Senior center ‘jam session’ spreads love for music

During the regular "Biscuits and Jam" at Laramie's Eppson Center for Seniors, Rex Gantenbein plays his bass guitar and sings with Colin Keeney, playing guitar, as Jack Wallace plays the fiddle, Bonnie Henderson plays the guitar and Marianne Businga plays the piano. Biscuits and Jam is a musical jam session held twice a month at the senior center. (Photo by Jordan Achs, Laramie Boomerang)

By Jordan Achs

Laramie Boomerang

Via Wyoming News Exchange

LARAMIE — In the afternoons of the first or third Thursday each month, music fills the Eppson Center for Seniors, coming from the casual “jammin’” group, Biscuits and Jam.

Consisting of anyone and everyone who wants to come together to play music simply because they love to, the group creates a sense of community and camaraderie for music lovers, and even adds some diversity to the Eppson Center’s programming.

As people start arriving to the south dining room of the Eppson Center on a blustery Thursday, they begin taking their instruments out of the cases, exchanging pleasantries while they tune and practice chords. Members poke fun at who “finally showed up” and who may be new, asking about families and recent vacations.

Rich Henderson, a regular to Biscuits and Jam, said the camaraderie among members was a big component of what makes the group special.

“I just don’t have a lot of musical outlets, so this is fun to come and play with other people who just enjoy playing music,” said Henderson, who plays an African drum named a djembe.

Sitting in a large circle, members of the group take turns choosing songs — sometimes off the top of their head — and the rest follow along. Some sing along if there’s words, others use sheet music they have on hand if they need it. Flew Wilson said the group is “just for jammin’.”

Wilson added while she doesn’t always know the tune someone picks, that doesn’t mean it’s hard to follow along.

“They tell you what key you’re playing in, and there are the three or four basic chords for that key,” Wilson said. “So, you just listen, or you watch people’s hands and see the cords.”

Wilson plays the tenor banjo, but said she tunes it differently, helping to match guitar chords to make it easier to follow along if she doesn’t know the song.

The song choices vary depending on who suggests them, mostly hymns, ballads or well-known folk songs. A variety of instruments are played, including djembes, guitars, a ukulele, a fiddle, a tenor banjo and a mandolin, among others.

Sometimes the group does put on a performance or two, but the pianist for the group, Marianne Businga, said it’s nothing formal.

“We play for the [Eppson] Center sometimes, and we played for some of the clubs downtown,” Businga said. “Just to help out, we don’t charge; we just enjoy doing it.”

Although the event is hosted at the Eppson Center, Wilson said “anybody’s welcome to come,” no matter the proficiency level. One of the members “from the beginning,” Wilson said the group was started about 13 years ago by the Eppson Center’s co-activities director at the time, Debra Raver.

“She called it Biscuits and Jam because, we’re jamming, and she would bring us leftover desserts from the dining room and that became our biscuits,” Wilson said.

The group keeps steady numbers, large enough for a good sound but small enough for personal connections. Henderson said Biscuits and Jam provides more than an opportunity for social interaction but adds some diversity to the Eppson Center’s programming as well.

“This is one of the few activities that attracts a lot of men,” Henderson said. “We have a lot of activities here for women, but there’s a few things that attract men, and this is one of them that seems to do really well getting the men here.”

Although the group’s camaraderie and easy-going vibe keeps many of the members coming back, for many it’s the opportunity to continue doing what they love.

“Making music is my life,” said Greg Helm, who plays the djembe. “I’ve done it all my life.”