Blues Jam review by Roger-Z (02/03/08)
Appeared in More Sugar, March 2008, P. 19A
Geoff Hartwell is the greatest blues-rock, slide-guitar player I've ever heard, bar none. And what does he do with
his talent? He nurtures other players through his Tuesday Night Blues Jam at Jackson and Wheeler
in Pleasantville, NY.
I asked Hartwell to describe the sessions. "I started the Pleasantville Blues Jam almost six years ago
at a little place called Jean Jacques. It was always very successful and a lot of fun, and when they closed their bar
in favor of adding catering space, we moved around the corner to Jackson and Wheeler Restaurant. It's a great place
and the owner Mike has been incredibly supportive of the music and the scene from day one."
"Every Tuesday at 9:30 PM, the house band consisting of Geoff Hartwell (vocals/guitar), Rich Kelly (bass, vocals),
J.J. Clarke (drums), and Chris Burke, keyboards), kicks off the evening with a short, four to five song set.
There's a list up front where anyone can sign up to 'sit in.' The house band provides drums, amps and a PA.
All you need is your instrument. To cover the cost of the group and the equipment, we ask for a $5 donation at the door.
One hundred percent of that goes to the house band."
"For me, the Tuesday Night Blues Jam is a great excuse to get together and share music on a regular basis. I wanted a
place where people of all ages and levels could find common ground even if they had never met before.
The 'blues' is the perfect medium for that. Although it's an incredibly deep and vast ocean, there are some
relatively simple forms that can be learned quick enough to allow players to jam almost immediately."
"When I started the blues jam, I specifically wanted it to be equal opportunity. Some of the musicians are
pros, and some are people who never played outside their living room before coming here. But there's
respect and camaraderie all around. I get an incredible thrill out of seeing people learn and evolve over the
course of weeks and months. Musicians come in from all walks of life and professions. We take all kinds --
weekend warriors, students young and old. All music and fun, no attitudes allowed."
"Honestly, the very few problems I've encountered have always been with self-professed 'accomplished' players
who've ignored the community aspect of the evening and just behaved like jerks to other players, like making
nasty comments or just treating the jam as a platform to wail senselessly rather than trying to actively
listen and play dynamically with others. That's really not what a jam is all about- it's such a great
opportunity to meet and hang with other players in a positive atmosphere, and on a level playing field.
We're a fun group of people and it's great to be able to get together and play some blues every Tuesday
Now let's hear from some of the participants. Singer and harp player Al Frankel has this to say.
"Geoff Hartwell is not only an amazing talent on slide guitar but he is also a hell of a jam master.
I have been attending Geoff's jam for five years now on a weekly basis. In my experience, Geoff always does his
best to get everyone up to play. Some nights it is a difficult task. As many as 15 guitarists have appeared!
On those evenings, Geoff will limit each set to two songs instead of three in an effort to get everyone up on stage.
The jam is always fun and Geoff uses his musical skill to try to create a balance of musicians so as to maximize
the 'chances of success' for each set. Considering that his jam draws players with a wide array of experience,
I am impressed by how often it goes as well as it does. The camaraderie created amongst the regulars at Geoff's jam is
also noteworthy. Kudos to Geoff Hartwell and his fantastic band for doing such an excellent job for so many years!"
Guitarist Larry Handwerger chimes in. "I have been following Geoff and his jam for close to five years.
Like the old TV show 'Cheers,' it always feels like a great group of friends, mostly musicians, who get together,
kick back, and play some great blues for all to enjoy. The Geoff Hartwell band is a group of very talented musicians
who always have a smile for everyone who attends."
Another jam regular, guitarist Bob Ostrow adds, "For me the keywords of the jam are 'fun,' 'friendly,' and 'fair.'
Let's face it, music and alcohol are 'fun.' It's 'friendly' because Geoff makes everyone feel welcome. Even if you're
not the best player, you always feel like you did OK. It's 'fair' because the sign up order is generally the playing
order. When it deviates from that, there's a good reason. Geoff runs it well."
A 'newbie,' Michael Hudzik shares, "I have a rock band called 'Blame the Dog' and my bandmates and I like to go
to the jam. It's really fun to see people playing and interacting. Watching the improv stuff is especially great.
It seems that everybody there is friendly -- i.e. nobody is too cool to chat with. Aside from being fun,
it's a great learning experience for people like myself who are only now learning about blues."
Singer-songwriter, keyboardist Jon Cobert says, "The house band tunes are smokin' and Geoff plays and sings his ass off.
The whole band is tight, and really good. Geoff is really good at putting the jammers together. There is never any ego,
and the vibe is always great, and very supportive. Nobody feels intimidated. Everyone is just there to have a good time
and play and hear some cool music. Some blues jams can get boring, with the same old 12 bar blues pattern over and over,
but with guys like Al Frankel around, this one always has some cool tunes, with a nice blend of people."
And finally, this from veteran jam master, Johnny Feds, currently running the Monday Night Blues Jam at Cafe Rio
in Mamaroneck, NY. "It has always been my experience that Geoff runs a great
jam with an excellent house band. He is a very gracious and accommodating host. The jammers are a real pleasant
bunch. There is a lot of talent in northern Westchester. John Apicelli is always smiling and snapping everybody's
So folks, why not shut off your "Legends of Rock" video game and step up to the real thing. Come down to
Geoff Hartwell's Tuesday night blues jam. Who knows, you may just end up morphing into a real "Guitar Hero!"