One Big JAM brings Calgary’s artistic community together for a day of slightly curated chaos

Open jams can be — how shall we put this? — gong shows? Trainwrecks?

No, that’s probably a little too harsh.

Let’s just say they can be a mixed bag or, um, “interesting.”

Now take that to a larger, or rather, Big level, add in other non-musical elements and it can be — how shall we put this? — ebullient? Transformative? One hell of a party?

Or all of the above.

That’s what’s been taking place every few months in this city for the past seven years with the One Big JAM — a celebratory, multi-disciplinary, many-genres, improvised open jam.

The idea of veteran local musician Chris Maric, it’s grown and evolved into a unique, one-day-only happening that artists want to be a part of, audiences always enjoy.

This Saturday, they’ll take it to the next level with a free, outdoor, all-ages event, that they’ve dubbed From the Heart of the City, which takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. at Central Memorial Park, with a drum circle by Cree8 kicking things off before the JAM gets going at 2 p.m.

Prior to the event, Maric spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: Tell us about the event.

A: This time we’re doing Saturday, it’s in the middle of the day, actually. Our event goes from 2 to 5 p.m., it’s all ages, it’s at Central Memorial Park and we’re partnering up with Calgary Public Library and Victoria Park Business Improvement Area and the City of Calgary. It’s an all-ages event that’s free to the public and outdoors.

Q: What can people expect?

A: In a lot of ways you can expect a lot of great musicians, a lot of different artists and dancers coming from different backgrounds and cultures getting together to have a live, fully improvised concert. And in some ways it’s who knows what to expect? Even me, myself, I’m not sure what to expect exactly. This one is completely different than anything we’ve ever done before. That’s kind of our schtick, doing these improvised concerts you leave a lot to chance, you leave a lot to the community, kind of see who comes and what to make of it. It always ends up being crazy.

Q: Now you’re adding into it the unpredictability of Mother Nature.

A: Yeah, the weather seems stable enough, though.

Q: You say it’s fully improvised, but I imagine you steer it in a direction, that you help guide it somewhere, because otherwise it could go entirely off the rails, couldn’t it?

A: Absolutely. So my job — the nickname people have given me is “The Curator of Chaos,” so my job is basically to get people onstage, offstage, call changes, effectively it’s like live production. I help people to know when to come in and when to kind of lay back, just so we don’t have a 20-minute repetitive jam. My job is to curate it and direct it so that it stays interesting to the patrons as well … My job is to make sure the quality stays up.

Also I have a house band, which I call the Random Band, which is just a bunch of musicians, a lot of who are meeting for the first time onstage, I handpick them, and that way we always have really top-quality musicians, we’ve just got to make sure that the quality stays up throughout the event.

Q: What was the initial impetus for you to do this?

A: The original one was over seven years ago, and what happened was I was involved with what would have been a Christmas concert at a small Jamaican restaurant. This fell through and the manager he really wanted to do something, so he asked me, “Can we pull anything off?” and I said, “You know, I’m going make some phone calls, I’m going to call a bunch of people from a bunch of different scenes — be it the gospel scene, the pop scene, the blues scene and the jazz scene — and see what happens.” It ended up being an incredible night and people kept on asking, “When’s the next one?” So over time it kept on rolling, for one thing, and also kept on changing from venue to venue — it got to the point where we kept on outgrowing venues. We’ve been consistently at Festival Hall in Inglewood and the last one was at The Palace where we had about 400 or 500 people, so that’s the history of it. In terms of it being One Big JAM, that was about three years ago when we gave it that official name.

Q: It’s got to be fun for you because it’s different every single time and it has to keep things interesting?

A: Well, yeah, there’s always a good anxiety that comes with these events because, for me, directing it, not knowing what’s going to happen, (laughs) like you say it can go in any direction, but the community’s great, the people that always come together for this, they’re just top-notch people all together and the way everybody collaborates makes it such a great event — the dancers and everything — it’s definitely exciting. And this one, especially being all ages, it completely throws it in a different direction than we’ve ever done before.

Q: It sounds like a very communal — you used the word “community,” it seems like that’s very much a part of what this is.

A: That’s actually at the crux of what this is. We have some bigger plans in the scope of this event, but the whole idea is really trying to get different communities together and really push them to collaborate in ways that challenges them. So that way professional artists are getting challenged and even younger and new upstart artists are getting opportunities to work with professional artists. My thought is, it might be ambitious, but I would love to see Calgary in the history books in the future as creating a whole new style of music.

(Photo courtesy Taylor Cullen.)

One Big JAM takes place Saturday, July 21 at Central Memorial Park from 1 to 5 p.m.