Bailey Giles and Isla Swanson with their instruments at Blue Jazz Bar. / Nora Devin, Director of Photography

By Zoe Bernardi, Community Editor

The red walls and dim lighting of Blue Jazz bar in Portland are just enough to see the scattered tables adorned with flickering tea candles and people. Once you enter the space the murmur of instruments getting tuned and glasses clinking are paired together with musicians and viewers exchanging hellos and chatting about the unfolding events. More times than not you can see the fellow pedestrian walk by the bar, stop and listen to the music and turn around and walk in. 

Blue Jazz Bar which opened in 2005, features a weekly Jazz sesh open mic night every Tuesday. The majority of these jazz players happen to be current USM music students and newly graduated alumni. As more and more people pool into the open room, people begin to settle in and host Jordan Bicki walks on stage. After some calming down and a few hoots and ‘whoo hoos’ from the crowd he smiles as he says “hopefully you know this one,” as the house band begins to play.

The house band is the starting block on stage, and after a few minutes and songs, people swap in and out very informally. It’s open mic, allowing musicians to hop on stage, play a little, and then sit back down, chat and listen. The house band is made up of Bicki (guitar), Clifford Cameron (keys), Eric Landon (drums) and Asher Baneras (bass). The constant interchanging of the musicians allows more and more people to feature their craft to the crowd.

Bicki started the project of the Jazz sesh a little over two years ago, once he graduated from the HART school of Music in Hartford, CT and moved to Portland. Seeking a space to play and meet other musicians, he went to Blue and asked to host a session each week. 

“It’s a space for Jazz musicians to jam and meet other musicians. The goal of creating a safe space and community to play. Similar to Hartford, we need more places to jam and learn as a musician,” Bicki said.

The joys of seeing these people play and jam is a euphoric feeling as an audience member. Viewing the excitement and confidence of the musicians as people in the crowd begin to cheer and clap is the most heartful experience. The control and happiness of the musicians as they get their own time and space to have the spotlight. 

The common factor for those who attend Blue all happens by word of mouth, groups of friends and students coming to jam and inviting anyone who wants to enjoy a lovely Tuesday out and viewing live music. 

Bailey Giles graduated with music performance and a focus on jazz saxophone in 2021, from Biddeford, has been coming to Blue for the past four years. Giles adds that when he was first invited to Blue he was told, “it’s the only Jazz Bar in Portland,” to which he explains how jazz is sadly a diminishing art form. Which is why supporting Blue is a way to make the scene better for everyone. 

Giles adds that most people don’t see the communication between the musicians on stage, it’s the slight nod, smiles, and winks along with body language that allow those on stage to give and take away the spotlight.

Performers take to the stage at Blue Jazz Bar. / Nora Devin, Director of Photography

While Giles was performing on stage, Emma Page, another alumni from the class of 2021 in music education and jazz studies, sat in the audience. Page said she began coming and performing last year as a singer. She comes weekly or at least tries too, as she is teaching music at the Maine Academy of Modern Music in Portland. 

When Page explains Blue, she smiles and nods her head, “It’s the only place where people come just to listen, they want to hear what is being played, it’s a good feeling.” 

Now not everyone comes to Blue to perform or to watch, Ed Mitchell, a senior in the jazz performance department at USM, works there too. Mitchell is from Poland, Maine, but started to work at Blue as a cook and server around three months ago. 

He said he used to stand around outside, peering in to hear the music being played and observe the audience nod and groove to the music inside. He started at Blue as a worker, and slowly inched closer to the stage. Now he gets to experience the full force of Blue, working, viewing and playing.

“It’s a beautiful experience being there in its fullest form, I get to work and play and listen each time, I can play on stage while working,” he said. “It’s just a great place to make connections, I just fell in love.” 

Isla Brownlow, who is studying music performance and jazz studies and will be graduating this spring, plays the trombone and drums. Blue has been a place for her to come and play since turning 21 in July, but she knew about the place from friends that would play there. Brownlow shares that being on stage allows you to hear everything, and helps with the improvisation.

Whether you are a new musician wanting to expand your skills with on stage performance, or looking to build a new connection with others, and even someone who enjoys listening to jazz blue while sipping on a beverage, Blue is for everyone. The open and inviting setting paired with the excitement of fast paced jazz music and chatter is the perfect way to spend your Tuesday night.

Blue jazz is open Tuesday through Sunday, to get into Blue you must have proof of vaccination, wear a mask, and be 21 years of age. Now go on and get jazzy at your favorite new jazz bar in Portland. 


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