Real Michiana: jazz club drums up sense of community

Real Michiana: jazz club drums up sense of community

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- This week, Real Michiana takes you to a gem of a jazz club in South Bend: Merriman's Playhouse. The sense of community it fosters is the "unsung hero" of this story.

“This is kind of the haven for jazz in the South Bend area," said Steven Perry, who grew up in Osceola.

“[It's] just magical," said George Zaderej, who photographs the musicians for free.

His fiancé, a dental hygienest, first suggested they go to one of the Tuesday open sessions to check out one of her patients, Don, who plays saxophone.

They did, and he was immediately taken by the atmosphere.

"I think jazz is important, because it’s one of the only types of music that has been created by Americans," said Perry.

“At the same time, I got this really nice lens, and I wanted to try it out," said Zaderej.

“My high school teacher introduced me to the Merrimans, and I just came here one night and met Steve and Mary and it all kind of fell into place from there. They helped mentor me and become a better musician, and I’m really grateful for that," said Perry.

Perry's Path to the Playhouse

Steve and Mary Merriman, both professional musicians, started Merrimans' Playhouse in 2006. 

Every Tuesday, they hold open sessions where amateurs and professionals can play together.

“Without this session, I probably wouldn’t be a professional musician at this point if I had no opportunity to play at a young age, and I think that that’s very important," said Steven.

Now, he's getting his masters in jazz performance at Philadelphia's Temple University, but whenever he comes home, he makes sure to stop by the playhouse that fine-tuned his chops.

"They’ve taught me so much on the bandstand and off the bandstand, and they’re amazing people and great musicians," said Steven.

It doesn't take expertise, or apparently even a liking of jazz, to know that.

“No I don’t like jazz, but I like the vibes here," said Zaderej.

“I can feel music, and when it’s authentic, I can feel it, so I can get into it," he said.

“In this society, there’s too much people are into [their cellphones] and they’re sort of losing their soul and expression of the human spirit. And these people they come here and they play and there’s no electronics, it’s all authentic and it comes from their heart and I like that," said George.

“And anybody can come here. Your baby can come here, your grandparents can come here and listen to great music that is not only curated by the Merriman’s, but they also perform and have a natural love of jazz music, and I think that that’s very important, and it’s just great to be around," said Steven.

Tuesday open sessions start at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:30.

To nominate someone for a Real Michiana feature, send Jess an email at [email protected].

More photos from George Zaderej

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