Jazz adds a modern twist to nightlife at Spinelli's Pizzeria on Mill

Jazz musicians, including ASU students, gather to perform at Spinelli's for jam sessions every Wednesday night

Hidden behind a staircase on the corner of 5th Street and Mill Avenue, booming improvised melodies from practicing jazz musicians spill out from Spinelli’s Pizzeria late every Wednesday night.  

Inside on a small elevated surface, booths are pushed to the side to make room for a stage just big enough for a few musicians.  Pizzeria patrons listen to jazz beats until early in the morning while munching on a piece of pizza bigger than their face.

Starting at 9 p.m. every Wednesday night, musicians including ASU jazz students, come together to blend multiple melodies into one for the weekly jam session.

Matt McClintock, a graduate student studying jazz performance, started Spinelli’s jazz nights in November 2017.

“Part of the reason I started it is because there wasn’t a lot of jam sessions in town,” McClintock said. “It’s so important to have the jam session feel like ours.”

The musicians gather to form what is known as a house-band, which consists of a rotation of musicians lending to a high energy atmosphere. These bands generally consist of a combination of upright bass, keyboard, drums, guitar trumpet and saxophone. 

After playing a few songs with a certain group of musicians, others would switch out to keep the momentum rolling as the players switch between styles and instruments at will.

With no strict format, no sheet music and no formal rehearsal, the key behind the improvised jam session can be boiled down to one word: listening. 

“A metaphor a lot of jazz musicians use is like having a toolbox full of tools you can use in improvisation to get the conversation going and keep the music alive,” McClintock said.  “To get that toolbox of tools, you have to listen to a lot of jazz and understand it from that perspective.” 

He said there is a shared repertoire of music most jazz performers are familiar with, ranging from genres of old movie tunes, broadway productions and other prolific jazz performers.

Jude Poorten, a freshman in the jazz performance program, has been playing with the house-band at Spinelli’s since he was a senior in high school.

“There’s something that drew me to the improvisation and connection between other musicians and your audience, having that intimate setting where you’re right there next to them lets you to talk and laugh with them,” Poorten said.

Along with listening, practice is another key element to playing jazz music, Poorten said.

“It’s a lot about training your ear to hear pitches, like if I hear the keyboardist play a certain pitch, I know I can play that note or something like that,” he said.

Poorten said training your ear is heavily emphasized in the music theory class he is currently enrolled in, which emphasizes “knowing the rules so that you can break them."

Michael Kocour, the director of jazz studies in the School of Music, said the jam sessions are more immersive than formal jazz performances.

“The musicians are on and off the stage (at jam sessions), so you can talk to people while the music is going,” Kocour said. “You can never expect what is coming next."

Reach the reporter at eborst@asu.edu or follow @ellieeborstt on Twitter. 

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