The sound of a strumming bass spills from the cafe, followed by a piano’s melody and the soft, steady beat of drums. It can only mean one thing: it’s Monday night at University City’s World Cafe Live.
The venue’s upstairs cafe is transformed into a modern jazz club once a week for Monday Jazz Jam, a free event for musicians and audience members alike to hear a variety of instrumental and vocal jazz music.
Christianna LaBuz, the programming manager at World Cafe Live, sees the Monday Jazz Jam as an opportunity to showcase talent and give back to the venue’s audience for its support.
“World Cafe Live thinks it’s important to showcase local talent because we’re located in Philly, which has one of the best music scenes in the country,” LaBuz said. “We wouldn’t be here without the love and support of our WCL music family, the folks whose smiling faces we see regularly, both on stage as performers and offstage in the audience as fans.”
The night begins with two songs by the house band, led by Marcell Bellinger, who received his bachelor’s degree in music from Temple. During the first two songs, vocalists and instrumentalists can sign up for a time slot in the evening’s showcase.
Vocalists step up to the microphone to perform standard jazz songs with the live band, while instrumentalists are interchanged with members of the house band, giving them the chance to play with other local musicians.
Among these performers are two vocalists who are no strangers to the Jazz Jam, Lauren Stephens and Catherine LaVelle. Both study vocal performance at the University of the Arts.
Stephens, a senior at University of the Arts, said the evening of jazz has been beneficial for her musical career.
“It’s an easy way to practice for us and do some tunes we don’t get to do all the time,” Stephens said.
LaVelle, a junior, said she appreciates the laid back, supportive atmosphere the venue provides.
“No one’s going to yell at you if you forget the words here,” LaVelle said.
Stephens and LaVelle both use the Jazz Jam as an opportunity to network with other performers, and receive feedback.
Chelsea Reed and the Fair Weather Five were named number two on the 2014 “Top Philly Music Discoveries” list by John Vettese, editor of WXPN’s “The Key.”
Reed, the band’s lead singer and a Temple alumna, said each band member has performed at the Jazz Jam because there is no age requirement, as most jam sessions are 21 and older.
“It’s a great way to meet other musicians in the city and kind of ‘audition’ yourself for them,” Reed said. “I started out in Philly singing at those Monday nights, working on my soloing and building up my repertoire.”
Since each individually tried their hand at the Jazz Jam, the band has gone on to perform shows at WCL and other popular venues in the city.
The Jazz Jam has also attracted a devoted weekly audience including Kira Antoine, a student at Rutgers University interning at Drexel for the summer. As a fan of jazz music, Antoine said Jazz Jam is a great start to her week.
“I go to open mics a lot at home, and this came up here so wthat’s how I started coming,” Antoine said. “I love jazz and I like to listen to it.”
Logan Beck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.