Framingham - Paul Combs surveyed the crowd at Yen's Wok after the first musical number kicked off the new Singer's Jam session Sunday. "How's the balance?" asked Combs. "Can you hear OK out there?" If one factor typifies jazz, it's consideration for the listeners and recently the listeners have been responding.

Combs is a working jazz saxophonist, composer and teacher in the Revere School System. His band, Paul Combs and Friends, has become a regular at the Saturday night jazz sessions at Yen's Wok in Framingham. Recently, as Combs played one night, he began to develop a theory about the younger listeners who are coming to enjoy jazz.

"I looked out and noticed a table of young people between the ages of 21 and 27 and I suddenly realized that their parents hadn't listened to jazz." According to Combs, the grandparents of the present gneration were avid jazz fans but the music was rejected by their children, the parents of today's listeners. Consequently, the new generation of listeners "brought no baggage to the experience."

"They Listened and decided'Yes, this is good music.'"

Whatever the reason, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of jazz among all listeners. Two radio stations in the Boston area now play jazz exclusively. More and more mainstream pop bands are leaning heavily in the area of improvisation that has become the hallmark of jazz playing.

One of the most popular spots for listening in Metro West has become Yen's Wok on Rte. 9 in Framingham. Inside Yen's Wok the upstairs room has been dubbed Yen's Den. Owner Max Yen has always loved jazz and when he traveled to Chicago ten years ago, he was impressed by the amount of jazz he saw in small restaurants. Toward the end of last year, Yen began booking jazz artists on an imformal basis. Starting in January of this year, a formal line-up was initiated that featured bands each Saturday night from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Yen has teamed up with Framingham producer Debbie Rosenblatt to draw on the large pool of talent in the Boston area. The list of Saturday night artists is impressive. For a $5 cover, which goes directly to the musicians, area music fans can listen to music that is tasteful, intelligent and, most importantly, swinging.

To the lineup, Yen's Wok has added a new feature. On a monthly basis initially, a Singer's Jam Session will be held on Sunday afternoons from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The house band that has been formed to back the singers includes saxophonist Combs, and Berklee School alumni keayboardist Ken Clark and drummer Dave Hurst.

During the week Clark leads two other bands, the Ken Klark Organ Trio and an R&B-based group called Thang. For keyboard fans, Clark plays the classic Hammond B-3 organ who's old-fasioned analog tones are unmatched by modern technology. Drummer Dave Hurst is a veteran of many area sessions.

Each singer must bring two copies of the lead sheets in the proper key so these Sunday afternoon sessions are for the serious singers, but they are not necessarily for the professional. Singers need only bring talent and love for the material.

For Sunday's debut of the Singer's Jam Session, participants ranged from professionals like Kristhani Pappas of Foxboro who sings with the John Payne Band, a GB (General Business) band to Mim Bennett of Framingham who just "loves to sing more than enything else." Each prospective singer signs the sheet upon arrival and waits to be called on by Combs. Thare is a short discussion with the band before each singer gets at least two tunes. If last Sunday's introduction is any indication, the standards will prevail - like Rodgers & Hart and Gershwin - but keep yourself open for surprises. After a few words with the band Sunday, singer Pappas sang the old, lesser-known classic, "Since I Fell For You," made famous by Jimmy Witherspoon in the 1950's. It is the surprises like those that keep jazz fresh for both the singers and musicians, and the audience.
-Bill Edmunds, Middlesex News, Tuesday March 11, 1997