EVERETT — The little girl wasn’t exactly Stevie Nicks on the tambourine, but that’s OK.
Members of the Inclusion Jam Project were jazzed when the 6-year-old picked up the instrument and jammed with them to 1960s and ‘70s rock ’n’ roll classics at the Everett Mall. She grinned when she finally caught on to the rhythm. Her parents proudly shot video from the sidelines.
Group members, such as drummer Hank McKenzie, say this is exactly what they’re aiming for when they invite all ages and skill levels to join them in monthly jam sessions at the mall; the next Inclusion Jam Project event is July 20.
“It’s just really heartwarming to watch that,” said McKenzie, 67, of Marysville. “These kids don’t have to worry about following the song or the chords. It’s just about getting an instrument and playing what you feel.”
The group, with about a dozen musicians in all, bring extra instruments so passersby can join in at the spur of the moment.
Younger kids, like the girl who joined their session in May, tend to gravitate toward instruments like the tambourine, triangle and cymbals. Three-year-old Ryan Nazari learned how to play the triangle at their jam session on June 15.
But they’ve also had teenagers play keyboards and guitar, or grab a mic and sing. And one time, an elderly man brought his own saxophone to play.
The group sets up at the center court of Everett Mall for a jam session. They play songs such as “Time is Tight” by Booker T. & The MGs, “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison and “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. When a musician wants to jump in, they can grab one of the instruments available and start to play along.
“It’s not about copying somebody else’s recording or writing your own songs,” McKenzie said. “What makes it really fun is when you can sync up together and just do it.”
There’s sheet music to follow along to, but it’s also OK if newcomers would rather improvise. Sometimes the members improvise along with them.
“I tell people it’s not a concert — it’s fun,” said Will Beard, the group’s founder and keyboardist. “Sometimes good things come accidentally — you’ll hit a wrong note that happens to be right. I want people to relax. If you make a mistake, so what? It doesn’t matter.”
Beard, of Everett, started the Inclusion Jam Project in 2018 with the idea of giving musicians — young and old — a chance to jam together without needing to go to a bar. He said its a way to give band geeks who aren’t yet 21 the opportunity to play with seasoned musicians.
Beard, 72, says jam sessions are a great way to work on your skills because everyone is welcome to practice in a no-pressure space.
“Young people can build confidence by playing with established musicians,” he said. “They can also see themselves accepted and their families can see them accepted if they happen to be with them.”
Beard invited friends from the Snohomish County Music Project to join the Inclusion Jam Project. Through that network of musicians, Beard found himself guitarists, a bassist, a drummer and a keyboardist, as well as harmonica and ukulele players. The group is still looking for saxophonists and violinists.
They hope to register the Inclusion Jam Project as a nonprofit, while also continuing to expand the venues in which they play. For example, the group will perform at Kla Ha Ya Days in Snohomish — its first festival — on July 21.
Beard is self-taught on the keyboard. Five years ago he was playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” today he’s performing such hits as “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Skill level doesn’t matter. For example, Beard has decades less experience than some of his fellow group members.
And, because improv jam sessions sometimes rely on nonverbal cues, neither does a language barrier.
McKenzie remembers two men watching the group play in January. After a while, one of them spoke to a group member, then went back to his friend, who promptly picked up an extra guitar and sat down to play. McKenzie later learned the man couldn’t speak any English, but was drawn to the music.
The jam session went off without a hitch.
“Music is a universal language,” McKenzie said. “It speaks volumes without saying a word.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
The Inclusion Jam Project’s next monthly jam session is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 20 at center court in Everett Mall, 1402 SE Everett Mall Way, Everett. Extra instruments, such as a bass guitar, keyboard and xylophone, will be provided.
Learn more on Facebook at bit.ly/31ripdY. Contact the group at email@example.com.
Mark your calendar: The group also will perform rock ‘n’ roll covers July 21 at Kla Ha Ya Days Festival in Snohomish. Musicians are welcome to pick up and instrument and jam with them here, too.