Ramona Sentinel: It Starts with a Downbeat

Ramona Music Center: It Starts With A Downbeat
Chuck Preble
Published 10/01/2009 – 1:46 p.m.

Chuck Preble

Jon Hasz and Baylee Strayer, co-owners of Ramona Music Center, had an idea: what would happen if they took dozens of musicians of different ages and playing abilities and put them together in one room? The answer became the Ramona Music Center Blues Jam.
Every other Friday from 6 to 9 p.m., music is not only played, but created in the store at 1045 Main St. The Blues Jam has been an ongoing opportunty for musicians to get together and play since the winter of 2007.
“The original idea was to have an all-ages, free venue to be the steppingstone from lessons to the stage,” said Hasz, who teaches several instruments at the store. “It has been building every couple of weeks. I’m sure we’ve had at least a hundred different musicians attend from every background and skill level.”
Musical tradition states that the origins of the jam session can be traced to the early days of Dixieland music in New Orleans. The clubs throughout the town featured many talented musicians who played different styles of music. Many nights after the clubs closed down, these musicians would “jam” themselves and their instruments into a small room and practice together.
Some knew songs that others were unfamiliar with, but that didn’t stop anyone from playing along in the same key. Those musicians practiced and learned from each other, picking up a few tricks-of-the-trade along the way.
Unknowingly, they also created the first true American musical genera which we today call Dixie Land.
Jenny Peckham is a classically trained pianist who teaches at the store.
“I felt a little unsure at my first Blues Jam,” laughed Peckham, who has been teaching since she was 17 years old. “Then I realized how much fun it was!”
According to Peckham, the jam became the most direct route to learning improvisation, a key ingredient for musicians.
“Jon has created a community of musicians, and contributed so much more to their education than just taking music lessons,” said Peckham.
Hasz is the perfect music conductor for the gatherings of musicians who come to the jam. He makes sure the audio level of the music is never too loud, and that everyone gets a chance to try his or her hand at a solo or suggest a song to play. No one is allowed to take center stage.
Everyone, no matter the skill level, is invited to play. During September’s jam, ages ranged from 7-year-old Charlie Revers on mandolin to several middle-aged men and women on guitars, fiddles, flutes and a variety of instruments ready to take their turn playing along with the others. Brandon Bart, 13, was on drums.
All egos are checked at the door at the Ramona Music Store jam sessions. Students and musicians may be sitting next to a player who is a beginner or a seasoned recording artist. Nobody cares, since everyone has something to share and teach.
Ramona Music Center has been contributing to the community since its beginning. Hasz and Strayer have built the store’s reputation to the point where it reached the 2008 A-List status of music stores in San Diego County.
In 2007, after learning several Ramona schools had limited access to music instruments, the music store donated 20 guitars to the school district. The store has staged numerous benefit concerts to aid the community as well. This is not just a local music store, but a proven outlet that is willing to do what is necessary for the musicians and community of Ramona.
One of Hasz’s bass students is Sandy Burney, who rarely misses a Friday night jam session.
“Playing with other people forces you to play something new, or something you have never practiced before,” Burney said.
Though her main instrument is electric bass, Burney, like many other participants, occasionally picks up a bongo, rattle or tambourine to allow someone else to fill in.
Bart turned the drum kit over to a middle-aged man anxious to keep the beat for awhile. Bart picked up the man’s bass guitar and plugged in. He has been taking lessons from Hasz for the past several months and is a member of the Ramona High School Jazz Ensemble.
“It’s fun to play with other people,” said Bart. “I pick up a lot of chord progressions and songs each time we get together.”
According to Hasz, 13-year old Daniel Yelsits has served as an inspiration for students young and old at the store. When the soft-spoken Yelsits plugs in his electric guitar or picks up his harmonica, you know music is about to happen. This talented young man could easily steal the limelight, but like a true professional he takes his turn as the beat kicks in, the chords ring out and musicians take their turn playing solos.
If a musician sitting near Yelsits is unsure of the chords to a song, Yelsits yells out to them. He is also a member of the Ramona High Jazz Band.
And what a range of solos there are! Participant aren’t expected to play a solo if they dont want to. But when you have so many musicians on guitars, basses, drums, keyboards, saxophones, trumpets, congas, woodwinds, violins and any number of percussion instruments, you’re bound to get a variety of flowing musical fun.
“We all learn from each other,” said Peckham. “The Blues Jam has contributed so much to my own education and helped me in different ways to teach some students.”
Long hair, dark hair, grey hair or no hair is ever a boundary for the musicians at the Blues Jam. Even the variety of songs makes no difference to the performers. The group may tackle a vintage Eric Clapton or Beatles song, and then go right into Old Kentucky Home, or the 1960s hit Stormy. The individual song is not important. It can be country/western, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, or old standards. What matters is the fun and learning experience of playing something different with such a diverse group of musicians. That is the goal of the Blues Jam.
“The jams have allowed students and other musicians to find a supportive place to exercise their lessons in a real world environment,” said Hasz. “It is also a chance for the older, experienced players to give back to the budding young musicians in a way that these students can respect.”
Individual musical talent or ability is not important. It makes no difference if you own a $15 trumpet or a $3,000 guitar. When a 7-year-old plays next to a 60-year-old, age is not a factor. What is important is the music, the camaraderie, and the chance to spend a few hours having fun learning and playing with fellow community musicians.
“Multiple bands have been formed from our jams, and many local friendships have been made,” said Hasz.
Ramona Music Center has unlocked the door and issued an open invitation to all musicians and music lovers to come play music. Just bring your instrument, a positive attitude, willingness to share and join the band.
Ramona Music Center is at 1045 Main St. For the date of the next Blues Jam, call the store at 760-789-3154 or visit the Web at www.ramonamusiccenter.com, where you also will find a listing of all the store has to offer from musical instruments and repairs to some of the finest music teachers in the county.

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