Henderson, a drummer who works as an auto inspector during the day, uses his Sunday session to service Philadelphia’s jazz community to cultivate new talent by mixing players of all ages. Henderson insists that there are some things that you can learn only by playing with older musicians.
“We need to pass the baton. You need the roots and the foundation in order to move forward. It’s hard to move forward without knowing what came before,” Henderson said. “We learned from the guys that were before us. Mingling is the best way we can mentor to younger musicians.”
Bruno Saint Louis, an 18-year old guitar player, feels like he has benefited a lot from the playing at La Rose on Sundays.
“I’ve learned how to approach music. I’ve learned a lot about dynamics, I’ve learned how to be humble,” Saint Louis said.
Henderson doesn’t mind hosting musicians on different levels as long as the music is taken seriously.
“I tell the youngsters when they come in–’ you can forget about all of your studies in school and just come here let your hair down hang loose and play whatever and however you feel like playing,’” Henderson said.
“Sometimes the band doesn’t have to take a break,” Kim Tucker, a friend of Henderson’s who runs the door at La Rose on Sunday nights, said. “Plenty of people come out to fill in.”
Williams’s session on the other hand attracts a group of loyal fans who love his music.
“Monday is a mature crowd, I would say 60 plus,” Tucker said.“Not a lot of younger people come out to play and it’s also a little more structured.”
While Williams has only played at La Rose for the past eight years, he has been a driving force in the Philadelphia jazz scene for several decades. A group of guys who have been coming to hear Williams play for the past 14 years call themselves the Wise Men.
“Tony Williams is the only thing that keeps jive alive, which is why we are here,” David Burnett, one of three friends left out of the original seven Wise Men who bonded over going to see Williams play, said. At the first session they attended, the the men all sat at the same table and instantly became friends. Nearly a decade and a half later, the group continues to meet and support Williams’s the music.
Mike Boone, the bassist who plays with Williams each week, says that some of the saxophonist’s fans have been tracking him for even longer.
“There are people who have been following tony around for the past 35 or 40 years. The average age of his fans is probably about mid-70s,” Boone said.
“It was like being the pied piper– people would just follow you there and it was just like family,” Williams said while describing going from jazz club to jazz club on Friday nights.
The family vibe was felt by those attending Williams session this past monday. A couple that attends regularly celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary with champagne, cake, friends and a heartfelt rendition of “The Nearness of You.” Attendees also celebrated Williams’s 82nd birthday which was to take place the next day. Instead of a cake, Williams received a watermelon and the house band sang “Watermelon Man” to him after “Happy Birthday.”
Williams is extremely grateful for his devotees.
“The music is something that we provide, but the ambiance of the club gives you another avenue of the music because the crowd is so beautiful and supportive. This is like therapy for me– I can’t wait to get here on Mondays,” Williams said. “A lot of the folks have passed on and we have some of the new crowd and we are hoping that the music will survive,” Williams said.
Keeping jazz alive and appreciated is a concern and a priority among the community of players.
“This is one of the few places in the city where we have an actual audience coming to the sessions and not just a house of musicians,” Henderson said about both jazz nights at La Rose. While on some nights the club is packed, other evenings are sparsely attended. Both Williams and Henderson turned to La Rose because other jazz clubs in the city were going out of business. To support the session, Henderson must pay the bands and the club out of pocket. He is able to support the session by working as an auto inspector. Many of Henderson’s clients are musicians from the Philadelphia area.
“When musicians come, their inspections last the longest because we end up talking so much about the music scene and gigs and this that and the other. It’s fun,” Henderson said.
La Rose is open for music weekly on Sunday and Monday nights for a $5 cover. Visit its Facebook page for more information.