Few scenarios test the skills of a musician like a public jam session. Unlike reading music, jam sessions require players to improvise while keeping time and tune with others. When players work well together, the experience can be transcendent.
“Playing with other people teaches musicians to keep time,” said Bill Hunn, the volunteer leader of the Second Sunday Pickers. “You either keep up or get left behind.”
Hunn has spent nearly 30 years leading public jam sessions at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. In that time, he’s met both novice and expert musicians looking to refine their skills.
“Various musicians have participated through the years, including a cellist,” said Hunn. “I’ve always hoped a flute player would join us.”
Hunn understands better than most the joy of a good jam session with close friends and family.
The son of a musician, Hunn grew up in suburban Philadelphia listening to his father play the piano, accordion, and guitar. In the evenings, his family sat around a campfire near the Chesapeake Bay playing music. Hunn’s father attended German and Polish clubs to learn how to play the music of different cultures. He even organized square dances in the room above their garage. As a treat, Hunn’s family visited the community theater to see local musical performances like Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore.
Despite his early exposure to music, Hunn didn’t develop an interest in playing the guitar until he was 20 years old. Once he learned a few songs, his friends invited him to attend the Philadelphia Folk Festival, a three-day outdoor musical festival. They spent the weekend wandering from campsite to campsite, meeting festival-goers, and playing the same three songs until Hunn grew sick of them. That’s when he decided to learn 10 new songs before next year’s festival. He challenged himself with that same goal every year for 23 years, and now he can play hundreds of songs by memory.
Hunn moved to the Houston area with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in February 1990. Soon after, they visited Old Town Spring on a shopping expedition. Bored with shopping, Hunn spotted a group of musicians playing in the courtyard and decided to pick up a guitar and join them.
It turned out the group of musicians was led by Louise Auclair, a music professor at North Harris Community College (now Lone Star College-North Harris) who encouraged her students to join a jam session to hone their skills. Hunn immediately became a regular at their monthly meetings.
When news of the group spread, Jones Park invited the musicians to host their monthly sessions at the Nature Center in fall 1990, marking the beginning of the Second Sunday Pickers jam sessions.
Although the group’s leadership has changed over the years, the Second Sunday Pickers remains one of the park’s longest-running programs. Even when the Nature Center was temporarily closed following the 1994 flood and Hurricane Harvey, Second Sunday Pickers played on, meeting on the porch or on the outdoor stage.
Sessions are open to musicians of all abilities at the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. Musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and play along on the second Sunday of every month.