As the small crowd inside a downtown Miami bar cheered, the band announced its last song. Not even the band members knew what to play, and then came the first notes of “Hey Jude” by The Beatles.
Flashlights went up as the crowd sang along. It’s a scene repeated every week, and it’s called El Jam.
El Jam is an open mic night where audience members are encouraged to come on stage and sing and jam with the band to celebrate live music. It was created by a musician known as Wizzmer, who now has a full band with bass player Rafael Querales, drummer Pedro Bravo and guitarist Leon Yamil.
El Jam started in 2016 at Macondo Coffee Roasters in Doral on Thursday nights, when Wizzmer put together a band and soon attracted an audience.
“It was a jam session,” said Wizzmer. “It was an open mic, I called it Open Mic by Wizzmer and we invited everybody. When I say everybody I mean, once I had my Uber driver sing with me on stage. That’s the kind of story, that’s the type of special guests we had back then and it was so beautiful.”
Wizzmer also played for tips on Lincoln Road Mall to help pay for rent. Along the way he met more musicians and singers who became special guests at El Jam.
The open mic sessions went on a sudden hiatus in the fall of 2016 when Wizzmer began to focus on his band, Los Wizards, which became the house band at American Airlines Arena for the Miami Heat.
When COVID struck and the band could no longer perform at events, Wizzmer knew he needed something new.
He moved back to the El Jam concept – but this time streamed on the internet.
“Ok, this is the new reality, we have to figure something out, we have to do something,” he said.
El Jam on Youtube Live Streams gathered an audience, and when live events slowly resumed, they moved to what the band described as a truly magical place, the now-closed Oak Garden in Wynwood.
Leon Yamil, the band’s guitarist since March of 2021, said he felt a “connection with nature” as a result of the venue’s outdoor location.
“I would forget that I was playing with an actual band or at an actual place…many times I would open my eyes and realize I’m on Planet Earth,” said Yamil. “I wasn’t feeling like I was flying on my own, I was flying with the people that were there, both with the band and the people in the audience.”
Financial issues caused another El Jam hiatus, until Wizzmer got a call from the manager of Saloni Bar by Meraki, a restaurant/bar in downtown Miami.
Could El Jam move downtown?
The band made the move and the fans followed.
For musicians drawn to the open mic, El Jam provided opportunities.
Nicolle Horbath, a recent Berkeley School of Music grad, sang at El Jam and ultimately was invited to be the house singer for Saloni Bar.
“When I got to Miami like three months ago, we performed together,” Horbath explained. “And he was like hey you’re coming every Wednesday just for fun so why don’t you become the house singer, and I just said yes.”
El Jam was “the opportunity to start winning the hearts of people in Miami,’’ she said.
Bassist Rafael Querales, an El Jam original, summed up why he thinks El Jam is so special for performers.
“For the artists, I think it represents an incredible place to show their music in a free way…everyone respects every genre and style and it gives them a feeling of spontaneity and formality to each one of their performances,” he said.
For drummer Pedro Bravo, the band provides nothing more but “healthy entertainment” for fellow musicians and audience members who are there to have a good time.
“You can come and see the whole magic with a couple of artists on stage, without any rehearsal,” he added.
The band hosts its downtown jam session every Wednesday from 7 to 10 p.m. at Saloni by Meraki, but Wizzmer’s dreams for the future of El Jam are big.
“I think it should be on Youtube again,” Wizzmer said. “I dream about filming a season of El Jam in Miami and putting it on Netflix. That would be cool. A season with eight episodes with different artists in town.”
But for now, Wizzmer’s mission with El Jam is simple.
“Let’s keep live music alive,” he said. “Let’s keep doing real music and being able to make mistakes on stage and being able to share the stage with someone that is not that professional […] it is not about playing perfectly it’s about sharing and to me that is so important.”