Analysis at the RAND Graduate School and usually writes on health policy, not music. He is the talent coordinator of the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest. These days he mainly plays upright bass and mandolin.


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