Jam session rocks NOTO

Topeka’s NOTO Arts District, which spans across four blocks of old North Kansas Avenue, has become the city’s most popular destination for artists of all mediums to congregate and showcase their abilities.

A growing number of galleries, studios, boutiques and shops dot this historic street and inside any one of them, art lovers can find a wide array of paintings, etchings, jewelry and several other examples of creative craftsmanship on display and for sale. Community support for the local artists has been impressive to say the least. Try to find a parking spot in the area on the first Friday of any given month if you need proof of that statement.

While the flood of support has done wonders for many a local artist and given Topeka a much needed shot of culture in the arm, it has been practitioners of the visual arts who have received most of the attention. Auditory arts, or music has been little more than a backdrop to the overall scene. That’s all about to change.

On an ordinarily quiet Thursday night, the streets of NOTO are sleeping in preparation for the stampede coming for the next First Friday Art Walk, a rumble can be heard from behind the walls at 917 N. Kansas Ave. The building, better known as J&J’s Gallery Bar (formerly Ruffnecks), has become home to what is becoming the city’s newest regularly scheduled outpouring of artistic expression; an open jam session.

Every Thursday night, local musician Judd Mason [Emotional Feedback, Midgetpounder, The Cleaners, Paradigm Shift Kit], along with artist Alex Lancaster, can be found at J&J’s playing host to the aptly-named Open Playtime for Musicians, Artists & Freaks Featuring The Fumps. With a core collective of players that often consists of Topeka music scene veterans such as Mark Banks, Lance Massey, Yosr Kaboudan, Glen Mandeville and Michael Wagner, among others, Mason leads these free-flowing, eclectic and rhythmically-charged jams with an animated flair. To the uninitiated, the fluidity of these jams might some sort of twisted symphony where guitars march in lockstep with the driving pulse of multiple percussionists and space-age keyboards dance around the room with hypnotizing effect. What the listener hears, however, is very organic and open-ended. As the weeks roll on, Mason would like to see it blossom into something even bigger.

“I want to create something for the artist that needs an outlet to be as extreme as they want,” said Mason. “Anyone and anything is welcome to come out and take part in this.”

While the thought of a belly dancer twirling around a heavy metal guitarist, who has found a temporary kindred spirit in a sitar player might seem off of anyone’s beaten path, it’s exactly the kind of artistic free-for-all Mason and Lancaster are hoping for. The venue hosting these events has fully endorsed their visions.

“They’ve been very supportive,” said Mason of J&J’s Gallery Bar, who has become open to the idea of booking bands and hosting more shows since the weekly jam nights began.

Mason, a Topeka native who recently returned home after spending over a decade in California, started the jam nights out of a desire to become involved with NOTO’s First Friday events and bring a musical element to the table. With the help of Lancaster, who operates out of a studio above Yeldarb Gallery, and digital artist Troy Komahcheet, Mason and his troupe planted their feet on the small, makeshift stage in the back of J&J’s and things have been growing each week.

Musicians and fans of all styles are encouraged to pick a Thursday night and head out to 917 N. Kansas Ave. and take part in the experience.