Oro Valley Vice Mayor Lou Waters is a big believer in the importance of community. He’s also a big believer in the magic of music—he said it’s always been a central part of his life. He used to play clarinet, saxophone and piano in high school and city bands, and spent a number of years as a DJ. He was curious about how many people in the area had similar backgrounds.
“It turned out there are a lot of people in Oro Valley and in surrounding areas who have dusty instruments in their closets,” he said.
Last February, he got together with resident Warren Lazar (“Lou’s like the brother from another mother,” Lazar said) and a small group of community members to create Oh, For the Love of Music, a community music group where musicians of all ages and skill levels get together for a jam session once a month.
The group started with about five people, and today around 130 people are signed up. They play music ranging from rockabilly to country to rock ‘n’ roll, usually focusing on one genre per jam session.
“I couldn’t be more happy about it,” Waters said.
He was especially happy to have Lazar on board as bandleader. Lazar has music in his blood: His first music performance was his accordion recital when he was 4 years old. He was so small he had to squeeze the instrument with his legs.
As he grew older (and his arms grew longer), he performed in talent shows, high school band and, eventually, as a studio musician in San Francisco and all over the world as a touring musician playing with groups like the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He looks back at it fondly but loves where he is today.
“I always wanted to be a mentor,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot in my lifetime, and things I’ve learned, I love sharing with everybody.”
As more and more people heard about the group, it started to outgrow its original home in the Oro Valley Community and Recreation Center. That’s when Jim Hicks of Oro Valley’s Gaslight Music Hall approached Lazar, and offered to let the group use the Gaslight for their jams. “Oh, For the Love of Music!” held its first jam session at the music hall last month, and their second is Wednesday, Nov. 8.
“People say, ‘My dream was always to get up on a stage and perform,’” Lazar said. “Everyone gets to be seen. Everyone gets to be heard, and everyone gets to be recognized.”
While members of the community were always welcome to watch the community center jams, Lazar said more people showed up for the group’s first Gaslight performance/jam than for any previous session. While some participants were nervous about the new venue and being on stage, Lazar assured them that all the jammers had to do was be themselves.
Marana resident Sharon Dahm, who joined the group after reading about it in The Explorer in September 2016, said she was nervous even for her first jam session at the community center. She had performed in high school and college bands, and song writing had long been a hobby, but it had been awhile since she played with a group. Now, the monthly event has become a staple for her and her husband.
“We both look forward to jam night so we can just focus on playing fun, familiar music and enjoying the good sound the jam musicians produce,” she said via email.
She connected with Texas swing guitarist Lou Stebner through the group, and the two now offer volunteer performances in retirement communities, where Dahm said it’s wonderful to see so many people smiling and enjoying the music.
“Plus, I found that practice and performance are good confidence builders for new music I’ve created and submitted for an AZ Arts grant,” she said. “My goal is to finally share 30 years of a ‘hobby’ writing songs, and the jam has been the catalyst for putting myself out there and presenting the songs.”
To Waters and Lazar, this is what the group is all about: people finding ways to connect and contribute to the community using the universal language of music.
“Music is a heartbeat; music is what makes this world turn,” Lazar said. “Children, elderly, I mean everyone: Music is in our genetic make up.”
Lazar said it’s also important to him to incorporate feedback from participating musicians. He said he’s been deeply impressed by the amount of talent in the community and by the number of musicians who just needed an opportunity to share their skills with the world.
“I am thankful many times over for this unique organization out here in Oro Valley,” Dahm said. “‘Oh! For the Love of Music’ has put me in touch with so many talented, friendly people, great songs, time and space for balancing interests and commitments, and gives me a chance to contribute to a caring community that understands the positive effects from the love of music.”
Oh, For the Love of Music! will be holding its second jam at the Gaslight Music Hall, 13005 N. Oracle Road #165, this Wednesday, Nov. 8. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.