A saxophone accompanied by keyboard, guitar, bass and drums serenading a customer at Cafe Kili for her birthday might seem like an event of note, but it’s just another Monday at the Kenyan coffee shop across the street from USF that is home to a Monday-night jam session featuring members of the University’s School of Music.
“We’re really proud to be the one of the only jams in the area, as well as the only one with all USF students,” said Andrew Allen, a junior who plays keyboard for the group.
Accompanying him are senior Daniel Harrison on guitar, junior Kevin Blume on drums, grad student Josh Hollenbeck on saxophone and junior Richard Jimenez on bass guitar.
The jazz students said they love nothing more than when friends or even strangers come to the cafe Monday nights to jam with them. Anyone can join in, playing a variety of different music and styles.
“Some jams can be kind of intimidating, so we try to make the atmosphere as friendly and easy-going as possible,” Blume said.
Hollenbeck said anyone with a pulse and a basic knowledge of an instrument is welcome.
The music they play is far from the average tunes heard in elevators. Allen said he and the gang try to make their music as upbeat and fun as possible without being too loud, as jam sessions often are. This provides an atmosphere for everything from dancing to studying.
Jim Maher, a customer at the cafe, said he was pleasantly surprised when he wandered into Cafe Kili on Monday night. As he sipped his coffee and tapped his foot to the beat, he also read a book, Fuel Cell Fundamentals.
“I can focus on my reading as well as enjoy the music — I’ll definitely be back in the future,” Maher said.
Meanwhile, an aspiring musician named Mark, who plays at the coffee shop Thursdays during open mic night, talked with friends and paid close attention to Allen’s keyboard work.
“I can play a little, but I’m not nearly as talented as these guys,” he said. “They’re great.”
The group, which has been playing at Cafe Kili since March, has seen a variety of people at the coffee shop and has played with many different instruments during their jam sessions.
“We’ve jammed with everthing from the flute to the djembe,” Jimenez said. “We’ve also played with top-notch musicians as well as amateurs, so all are welcome.”
Everyone in the group has more than 10 years of experience. Blume said he plays
trumpet for the school marching band, and he and Hollenbeck have provided entertainment at Tampa Bay Lightning games. Their shared musical influences include Jimmy Smith, Dave Matthews Band and Billy Joel.
For musicians joining the jam, the group has music books with songs to choose from and can follow detailed instructions on how and what to play.
“We play a lot of popular tunes as well as some that you might recognize without actually knowing the name,” Allen said. “We really hope the jam continues to grow and that no one shies away from coming — whether it’s to play or watch.”
Cafe Kili is located just east of 56th Street on Fowler Avenue. The jam session goes from 7 to 9 Monday nights.