Jerry Kessler was referred to by local musicians as “the Godfather of jam.”
So it seems only fitting that the owners at The Marquee would name its weekly jam sessions after such an important and revered figure in the Siouxland music scene.
Jerry’s Jam, which takes place at 8 p.m. every Wednesday at the Fourth Street bar and music venue, allows musicians of all skills and backgrounds a chance to play onstage with a professional sound system.
Co-owner Mitch Martin recalled the departed Kessler’s contributions to the band Wavelength, as well as his interactions with him during jam nights at The Chesterfield (a bar space in which The Marquee currently resides) and his time working at Flood Music.
Martin said Kessler was apart of the “house band” at the original jam nights at The Chesterfield, a place where Martin would play regularly.
Prior to the opening of The Marquee, Martin asked permission from Kessler’s daughter, Teniesha, to dedicate the venue’s jam night to his memory.
“I contacted her to make sure it was cool with her, and she said absolutely,” said Martin. “He was just a really kind-hearted dude. No matter where you were at in your playing, he would encourage you and talk gear with you. He was just there for the scene.”
Kessler left an impression on Martin when he first attended The Chesterfield’s jam nights. He was 21 years old at the time. Martin had played in a few bands prior to his first jam night. He credits those Wednesday night jam sessions for allowing him to “cut his teeth” in the music scene -- the jams also introduced Martin to his future wife and were responsible for forming his band.
“From then on, Jerry and I developed a friendship,” said Martin. And he did so with just about every musician in town. “He was a big figure in so many people’s lives when it came to that original jam.”
Martin saw proof of Kessler’s impact when he and his crew were in the process of renovating The Marquee’s space before opening and stumbled upon a graffiti wall in the bathroom. A particular passage read “R.I.P. Jerry Kessler, Godfather of the jam.”
“And that’s pretty much what he was,” said Martin. “He was the Godfather of the jam. He built it from the ground up with Rick Swanson. He and his band -- Ed Huff and Charlie Hoberg -- helped build it in 2005 and made into what we call ‘the heyday’ of the jam.”
When the first jam night debuted at The Marquee in May, Martin said it felt “like the old days.”
“The musician scene in town is so tight knit so everybody knows everybody,” he said. “And it was like walking into a family reunion. There were people that I haven’t seen in five years that came in. Everybody picked up like that hadn’t even left.”
Jam nights are important, he added, in that they give anyone the chance to play. For Martin, it has allowed him to grow as a musician.
“A lot of times at jam night you get to play with people you wouldn’t normally play with,” he said. “At a jam, you can play with anybody. You come up and say, ‘Hey, man! Let’s jam!’ or if somebody needs a bass player you can go up and play bass. For me, it keeps me on my toes and make me a better musician because I’m experiencing new things.”
The Marquee’s jam nights follow the same format Kessler was used to at The Chesterfield so many years ago. A house band starts off the night and serve as the event’s moderators; many of which are local players that can play everything from metal to country.
Once the house band finishes its two or three songs, the members turn it over to The Marquee’s guests. Participants have free rein to play whatever music or instrument they want to play.
“If you want to come play your flute or come play guitar or bass or spoken word -- we don’t care,” said Martin. “The stage is yours. If you need somebody to play with you, that’s what the house band is for. If you need a guitar player, we got a guitar player. If you need a drummer, we got a drummer.”
Likewise, if participants want to bring their own friends or musicians to play with them, they can do so. The Marquee provides all the gear. The drums, the bass amp, the guitar rigs, the sound, the lights, sound engineer -- everything.
“Plug and play on what I consider the best club PA and stage in town,” said Martin.