The back-room performance space in the Naked Lounge Coffee House is surprisingly small. You might not even know it was there unless you walked under the sliding metal garage door that separates it from the rest of the coffee house at the corner of 11th and H streets.
Sacramento jazz enthusiasts gather in this unassuming place every Monday night for a jam session, which is preceded by a 45-minute set by the Naked Lounge’s resident quintet.
I sat down with some of the people attending the jam sessions and members of the quintet to talk about the difficulties and benefits of jazz jam sessions, and why the Naked Lounge is a unique local venue for both musicians and jazz fans.
If you’re unfamiliar with the workings of a jam session, it’s a gathering at which musicians of varying ages and abilities play together. It’s a chance to sharpen performing skills and socialize with other players in the local music scene. During a jam session at the Naked Lounge, musicians and listeners crowd the dimly lit performance space, huddled at small, circular coffee tables that surround the corner stage.
One of the musicians is veteran jazz trumpet player and Sacramento State music student Aaron Smith. He describes the unpredictability of jam sessions. “Sometimes things are going to work out and sometimes they don’t. I have no idea what’s going to happen; sometimes I have no idea how the song is going to end, or where everyone is at.”
Smith says playing in jam sessions keeps him sharp for more formal performances. “I like the spontaneity,” he says. “When you’re in rehearsals all the time, you don’t really get a chance to do new things. But here it’s a little different.”
Part of the difference lies in the way the Naked Lounge jam session offers a positive learning environment for budding musicians. Inderkum High School student and trumpet player Kyhondre Tinner just discovered the Naked Lounge, and he’s jammed there twice. “I like the little, dark room. It reminds me of some old-school paintings or something. That’s what I think about.”
Tinner has other reasons to attend these jazz jams. “One, it gets me out of the house. And two, I just like it,” Tinner says. “I’m really trying to get noticed, I guess. But it’s fun being over here, learning new things, just learning pretty much.”
The intricacies of jazz are best learned through the practice of performance. The Naked Lounge offers an intimate but comfortable environment for musicians to safely explore unfamiliar musical territories.
Cameron Womack, Naked Lounge Quintet drummer and Sacramento State senior, talks about how much he’s learned since he arrived on the jazz scene nearly three years ago. “I didn’t know any jazz tunes. I used to get yelled at all the time, not knowing tunes, not knowing when to play softly or when to play behind people. I didn’t even know what the head [beginning] of the tune was compared to the solo section.”
All players expect to make mistakes during a jam session, but Womack says there is nothing to fear. He emphasizes the importance of musical imperfection: “You really have to keep your wits about you, and I think for younger players that’s a really, really positive thing.”
Before the jam session, Womack and the rest of the quintet perform a 45-minute set at 8:30 p.m. every Monday. The quintet includes Womack on drums, Jessica Luna on bass, Bryan McAllister on piano, Dylan Caligiuri on guitar, and Levi Saelua on alto saxophone. This group of dedicated Sacramento musicians plays jazz standards as well as their own original compositions, and they are definitely worth listening to.
“I like the Naked Lounge because the house band is always swinging and the coffee is excellent,” says frequent jam session attendee Devan Kortan. The Rio Americano High School grad says, “I always run into old friends.”
So whether you’re looking to jam with members of the house quintet or just listen, relax and sip some killer coffee, the Naked Lounge Coffee House is a place for jazz musicians and enthusiasts alike to celebrate and be part of the growth of the local music scene.