Bringing Jam To A New Prestige At The Django

Jam Sessions at the Django are deceptively more dignified that the term “jam session” would typically imply. On these choice evenings, the venue is transfigured to a niche for the notables of the New York jazz community’s inner-circle. They convene for a chat and libation under the auspices of the house band led by Alexander Claffy. After a rousing set and a brief repose, Claffy returns in the role of M.C. inviting to the stage to whatever luminary he’s spotted in crowd. The outcome brings forth an unrivaled event integrating the thrill of spontaneity with performance of the highest caliber.

Reared in a musical family and schooled by Philadelphia’s most treasured jazz personalities, Alexander’s own band (in acronym form C.L.A.F.F.Y.) has an eclectic energy combining modern neo-soul with the various styles of his genre. At the tender age of twenty-three, his passion and proficiency have led him to work with greats such as Jimmy Cobb, Johnny O’Neil, Chris Botti, Kurt Rosenwinkle, and Christian Scott.  Thus, his well-earned versatility is the hallmark of his command as he conducts the tone of an evening open to infinite variation.

The ever-changing retinue encompasses a very broad range. One week may feature Beatles covers, while another may center around novel approaches to classic standards. Perhaps a legend like Jerry Weldon, tenor saxophonist noted for his involvement in various groups such as Lionel Hampton Orchestra and Harry Connick Junior’s Big Band, will rise to an evening songbook standards. Another week may feature a quintet presided over by vocalist Alita Moses, herself no stranger to the Roxy stages, breathing new life into steadfast traditionals by Cole Porter or George Gershwin . Claffy persists that the success of the night is attributable to how every individual brigs their own flavor – weaving new innovations of their craft through invoking old spirits like Chet Baker, the or the sonorous style of John Coltrane. “Maybe they’re just showing up for a beer,” he explains, “and they suddenly find themselves performing on stage.”

Regular characters likely to be found at the event include crème de la crème of the scene such as “young lion” Benny Benack III, Joel Frohm, Stacy Dillard, or Michael Stephenson. But there have been a broad array of surprise attendees including such unlikely guests as the cast of Law and Order: SVU, Cedric the Entertainer, punk luminaries Green Day, veteran Rapper Ice-T, or arena-rockers laying low such as Aerosmith and Yes.

Alexander Claffy feels that the vision of the Django, purveyed by its proprietors and staff, create the perfect ambiance for the sessions he creates. He commends the décor, the style and the attention to detail as qualities reflective of his art form. Just as the Roxy is devoted to music history and invention, his band is committed to delivering a full experience to the audience and their peers that is always dynamic and never dull. It’s downtown New York after all, and you never know who is going to show up.

Words by M.Pellerano