MISSOULA - Missoula is a community rich with arts and music, and a local organization is using improvisation to bring this community closer together.
Lakebottom Sound is a music organization started by Naomi Siegel to inspire creative music expression.
Through the organization and with her partner Billy Kautz, Siegel started FreeSessions, an improvised musical workshop incorporating various instruments, sounds, movements and visual arts.
FreeSessions has gathered people together for about five years and include people of all musical talents and ages.
They have seen kids as young or younger as elementary school age, to senior citizens.
“We pride ourselves on having it be open to everyone, from all musical backgrounds, as well as all ages," Kautz said.
FreeSessions began in a small space at Imagine Nation Brewing, then transferred online during the pandemic.
Kelly Bouma, the managing director for Westside Theater, attended Free Sessions at Imagine Nation and was excited to provide a larger space for the program.
"I’ve known Naomi for a long time and always wanted to be a part of [Free Sessions], and since we stared running Westside Theater a year ago, I reached out to [Naomi] and said hey I think this would be a really great fit for this space," Bouma says.
Kautz and Siegel both have backgrounds in music, and they love improv as a way to have fun with their instruments and improve their skills.
Kautz is trained on the trumpet and studied it in college. He says he always felt like he was falling behind, or that he wasn't good enough but improv helped him find joy in the trumpet again.
“You can start building in a positive way, rather than a ‘I’m not good enough way’," he said.
Siegel is trained on the trombone and has had a lifelong passion for improv ever since she played in her fifth-grade jazz band.
“Improvisation has been crucial in my development, not only as a musician but in my relationship to my instrument," she said.
Kautz and Siegel started FreeSessions as a way to spread this joy of improv to other musicians. The idea came from a similar program in Seattle, where they both lived. They aim to break down musical rules.
“These sessions are inspired by what is often called free improvisation, and the free refers to the fact that there is no genre norms in the improvisation," Siegel said. "So usually in a musical setting, there's a key there’s a tempo there’s a meter, there’s a form… And we kind of threw those things to the side. We can use them if we want to but we’re not stuck in them.”
FreeSessions is a two-hour session where the first 30 minutes are filled by a presentation by a chosen 'curator.' The curator is typically booked in advance, and they present an idea or project and then pick a theme for the session. Themes can be anything from a specific word to a feeling or idea.
“You never know what will happen or what the curator will present," Kautz says.
Through these improvised jam sessions, people are able to relax, have fun, and communicate through music.
“It goes beyond music and art," Kautz says. "We’re showing how you can communicate with all kinds of people... Folks have an increased ability to understand one another through engaging in the improvisation process.”
Siegel says improvisation can connect people across all backgrounds because it is a technique practiced globally, "it’s a really huge access point for cross-cultural connection."
Siegel's vision for Free Sessions is to connect people in Missoula across all artistic disciplines.
“One of the sort of tenants for this session is we want to connect folks from different scenes in Missoula," she says. "We want the University musicians playing with the rock musicians playing with the Jazz cats, you know, playing with the dancers... Let’s knock down all these genre norms and just make art together.”
Bouma, who has a background in dance and comedy improv, values the welcoming space Free Sessions is providing at Westside.
“Anyone is welcome to just come and listen, you don’t have to participate, and that’s me, I come and just watch, and I really enjoy it," Bouma says.
FreeSessions occur every first Sunday of the month and Feb. 5 will mark their fourth session at Westside Theater and their fourth in-person session since the pandemic.
Anyone is welcome to show up to the session — there is no sign-up and no cost. However, there is an opportunity to donate. Lakebottom Sound chooses a social justice organization for Black communities to give the donations to.
Siegel says they choose to do this as a way to show appreciation for the community that created jazz music, a large influence for FreeSessions and improvised music.
Siegel encourages folks who want to participate to bring their own instruments. Free Sessions has backline instruments available as well, but they wants people to have prior experience before using their equipment.
Arts Missoula is the fiscal sponsor of Lakebottom Sound.
Westside Theater hosts many types of artistic shows and events. Friday, Jan. 20 will be the opening day for PaperPieces, a show combining dance, theater and spectacle by Nicole Wolcott.
More information on Lakebottom Sound can be found here.