Travel through time, both past and future at The Blues Can Youth Jam – Hosted by The Marcus Trummer Band

Story and photos by Sara Kuefler

On November 5, a chilly, dark drive took me to the venerable Blues Can in Inglewood.  I knew a welcoming dimly lit atmosphere awaited me inside as I walked from my car.  As usual, the venue was filled with fellow music appreciators, and players ready to flex their skills. The idea of time travel pressed upon my consciousness as I watched the performances of musicians who graced the stage, beginning with the Marcus Trummer Band. 

 Despite their tenderness in years, these musicians transcendentally manage to provide a time warp like experience. Cover choices and style range, but almost always pay homage to some of music’s greats from days past. However, the jammers very often bring their own compositions to the stage, and always supply their own unique flavour. These individuals represent both music’s vibrant past, as well as the future of the local scene in Calgary, in remarkable fashion.

The jam is hosted by Marcus Trummer, who not only kicks the evening off musically, but also liaises throughout with other jammers and audience members, and supports jammers onstage along with his band members, should they need an additional player to fill out their sound. If you are familiar with Trummer’s music, you will be aware of the influence of historic musicians – often from the blues arena – in his writing.  I recall clearly the first time I ever saw Trummer perform, at the Youth Jam, back when it was hosted by The Static Shift. His cherry red Epiphone is hard to forget. Aesthetics aside though, it was immediately clear to me that this young man had something special inside of him. After having had the privilege to experience several more performances of his throughout the city, I can affirm that Trummer is most certainly someone to take notice of.  He has that something extra – in spades in fact.

Trummer was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for Local Drop in respect to his music and his involvement with the Youth Jam:

How did you first get into music?  What inspired you to pick up a guitar?

I’ve pretty much always been around music since I was little. Both my parents are musical and that had a big impact on me as I grew up listening to everything from rock to jazz to classical music around the house. My biggest inspiration to pick up the guitar was seeing my Dad playing as a kid. I guess I thought that it was cool and eventually I decided I wanted to learn as well. At first, my Dad tried to teach me with the books and scales and I remember hating it so much I gave up after a week or two. Things didn’t click with me and the guitar until later when I started messing around on my own trying to play along to songs I liked and that’s kinda what I’ve been doing ever since.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a young band? 

I think sometimes one of the challenges young bands often face is that people can underestimate you a bit. I’m thankful for the support my band has gotten from things like Major Minor Music Project through their hosting of all ages shows and now the The Blues Can for allowing us to host our own jam for youth musicians.

You were playing at the Youth Jam back when it was hosted by The Static Shift. How did you first hear about it?  What started you coming?

At that point I had already been jamming at The Blues Can for a while at some of their weekend jams as well as with with YO MOMMA (Youth Musicians of Music Mile Alliance). But when I saw that The Static Shift were going to be hosting a jam for youth, I had to go, especially since it was gonna be hosted by such a great young band. It was my parents who first encouraged me to start jamming at The Blues Can and after deciding to give it a try I couldn’t get enough of it because it felt like a place where I could belong. The youth jams in particular bring me so much joy through making music with like minded musicians that are my age.

Has being onstage always felt natural, or have you had to work at that?  You seem very at home when you perform.

I think I’ve always felt at home on stage just because I love music and performing so much. It’s taken playing a bunch live and making a lot of mistakes on stage for me to become more confident, but I’m still in the process of learning and sometimes still get nervous.

It is pretty magical seeing the young talent at the jams get up and actually jam – improvise. I think that takes talent and confidence. Is that an ability that is tough to work up to?

Yes, it definitely can be. From my experience, it takes confidence and skill as a musician to be able to improvise and jam with other musicians. Aside from being fairly proficient on your instrument, I think the only way to learn how to jam that is to put yourself in those situations and play with other people on stage. That’s why the youth jam is a great thing because it gives us as young musicians the ability to develop those skills on a real stage with people watching.

What do you feel are the most valuable and the most enjoyable aspects of hosting The Blues Can Youth Jam? 

Above all, the best thing about hosting the youth jam is how inspired I leave every night hearing all the fantastic youth talent this city has to offer. I feel really grateful that The Blues Can is supporting the next generation of musicians in Calgary.

