by Imari Rede
A warm autumn night accompanied by live jazz and a warm cup of joe, what could be better than that?
The first and third Friday of every month at Back to the Grind is dedicated to the Riverside Jazz Jam.
Mikaela Elson is a former Riverside City College student who attends UC Riverside is the Jazz Jam curator. She is the house band’s vocalist along with the rest of the band which includes Kris Sveen, Curtis Pettygrove and Bryan Mckenzie.
According to Elson, the official Riverside Jazz Jam began June 2017 after a hiatus.
She felt as though 2014 marked the end of an era of jazz musicians in Riverside. Since 2010 locals would host small jazz shows at Back to the Grind, but it was relatively closed off to outsiders. It was always two to three hours of organized set lists and band members.
“It was fun for learning, but it always felt exclusive,” said Elson. “When I was asked by staff members of Back to the Grind to begin doing jazz shows again, I agreed, but told them I would only do it if it could be an open jazz jam.”
“It’s great that we have this for up and coming jazz artists,” Ramal Cole, a Back to the Grind employee said. “We don’t see too much live jazz downtown anymore.”
The Jazz Jam is an all ages event that welcomes musicians of all talent and experience levels.
“The Jazz Jam gives people the chance to hear good jazz,” said Craig Rich, the jam’s sound man. “Many of these performers go to RCC, CSF, CSSB and CBU.”
“It’s all ages, you can bring kids here. When I was a little kid seeing live jazz I was mesmerized.”
“There aren’t a whole lot of jams like this in the area,” Marcus Wilsher, a professor of music and professional musician said. “If we don’t have stuff like this happen, the art will fall out.”
The current state of the jam’s only true exclusiveness is that participants have to know how to read music or have some knowledge of how to play jazz standards.
“I decided to do an open jazz jam because back in the beginning of the jazz era people would come together to play jazz music as a way of airing out the issues they faced with poverty, being people of color, and living in an oppressive nation,” said Elson.
Although, a majority of young musicians in 2018 may not be facing all the same battles, music itself holds necessary elements of building a community; a place where they are not thinking of work or school, but somewhere where a group of similarly interested people come together to jam out with their favorite standards.
“Personally it is nice to play with other musicians who understand style,” Harrison Collard, a trumpet player from California Baptist University said. “This is my third time playing because here they play what I want to play,” he said.
Although the jazz community is small, Elson is very proud of her part in creating the environment that can be enjoyed at these jam sessions.
“I am overjoyed with its spark and how it continues to grow,” Elton said. “I’m so excited for budding musicians that come and start their own jam in their own cities bordering Riverside, which is the whole point of doing these open jams.”
Elson’s aim is to give encouragement in a field that can often be classist and full of traditionalist ideals. She explained that a jazz song is not supposed to sound the same every time, or else it isn’t jazz. Jazz is about evolving and creating a unique beat to the monotonous drum and driven time.
“I’m so happy that we can do it in such an important part of the community, in the heart of downtown Riverside, in a place where many people have ran to find themselves and that place is Back to the Grind.”
This event is not only for musicians, but also for anyone in or visiting Riverside.
“Live jazz is just a better background, it gets me more in the zone to study,” Christine Lee, a Loma Linda nursing student said while studying during the jam.
Elson is very pleased to have the opportunity of unifying her community while curating the Riverside Jazz Jam.
“If it wasn’t for Talene and Darren, we wouldn’t be able to do this. Community is so important and we take it for granted day in and day out,” said Elson.
Every first and third Friday at Back to the Grind offers a free Jazz Jam to the Riverside area.