Coffee shop in downtown Riverside brings back weekly jazz night for the community

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By Marc A. Salazar

Swingle’s Sextet captivated customers at downtown Riverside’s coffee haunt Back to the Grind. Fridays at 6:30pm the café is home to a weekly jazz night featuring local performers. 

The sextet enchanted café patrons with a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” on Sept. 1. Ripley Swingle, the band’s tenor saxophonist and namesake, led in a slow and controlled progression which induced a distinct pause in customers’ murmured conversations and the clank and hiss of espresso machines. 

“I love playing ballads because there’s so much room for emotion,” Swingle said. “When I perform them I feel like I am soaring with the music and I can connect with the audience more.” 

Swingle, whose passion for music is evident in her focused demeanor when she performs, has played the saxophone for 8 years. She thanked her mother for introducing her to jazz which she said she had “fallen in love with (due to its) spontaneity… with improvisation and the emotion the music naturally conducts.”

Swingle is a music student at Riverside City College like the other five members of the band. According to Swingle, although she had met alto saxophonist James Aspan-Martin in April, the band formed only two weeks prior to jazz night after she was approached by guitarist Elias Valdez. Other members include pianist Elias Rodriguez, bassist Gabby Reynoso and drummer Nathan Gutierrez.

Regarding how the band got its name, Swingle said her bandmates simply thought her last name would be fitting. 

The night’s energy was amplified by a crowd cheering at the build-ups of the players’ solos.

“I love jazz even more than I love punk,” said self-described punk rock fan and RCC student Hugo Anguiano.

He said the percussion section was a favorite from the night’s performance due to Gutierrez’s passionate playing style. Gutierrez wore a smile whenever it came time to showcase his skill on the drums.

Jazz nights are not a new occurrence at Back to the Grind. They were a Friday night staple until COVID-19 restrictions caused a nearly two-year hiatus, however, the café’s proprietor assures customers that “jazz nights are back to stay.”

Staff and shop regulars seem enthusiastic about “Friday night jazz jam” which features a rotation of any RCC jazz musicians who would like to get on stage and improvise. Jazz jam takes place the fourth Friday of every month. Both events are cost-free to attend.

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