Playing jazz is a lot like having sex.
It’s a little bit intimidating the first time, but it’s also one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do, and everybody does it differently.
Maybe this is what senior music education and jazz studies/performance major Ian Letts had in mind when he decided to name his group the Ian Letts Have Sextet.
The Ian Letts Have Sextet will host a jam session on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at the House Cafe, 263 East Lincoln Highway, at 8 p.m.
“My group plays the opening set for about an hour or so, then we open it up for other musicians to come up and play,” Letts said. “At that point, we’re allowed to play until 1 a.m.”
What began as the Saxtet, appropriately named because the horn section consisted solely of saxophones, turned into According to Myth, a shout-out to the group’s friends in Legend Haz It, turned into the Ian Letts Have Sextet.
“After some joking around, we came up with the ‘Ian Letts Have Sextet,’ and after some debate as to its appropriateness, we decided that it would be fine to use as our group name and that if we caught any flak for it, we’d deal with it as it came,” Letts said. “So far, the response to our name has been entirely positive.”
Upright bass player Karel Waska, who is working toward his Ph.D. in Geology and Environmental Geosciences, has been a member of the group for two years. He attributes much of the success of the jam sessions to the venue itself.
“The atmosphere of the place is very inspirational, and if you play the kind of music where you get some space to express yourself in your own way, the combination provides a great opportunity to surprise yourself with your own playing,” he said.
Letts agrees that the atmosphere of the House contributes to the atmosphere of the jam sessions.
“I used to host jam sessions at a different venue,” he said. “But I wanted to get the House Cafe due to its positive performance atmosphere, its reputation as a performance venue so that we can get people other than musicians to swing by and listen, and because we’re allowed to play for so long into the night, giving the musicians who come out ample opportunities to play each session.”
Experiencing live jazz may be more exciting than skeptics think.
“Usually some 10 to 15 people come to play along, and more folks come to listen,” Waska said, adding that even NIU professors make appearances at the jam sessions.
“Everyone, musicians and avid listeners alike, are there to have a good time and make and hear some good music that may be different than what the average person listens to on a daily basis,” Letts said.