Mike Chalmers

Primary Instrument: Flute

Born: January 24    

Mike Chalmers

Mike's day job with the world's favourite airline has allowed him to meet some great musicians and play salsa in Caracas, funk in Accra, bhangra in Bangladesh, soca in Tobago and highlife in Harare.

Originally from the city of Bath in the west of England, he first came to the USA courtesy of a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he played with the Penn Jazz Ensemble. He now divides his time between London, where he plays bari sax with the Cuban dance band Orquesta Estelar, and the Philly/New Jersey area.

Mike studied with legendary saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis for several years, and has played big band jazz at the Cool Jazz Festival in Vermont for the last four years with guest artists Chris Vadala, Jerry Bergonzi and Amanda Carr...
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 'Whites, blacks played together, even in worst times' Larose by any other jazzy name would smell la sweet

Caryi Johnston - Published: December 8, 2011

Germantown is full of surprises. And one of the best is the Sunday Night Jazz Jam at the LaRose Catering Club, 5531 Germantown Ave. (at Schoolhouse Lane). Before the LaRose Catering Club took over its present location, the spot was occupied by another eating club with a similar name - Mamma Rosa catering.

 Occasionally, there would be some jazz there. Dr. Chenet LaRose, a dentist and native of Haiti, acquired the business 10 years ago. For the past six years, the Tony Williams jazz quartet has been performing there regularly on Monday nights. But there was no Sunday night jazz until Rob Henderson arranged to talk with Dr. LaRose about starting a Sunday night jam session.

Rob Henderson is the guy who runs the Sunday jazz jam session at LaRose.

He's a dynamic, enthusiastic, energetic and jovial host - a real master of ceremonies - and a drummer. And modest too. “I never tried to be famous,” he remarked.

”The ones who are only out to be famous sometimes end up being a pain in the ass.”

Rob is 54 and has seven children ranging in age from 12 to 26. He bought his first drum set when he was 18 but didn't get around to taking lessons until he was 40. He was doing other things - 11 years as an investment banker and since 1991, the owner and manager of an automobile inspection station.

He says the trade of auto mechanics enabled him to pursue music and travel to Europe to perform.

Rob discussed with Dr. LaRose the Sunday jam session idea, and Dr. LaRose agreed to it. It began two years ago. Rob pays the band, often out of his own pocket, and Dr. LaRose takes a small percentage of the cover charge. It isn't much of a money maker. But when you go there, you realize there's a lot more to life - and music - than money.

It's kind of a miracle. In a nation where nobody seems happy, the LaRose Jazz Jam is joyful. And “everyone” could mean a player as young as 11 or as old as 91.

Black guys and white guys and lady jazz singers like Monti, who said she never sang in public before she started singing at LaRose, and Arlene Hilton, who confided to me that she's in her 70s.

There's “Taxi Joe” - yes, he really does drives a cab - and his rendition of “Stand By Me” is often a high point of the evening. There are young people, up-and coming young performers still in high school like saxophonist Jack Sinclair. It's international too; you might catch Nathan Ingram III just in from Japan; he manages a music festival in Fukushima.

 There's a British guy who flies over the ocean just to come to the LaRose Sunday Jazz Jam. (Well, it makes a good story.) Mike Chalmers is actually a pilot for British Airways and flies the plane for a living. But he plays flute and sax and learned of the LaRose Jazz Jam through JazzBridge, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving and promoting jazz. He visited for the first time a year ago and said when Rob invited him up to play, “I was nervous at first,” but since then he performs whenever he's in town.

Now, he's like one of the pros.

And not to forget the enthusiastic audience. Rob Henderson plays the drums and works the room, talking to everybody, introducing and thanking the players and acknowledging everybody. “I want the audience to feel as much a part of the music as the musicians. We have an audience to come listen to a jam session; that's cool!” says Rob.

Rob says his job at LaRose is “to expose the young musicians to the truest music I know. Here young players can come and play, learn from more experienced players, be mentored and network. I wanted to bring back what I experienced as a young man growing up. Music is so democratic. And even during the worst times of racial tensions, white and black would still play together. It was always integrated.”

We talk about jazz. “It's the music that made America famous,” he says, “but I think it's too bad how we just take it for granted.” I ask him what he thinks are the reasons for this. “Well, maybe, because black Americans, being steeped in spirituals, felt jazz was too secular, the devil's music,” he said.

”And then white America felt that jazz was too much associated with black people. So really nobody would step up and claim it, except the people performing it and creating it. Now look around, even today. It's not mainstream.

 You can hear jazz on public radio or in concert halls like the Kimmel Center, but you rarely hear it on TV shows or in ads. It's been exposed, but it gets minimal backing.”

He points out how different this is from the popular culture. “Most jazz artists still have integrity. I just have to compare this with what's going on today. I was watching a documentary about some rappers on tour. It was really vulgar, dumbed-down kind of stuff. A lot of this kind of music sounds so angry and hostile. Why are we putting up with this, or with the kind of socalled 'smooth jazz' from people like Kenny G? This isn't real jazz at all.”

The other big thing going on today in jazz is that it's become an academic subject. “You can get a degree in jazz,” Rob says, “but you have to wonder about this. Jazz didn't come out of schools. It came out of real life, the streets, brothels, bars. It's social, give-and-take, and you have to be able to play, improvise, in the moment.

”You can't 'think' about it.

When I was coming up, we'd have to play for two hours straight without a break, and keep the swing!

Not that schools don't do some good, but I wonder if they can keep the edge that jazz needs, that creative, split-second, on-the-mark response.”

Well, if there is anywhere that aspiring jazz players may go to play and to experience the community that is jazz, it's at the LaRose on Sunday nights in Germantown. It's one of the best things in all of Philadelphia, and it's right in our community. What luck!

The Sunday Night Jazz Jam takes place every Sunday night, 6 to 10 p.m. There is a $5 cover charge on Sundays and a $10 cover charge on Mondays. For more information, call 267-231-6779 or email


Saxy musician Charles Cunningham is from West Philly, but like so many others who do not exactly live around the corner, it's worth it to travel to LaRose to play with fellow jazz musicians. (Photo by Lester Hinton)

Bass player Mike Boone comes all the way from Wilmington, Delaware, to jam at LaRose. (Photo by Lester Hinton)

Nathan Ingram is originally from North Philly, but has been living in Japan for 19 years. While visiting his family recently, he stopped in to jam at LaRose on a Sunday night, as so many other jazz musicians do. (Photo by Lester Hinton)

Pearl Williams, one of Philly's finest jazz singers, will perform with many of Philly's other finest female musicians Sunday, Dec. 11, 6 to 10 p.m., at LaRose Jazz Club, 5331 Germantown Ave., to raise funds for female jazz and blues musicians in crisis and for the wives of jazz and blues musicians.(Photo by Anthony Dean)

Julian Horner, of Germantown, is just 22, but he has studied piano since he was about 11, first in Alabama and later here with Father John d'Amico. He attended the University of the Arts. He often plays at the Sunday Night Jam. (Photo by Lester Hinton)

Mike Chalmers is actually a pilot for British Airways who lives in London, but he plays flute and sax and learned of LaRose Jazz Jam through Jazz Bridge, a nonprofit organization. He visited for the first time a year ago, and now performs whenever he's in town. (Photo by Lester Hinton)
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