By Jan Mercker
The ’20s are officially in full swing, perfect timing for a mini jazz age right here in Loudoun. Downtown Leesburg’s restaurants are home to an increasingly vibrant jazz scene. And one of the hubs is the Loudoun Jazz Society’s monthly jazz jam at Trungo’s on Loudoun Street.
The Loudoun Jazz Jam was launched in 2018 to give younger musicians a chance to play on stage with seasoned pros, bringing a longtime jazz world institution to Leesburg. Every third Thursday, professional musicians welcome new players to jump in and get the hang of playing on stage.
“It’s kind of a fixed tradition. … It’s how younger musicians learn from older musicians onstage in a real situation with an audience,” said Loudoun Jazz Society member and jazz jam organizer Matt Trimboli. “It’s a valuable part of the way jazz is taught.”
The idea is to throw young musicians, including high school and college students, together with seasoned professionals and educators to help them develop their performance chops. As is standard for jams of this kind, the organizers hire a professional rhythm session including drums, bass, piano and guitar to provide solid musical ground and give newbies a chance to shine. Trimboli, who’s known by other participants as the “air traffic controller,” keeps it all flowing smoothly on stage. Trimboli underscores that the jam is open to musicians of all levels.
“We get high school freshmen who are just learning what jazz is. They know maybe one song and they make their first attempt at playing melody with a professional rhythm session and improvising a short solo. They get a feel for what that’s like,” he said.
The jam attracts pros including music educators from jazz programs at Northern Virginia Community College, Shenandoah University and George Mason University, along with teachers from Leesburg-based Catoctin School of Music, creating a multi-generational vibe with participants from 13 to 79. Trimboli said the seasoned musicians, including the house band, are all about supporting new talent.
“They really remember being young and nervous. Everybody has to have a first time onstage,” he said. “I think we’ve succeeded in making a really welcoming nurturing environment.”
Started in early 2018, the Loudoun Jazz Society is the brainchild of NVCC music professor John Kocur, who brought on Trimboli to run the jams. Trimboli is a Berklee College of Music graduate and guitarist who played professionally in New York before jumping into a career in technology that brought him to Northern Virginia. While working at AOL in the ’90s, Trimboli met Mike Koch, who went on to open Trungo’s in the former Leesburg Brewing Company space on Loudoun Street in the summer of 2018. One of Koch’s goals at Trungo’s was to bring more jazz to downtown Leesburg. Koch welcomed the jazz jam shortly after opening, and the restaurant also hosts a monthly second Tuesday show from Trimboli’s 18-piece big band Swing Shift.
For Trimboli, with more professional and semi-professional musicians moving into the area, Loudoun is ready for a consistent and professional jazz jam.
“I think the county is already very sophisticated in terms of the residents. I think they need to connect with one another to realize the pool of talent and sophistication that there is.” he said. “I feel like we’re creating a center for that.”
And downtown Leesburg is the perfect place, Trimboli said, with its bustling restaurant scene and increasingly urban vibe. It also allows the jam to catch professional musicians on their way out of dinner gigs. “It’s irregular, it’s organic. The entrance to Trungo’s is down that little alleyway that gets you out on King Street to the other venues there,” Trimboli said.
Trimboli’s son Benjamin, a saxophonist studying jazz at West Virginia University, sits in on college breaks, and the jam is a haven for dozens of other young performers.
“It’s definitely a high caliber of music-making. The house band is always fantastic,” said Mathuin Smith, a 17-year-old saxophonist from Fairfax County who attends Chantilly High School. Smith, a longtime oboe student, got started on saxophone three years ago for his school marching band and fell in love with his second instrument. He started jamming in Fairfax county and found the Loudoun Jazz Jam in its early days.
“They do a great job of kind of taking me in and treating me as a musician as they would the other musicians at the jam—just someone who’s a student of the art form,” Smith said.
Alex Lopez, a 2019 Loudoun County High School graduate who’s now studying music at Shenandoah Conservatory, found the jam while in high school thanks to Lisa Fiorilli, a professional jazz musician and Lopez’s teacher at the Catoctin School of Music.
“It’s definitely a little nerve-wracking at first. You’re kind of in an echo chamber at school, and everyone’s basically on the same level. Then walking in with all these professionals who are much older than you, and they seem to have these unnatural ears where they can hear where everything’s going,” Lopez said.
Lopez still makes the trip from Winchester and is now in his comfort zone and trying to bring in new musicians.
“It became a lot more fun, and a really gratifying part is trying to get some of my friends who are still in high school to go through it,” he said.
In 2020, the jam will become even more accessible to young musicians. Thanks to a grant from Reston-based Coker Logistics Solutions, organizers will be able to ditch the small cover charge they had put in place to pay the house band.
For Trimboli, it’s another step toward fostering Loudoun’s blossoming jazz culture.
“I kind of feel like we’re creating a culture just by showing up every month,” he said. “Every month we meet another fantastic musician we didn’t even know was in the area.”
The Loudoun Jazz Jam takes place the third Thursday of every month at Trungo’s, 2C Loudoun St. SW in Leesburg. The next jam is Thursday, Jan. 16 from 7 to 10 p.m. For more information on the Loudoun Jazz Society, go to loudounjazz.wixsite.com/home or facebook.com/loudounjazz.