In Recess

House of Music

Attorney Jeff Abram's residence plays host to weekend concerts and jam sessions

By Adam Faderewski

An indoor jam session at Abrams’ house in the Montrose area of 
Houston.
An indoor jam session at Abrams’ house in the Montrose area of Houston. Photo by Jeff Abrams.

When Houston attorney Jeff Abrams turned 19, he got his first “real” flute, which sparked an intense interest in music. Since then, he has celebrated growing older with a favorite band or two. From these birthday performances were born weekend house concerts in 1995. Over the years, Abrams’ home in the Montrose area has been host to several budding musicians, Grammy Award winners and nominees, and even a multiple Tony Award winner. Held indoors or out, the concerts draw crowds in the hundreds, with many guests bringing potluck dishes to share, their own beverages to enjoy, and instruments to play. Those instruments are key when the show ends and the jam sessions begin, often lasting until the wee hours of the morning. For Abrams, it’s all about a love of the language of music and sharing it with as many as possible.

How long have you been playing the flute? What made you decide to start playing?
I started playing the flute my freshman year of college at the University of Florida. I was walking back to my dorm when a friend asked me if I was going to the craft show at the student union. After some thought, I decided to go. When I walked up the stairs to where the craft show was, there was a guy selling bamboo flutes. It kind of changed my life. It took me 15 minutes to get a sound out of one of them, and then the seller suggested I go into the bathroom where the acoustics were better. When I came out, I bought two—one for me and one for my girlfriend. I had never played before but I’m sure I became immediately enamored because two of my first three albums I had ever bought were Aqualung by Jethro Tull and John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic. Ian Anderson, of Jethro Tull, is the greatest rock flautist ever. Chris Wood, of Traffic, was also one of the best. I was a big fan of both. I began carrying it with me everywhere, including the bathroom stall at the dorm, trying to figure out new songs. In that manner, I discovered that I had a good ear for music. My girlfriend got me my first real flute (a concert flute or a C flute) for my 19th birthday. That gave me the capacity to expand my skills with all the keys. I then started playing along with albums and began to figure out the keys, without knowing their names. That’s pretty much still where I am. My apartment maintenance man discovered me as he was wandering by and said his band needed someone to play two Marshall Tucker songs and that was the first time I’d ever played with a band. I know very few songs but get a ton of pleasure improvising by ear.

Have you been a part of any bands?
Yes, but none anyone would have ever heard of. My longest running off-and-on band is called Asch and Abrams with my friend Tony Asch. Tony and I formed Junk Males with a couple of friends shortly thereafter. I was with a jam band called Mango Chutney that was one of the most fun bands I’ve played with. Once I opened for Willis Alan Ramsey playing with my friend Selia Quinn. He had a legendary Texas folk/country album in the ’70s. I have two songs on Spotify. One is called “So Many Heroes,” a Hurricane Harvey tribute that Tony wrote and played at a last-minute fundraiser house concert I had the Saturday after Harvey. We raised $16,000. The other song is with a group I met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, called Los Polilla on their only album. I play on the first song on the CD called “Bandido.” These days I mostly play at the jams at my house concerts and at music festivals that have jamming in the campground component.

You’ve been holding music parties at your house for quite a time. How did these parties get started?
After I moved into my house in the Montrose area in Houston in 1994, I had a couple of birthday parties with music. I have a gazebo in my backyard that I turned into a stage. After one of them, in 1995, my dear friend Rachel Ferguson said, “You should have a house concert.” I asked what a house concert was, and she said she’d take care of everything; all I needed to do was provide the house. She invited her friend, Chris Chandler, a respected talking blues player, to play. About 30 people showed. It was fun. So I started doing them myself, though Rachel has been a huge help over the years. I started building a list of invitees and would look for performers. Apparently I have good taste in music because the shows have been a big success. I started having a couple concerts a year, in the fall and spring because attempting to do a concert outside any other time in Houston would be madness. Over the past few years, I have begun to have winter house concerts inside in my little casita/garage apartment. I had my first summer indoor house concert last June.

Who plays at the parties?
I am picky about who I have play at my house concerts. They always have to be people I love because I put effort into it and spend a fair amount of money out of my own pocket. And they have to be very good for people to want to come back. I went to the Kerrville Folk Festival for 22 years in a row and I started the first several years with folk artists including a number who I learned about at Kerrville. I have people regularly solicit house concerts through email but I’ve only had one like that. That was Emily Elbert, a 17-year-old from Dallas who sent me the article written about her in the Dallas Morning News. I was impressed with her and the article so I invited her to play. She was 18 when she played but she came with her mom. It was a great show. For a long time, I’ve solicited my own. The first one I ever solicited, Anaïs Mitchell, wrote a folk opera that just won eight Tonys, including best music (all of which she wrote), best director, best supporting actor, and best musical. It’s called “Hadestown.” I try to think of whom I might want and see if they’d be appropriate and available to play a house concert. I work a lot with the artists’ agents these days. I’ve had several Grammy nominees and a few Grammy winners play. I’ve also had a wonderful, local string quartet called Axiom Quartet two times. Both shows were amazing. I remember the second show very well. They started with baroque music, then played classical music, and finished with an unbelievable version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a song by Britney Spears that blew everybody away. All instrumentals.

Is the crowd usually a group of the same people or does it vary?
I continuously add to my email list so the shows are a mix of regulars and newcomers. Many people invite their friends and so there are always a good number of fresh faces. The youngest attendee was probably six months old and the oldest may have been close to 90.

How does one get the chance to play at the concert?
Only if I ask them. People have asked to play many times over the years. And it used to be hard because I don’t like saying no. As I’ve said, I’m quite picky. I almost always have a local opener for the main act.

Food and drink have also become staples of the concerts. Did this naturally arise?
I started by getting fruit and meat and vegetable plates from Kroger. It was a hassle and it was expensive. I heard of other house concerts that had a potluck. I thought I’d try the idea and asked people in the invitation to bring food, if they wished. And they did. Some people spend hours preparing great food. Others buy fried chicken. Both are greatly appreciated. It’s also a BYOB. I’ll usually provide water and sodas. The whole thing is pretty easy these days.

Each concert is a fundraiser. How do you decide which charities to fund?
Each one is not a fundraiser, though I’ve had many over the years. Those that are not are to support traveling musicians I love. All the money I collect goes to the musicians. Over the past 20 years, a circuit of house concerts has sprung up around the country and many performers make their livings traveling around the country from house concert to house concert. Each city may only have one or two venues where they could possibly play and many of them don’t pay very much because they are in the business to make money. House concerts are for the musicians.

I’ve had several concerts for an organization called Houston Galveston Institute/HGI Counseling Center, which provides free and low-cost counseling to people who could not otherwise afford it. I’ve had a few for the Houston Blues Society and one for an organization called PeaceTones. I had the one I mentioned for Harvey and all that money went to the Houston Food Bank. My most recent one, on June 29, 2019, was for a Costa Rican nonprofit called CREAR that provides after-school activities for students who only have three to four hours of schooling provided by the government in an area with a significant poverty and a high dropout rate.

When the night ends there’s usually a jam session. How late (or early) do some of these sessions last until?
I’m disappointed if the jams don’t last until 3 a.m. I had one all-nighter many years ago. I have a lot of musician friends who bring their instruments. Some always come after the official show is over just to play in the jams. TBJ

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