FROM THE CHESTNUT HILL LOCAL ARTICLE ON ROB
HENDERSON THE SUNDAY SESSIONS AT LAROSE:
'Whites, blacks played together, even in worst times' Larose
by any other jazzy name would smell la sweet
- 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 -
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.
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
There's Taxi Joe - yes, he really does drives a cab
- and his rendition of Stand By Me is often a high point of
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
PHOTOS IN THE ARTICLE:
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
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)
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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