How has this role assisted you in your career development, and/or development as an artist/performer?

I think being able to play consistently in such a well respected venue like The Blues Can is a good chance for us to improve our live show and build an audience for our music. For the band, it’s also been great backing up everyone that’s come out to jam as each jammer brings their own unique style that we can learn from by playing with them. Most of all, hosting this jam is a valuable opportunity to form relationships with people involved in the local music industry currently and with other youth musicians that are the future of music in this city.

The Blues Can is decorated with pictures and paintings of some of the genre’s greats. Who are some of your major influences?

I’ve always liked listening to many styles of music. My influences range from rock & roll bands like The Allman Brothers Band to jazz musicians like John Coltrane but blues has been at the core of it all. It was listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan that first got me into the blues, but it’s been some of the older blues legends like the ones pictured in The Blues Can that have had a bigger impact on me. Guys like BB King, Albert King, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf have always inspired my playing and soul singers like Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder have had an impact on my singing. 

You play some covers, but many of the songs in your sets are originals. How do you approach writing?

Usually my songwriting is sparked by something that I stumble across while I’m just messing around on guitar and jamming. Creating the music tends to flow out of that one musical idea and a riff or set of chords begins to form fairly organically. Melody usually comes with the words, usually through mumbling random phrases into a recording device until I hear something that sounds good. As more of a musician than a poet I often get stuck deciding which lyrics to use to express my ideas well as there are so many options. Over time I’ll usually find the words that match the feel of the music I’ve created and eventually I’ll get something down that sticks. 

As we discussed on Monday, sometimes a song will evolve, how do you know that a song is at a point where it is finished, or do they just keep changing as you continue to perform them? 

Musically I think my songs are constantly evolving and changing every time I play them with the band. That’s just the nature of our style since a lot of what we like to do is based on improvisation. We would get bored if we played them the same way every night. While the general idea of a song is usually set, they tend to change over time and sometimes we like to go back to songs we’ve seemingly outgrown and completely rework them as our style changes. This happened with one of our songs called “Consumed,” which is a song I wrote a while back on the acoustic guitar. We’ve since taken it and turned it into more of a rock song, adding a loud ending.

When I listen to your lyrics you seem wise beyond your years. Do you think that comes partly by being influenced by soulful older music?

 I guess so. I never considered myself wise, but I definitely listen to a lot of music made by people with lots of wisdom and soul. I like to make music that takes that blues and turns it around into something good. I think that’s the purpose of blues music, not to necessarily wallow in your problems but to find hope and positivity through the music. So I would say any wisdom probably comes from listening to and playing soulful music.

What does it feel like, or how do you access or manage to tap into that level of soul when you play?  I feel as though you become a vessel at times, during performances.

 I think that would probably be just because of my real love of music and having an understanding of the history of the type of music I’m playing. I’m never really intentionally trying to be soulful when I sing, or thinking about specific things in my life that relate to the lyrics. I think somehow the feeling just naturally comes through for me and is just the effect playing music has on me.

The Blues Can is a very authentic place: the music, the atmosphere, the values of the people who run it.  Being of a young age and not having had the time yet to personally go through all of life’s ups and downs, do you feel experiencing that authenticity from the inside informs you about the nature of genres like the blues as an artist?

I definitely would agree with that. The Blues Can feels like the blues does, raw and genuine. From the welcoming staff, to the old decor of the place it feels real and has that old school southern feel. While I may not have lived the blues entirely, but that type of music has always resonated with me. And I think being able to play in a place that appreciates blues like I do and on a stage that has had so many fantastic artists play on it will have an impact on my playing for the rest of my life.

The Blues Can Youth Jam happens on the first Monday of every month, from 6 – 9 p.m. Jammers can show up and put their name down on the jam list the night of.  Music patrons, I encourage you to head down and grab yourself a candle lit table, order some dinner, and sit back for an experience that will not only entertain, but inspire and move you. Trummer can be found online via Instagram and Facebook, and his single, “Good Times” can be found on streaming services such as Spotify. Do your ears a favour!

For more info, head to http://www.thebluescan.com/.