Jazz jams at Bedlam embrace racial diversity

Trumpet player Solomon Parham hosts Solomon’s Sessions, a weekly open-stage jazz session in St. Paul.

Soloman Parham

Image by Photo courtesy of Soloman Parham

Soloman Parham

by Jared Hemming

We’ve all been there — your jazz-trumpet-playing husband’s birthday is fast approaching and you have no gift ideas yet. So what do you get him? Slide grease? A new spit valve?
Solomon Parham’s wife, Aja, eschewed these tame ideas and set up an improv jazz session for her husband at the Bedlam Lowertown.
Solomon Parham turned the birthday Bedlam gig into Solomon’s Sessions, his neo-soul-influenced improv jazz session, where he encourages fellow musicians to bring their instruments and jam on the open stage.
“That was a birthday gift that lasted all year,” Solomon Parham said.
Although anyone can come play at the sessions, Solomon Parham warns it’s no open mic night.
“A session should be a stage that has a standard — the musicians can perform to a certain level,” Solomon Parham said. “And when we welcome [other performers] onstage, they should know that this is the standard. It’s not practice or karaoke.”
Solomon Parham and his vocalist wife set the sessions’ high standard along with his band, which includes guitarist Spencer Christensen, drummer Arthur “L.A.” Buckner, pianist Juan Pajuelo, bassist Ry Dill and violinist Ernest Bisong.
With band members from as far as Nigeria and Peru, Solomon Parham said he formed the Solomon’s Sessions band with racial and geographical diversity in mind — aspects he noticed were lacking in the Twin Cities.
“Coming from Detroit, Mich., to Minnesota, I had to learn that there’s a race dynamic, and it’s more present here,” Solomon Parham said. “I’m used to playing diverse stages. I’m used to playing with people from every facet of life. … When I got out here and I saw that the music was all white, it bothered me.”
Parham said he’s one of the few black professional jazz trumpet players in the Twin Cities, but he’s trying to bring more color into the scene.
“It has to be diverse for me, or I won’t do it,” Solomon Parham said. “I have to have people that aren’t from America. I have to have white people. I have to have black folks. It has to be diverse because that’s what the music is about.”
Though Solomon Parham takes his performances seriously, Christensen said he plays down-to-earth tunes.
“Solomon’s a smooth, laid-back guy. He’s the perfect example of when your personality explains your playing,” Christensen said. “Most importantly, he’s always groovy.”
Despite the scary notion of keeping up with a bunch a professional jazz masters, Twin Cities Jazz Festival board member Tio Aiken said the open stage policy at  Solomon’s Sessions is welcoming.
“There’s a lot of places where you might not be able to jump onstage because of your skill level or you’re not well known,” Aiken said. “But I think that Solomon’s really open to giving people a shot to do their thing.”
However, Solomon Parham warns with a laugh that he and the house band will bust out a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in mismatched key signatures if a musician can’t keep up with the jam.
While the environment is social, Solomon Parham said that each jam session puts the respect for the meaning of jazz before all else.
“The music that I play is more of a philosophical thing than just a genre,” Solomon Parham said. “I want to make sure it’s a living piece of history with respect to what happened already.”
Solomon’s Sessions
Where: Bedlam Lowertown, 213 E. Fourth St., St. Paul
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $5