On any given Monday night in Oakland, you can swing by 57th Street Gallery and listen to some great local jazz, maybe jam with some world-renowned musicians yourself. Maybe even get some birthday cake to boot.

That was the case one recent Monday night at the venue’s Blue Monday’s Jam Session. It was Carole’s 85th birthday and there was plenty of good cheer and cake to go around.

Carole and about a dozen of her friends are regulars to Blue Monday. Every Monday night from 7-11 p.m. you too can jam with, or just sit and blissfully listen to, the inimitable Calvin Keys on guitar, Keith Saunders on piano, Art Maxwell on saxophone and flute, Carla Kaufman on bass, and Leon Joyce, Jr. on drums.

The gallery is an inviting and low-key space, and the Monday night event costs $10 to enter as an audience member or $5 if you plan to jam. Beer and wine are available for purchase. And, if you’re looking for more, you can bring your own dinner, snacks, or, as the case may be, birthday cake.

Located at 5701 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, the gallery is a family owned and run business that emerged in 2008 from a desire to showcase and share a growing personal art collection. It has since transformed into a well-regarded art and jazz venue. Started by Oakland longshoreman and art collector Floyd Pellom, the space is managed by his father-in-law, Dale Lee.

The gallery’s mission, Lee reveals, is to foster “a place for the community to come to [and] enjoy fine art and be exposed to the art as well as exposed to jazz.” In particular, the gallery does a lot to nurture local talent, including holding twice-weekly jam sessions. Monday night jam sessions are hosted by Keys while Thursday night jam sessions are hosted by pianist Glen Pearson.

Jazz singer Lisa Lindsley performs while accompanied by guitarist Calvin Keys and the rest of the house band. Photo by Anna Vignet.

Jazz singer Lisa Lindsley performs while accompanied by guitarist Calvin Keys and the rest of the house band. Photo by Anna Vignet.

Such a space is crucial, according to local jazz, blues, and R&B singer Sheebah Maceo, because there are “lots of unknown musicians [in the area] who are really, really talented.” “People are just looking for a place,” she adds.

Maceo calls the space a “Pre-Yoshi’s venue” for those musicians who haven’t yet made it big professionally but are still keen to perform. “If you’re not a professional artist,” she emphasizes, “it is accessible. This is your chance!”

In addition, the Gallery is involved in multiple efforts to encourage young local talent, allowing students of the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, Berkeley’s the Jazzschool, and others to come and play at the venue. 57th Street Gallery also participates in the annual Temescal Street Fair, putting together a young adult jazz stage for high school and college students. “They (these young people) also form a band,” says Lee, “and we have them play once or twice a year here [at the Gallery] as well.”

Monday night’s performances were thrilling and fun, for both the audience and the musicians who came to collaborate. The house band, shares jazz singer Lisa Lindsley, is a vocalist’s dream because of their ability to improvise around a singer and help feature her or his voice. Just in from Paris, Lindsley was excited to open the jam session, singing under portraits of legendary singers like Billie Holiday and Ray Charles.

“The atmosphere here is wonderful [with] the pictures on the walls of these musicians that I admire. It’s a wonderful gallery [and] jazz venue, especially as a lot of jazz venues are biting the dust.”

Yet, Lindsley maintains, what the gallery offers Oakland goes beyond art, music, and the creative convergence of the two. “It creates a community,” she continues, “that, with Oakland being kind of spread out, we don’t really have. And it’s multicultural and multi-talented. I don’t think it’s just jazz; from what my understanding is, it encompasses a lot of different things. But really the community of it is something that jazz used to have and then we kind of got away from it. Now we’re swinging back around. You see here, we’re celebrating somebody’s birthday and it’s really kind of fabulous. It seems like everybody knows everybody. So it’s really this home. You live in the neighborhood and you can just walk over here.”

The audience enjoyed both the art and musical performances in the gallery's inviting and low-key venue. Photo by Anna Vignet.

The audience enjoyed both the art and musical performances in the gallery’s inviting and low-key venue. Photo by Anna Vignet.

Indeed, the gallery is a unique and welcoming place that cares about bringing together a diverse audience as well as diverse talent without regard to boundaries—artistic, racial, or otherwise. This is a “new watering hole,” affirms Keys, comparing the space and its surrounding Oakland context to Greenwich Village in its artistic heyday. And, like with most things in Oakland, its time is now.

To keep an eye on upcoming events at 57th Street Gallery, check out its website here.

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