Singing and playing bossa nova favorite "Chega de Saudade" at Dunkin' Donuts for J-Jam

CMU Klezmer Band performing

Yesterday evening, I ended up unexpectedly singing alone in public for the first time in my life.

This evening, I ended up unexpectedly singing again, with guitarist Cantor Ben Rosner accompanying me: the first time in my life singing with an accompanist for the general public, and the first time I’ve worked with a guitarist.

We had just met for the first time this evening, and had only a minute ahead of time to agree on a suitable tempo and have him quickly sight read chords before we just launched into the music.

I had not come to the local Dunkin’ Donuts in Squirrel Hill expecting to sing at all, actually! What happened?!

The story behind the jam session at Dunkin’ Donuts

Abby had recently just met a new guy playing in the [Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra], Cantor Ben Rosner of Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill. He was passing out flyers advertising a music jam session he was organizing, “J-Jam”, to be held tonight in the local Dunkin’ Donuts, which happens to be the only Dunkin’ Donuts in the area that is certified kosher.

Apparently this was not the first Jewish community oriented music jam held at Dunkin’ Donuts.

(Update of 2013-01-16)

J-Jam now has its own official Web site and Facebook page. Check them out!

Deciding to participate

When I hear about music jams, I get excited as well as nervous. I always feel that I wish I were a much better musician than I am now, so that I don’t always feel that I’m the worst one at these events, but at the same time, I learn so much from just being out there, both to enjoy hearing other musicians, and to study how they do what they do, and in turn try to provide something of my own soul to other musicians and the audience as well. It’s like being naked; it’s still really tough for me.

But I was intrigued because, well, Dunkin’ Donuts should be pretty low key, right?

I had spread the word to the Pittsburgh Recorder Society mailing list, but nobody seemed up for participating, except Chuck said he was interested in coming.


I had no time whatsoever to “prepare” for this music jam. We exchanged some emails only earlier today, in which I mentioned some music I might play, if a suitable accompanist were available. These emails were exchanged as Abby and I were at the second day of PodCamp Pittsburgh 7 all day. When we came home from PodCamp Pittsburgh, all we could do was crash with a long nap, eat dinner, and frantically pack up our instruments. I brought along a little binder of stuff I might play. I had told Ben that I could play stuff like Baroque flute sonata movements or bossa nova or tango or Cuban bolero.

Abby has been performing in music groups longer than I have, so she has her own selections at hand for her tamburas whenever desired.

At J-Jam

Dunkin’ Donuts was amazingly crowded. There were people of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly, sitting around listening to the live music and enjoying kosher food. It was pretty loud in there. I immediately decided that I would not play Baroque flute here. (I had brought it along with my Irish flute, modern flute, and soprano and alto recorders.)

Since we had arrived an hour and a half past the begin time of the music jam, we had missed no shortage of performances already, I was sure. There were musicians singing and playing guitar and cello; I saw who I presumed to be Ben Rosner accompanying on mandolin at the time:

Musicians in the middle of performing

Meeting Ben and deciding what to do

Patrons in Dunkin' Donuts

After the current musicians’ set, Ben came up to Abby and me, and said we could play after a couple more groups had their turn. He asked what I wanted to play. We took a few seconds to flip through that stuff I had brought, and decided to play one of the bossa nova songs I had brought, “Chega de Saudade”: he would sight read the chords and accompany me. I chose “Chega de Saudade” because I had given a shot at it spontaneously at a party a month ago.

I immediately made an interesting decision: although I had originally intended to play the melody on flute, and then launch into a jazzy improvisation before concluding, I decided, based on having just sung yesterday as a pirate, that I was in the mood to sing, and a lot of people had been singing all evening, so I wanted to do that too. And it seemed that a voice would carry well over the conversations of the Dunkin’ Donuts patrons. So I would sing the song, in Portuguese of course, and then switch into flute improvisation.

A lot of good music I heard

I was really impressed by the soulful performances of everyone who showed up to sing and play instruments. Really high quality stuff.


So I heard a lot of traditional songs and Klezmer (in fact, the CMU Klezmer Band was there). Not what I usually listen to or encounter, but it was really great soaking in the different kinds of music.

When one of the CMU Klezmer Band guys, the clarinetist, passed out lyrics to a particularly popular song, I even sang along, stumbling through Yiddish for the first time in my life!

CMU Klezmer Band waiting for turn

Joel, the J-Jam co-organizer who was handling the sound system throughout, performed one of his own compositions, and then one of his young guitar students performed along with him.

Joel and student

Familiar faces

Abby and I saw a number of familiar people. In Pittsburgh, if you meet someone for the first time, it seems that there are already a lot of connections through other people you already know.

Roz, whom I last saw over a year ago when she was trying to sell accordions did some singing with the CMU Klezmer Band.

Cindy Harris, who played autoharp so beautifully at one of the French music jams I’ve gone to did some solo pieces on autoharp:

Cindy Harris on autoharp

At some point, Chuck from Pittsburgh recorder showed up. He wasn’t here to play, but came to watch.

Abby played while Ben and I figured stuff out

When Abby took her turn playing some pieces solo on tambura, Ben and I ducked to the back of the store for a minute so that we could agree on a tempo as well as have him sight read the chord progressions of “Chega de Saudade”.

Ben and me

Ben and I returned, and set up quickly (we were the last set for the night other than a guy who was going to play some solo violin to close).

I felt pretty awkward trying to sing “Chega de Saudade” for the first time in public, and in front of a microphone, while trying to read the Portuguese lyrics off a printout I had. (Note to self: I need to memorize these lyrics once and for all.) Ben and I had a go at it, and of course we made some mistakes, but that was expected. Then came time for me to grab my flute and improvise. Under pressure, I was less creative and accurate than I am when just improvising at home, unfortunately, but I’ll learn in time to deal with the difference in setting. Also, I botched up a place to return to, so there was confusion for a moment as Ben and I found a way to gracefully end somewhere!

Just me

I decided to play one more piece, solo, that I thought I would do a lot better than the bossa nova experiment, so I got my Irish flute and chose spontaneously, while flipping through my binder, to play “Waltz in the House” by Emile Benoit. I love this beautiful song, and learned it half a year ago at my first public jam session, when I was playing on Baroque flute at the time. But of course, tonight I chose to play it on Irish flute, and I played it with the best feeling and sonority I had in me, having played it for my own pleasure and for my baby nephew many times, always with the inflections and ornamentations I feel at the moment.

People seemed to like this last piece I played. I also got a lot of comments afterwards on the beauty of the tone of my wooden Irish flute; yes, it is a lovely instrument.

The next J-Jam

The next J-Jam is already scheduled for Sunday, December 16. I hope Ben and I can come up with good stuff to play together, and with more preparation!

If you love music and can make it to J-Jam, please come on over to Dunkin’ Donuts in Squirrel Hill then! And if you would like to perform something, email Cantor Ben Rosner at the email address in the flyer below:

Flyer for J-Jam 2012-12-16


I’m still rather unsatisfied with my singing. I’m going to work hard on getting my singing into better shape. The next music jam I’m in, I absolutely plan to be ready to sing much better.

As for the jazz improvisation, that’s going to take me even longer to get to where I want it. That’s going to be a major project, since I have been living mostly in the classical music world lately. But I know for sure that jazz is one place I want to go.


Abby and I had a great time at our first J-Jam, both listening and performing! It’s a fantastic Squirrel Hill community event that I hope will continue regularly, and I’m grateful to Joel and Ben for organizing it and spreading the word to have people come over to listen and perform, and I was inspired by the wonderful performances by everyone who came to share their love of music.

I look forward to participating again!

(Update of 2012-12-16)

I did not perform in or even attend J-Jam on December 16 after all! It quickly became clear in early December, after I met up with Ben to play together, that I was getting way too busy with many other things, and even if I hadn’t been, Ben himself was busy too, such that we had no opportunity to get together again anyway to work on something to play. Furthermore, the time conflicted with the monthly meeting of the Pittsburgh Recorder Society, which I hate to miss, so I did not even show up at J-Jam in December just to watch and listen.

(Update of 2013-02-10)

I did not perform in the February 2013 J-Jam either, but did attend.

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