It’s late on a Monday night. I rush down the dark stairs to the basement of Main Hall and pull open the door to Bob’s Underground Café. The wail of a trombone echoes from down the entryway, the piano and bass comp cool through the changes to “So What,” and each slap of the high hat matches my footfall.
I slink down the corridor and the band comes into sight — trumpet, sax, drums, and cymbals all reflecting red and yellow light as the pianist sips an iced chai, playing one-handed. I walk up to the stage, and the ’bone player stares at me over the golden bell of his horn. The drummer rolls his eyes. I’m late.
Just about every Monday night, musicians make their way to this lonely corner of campus to stretch their wrists, loosen their chops, and tear through jazz charts for two hours, maybe more. They come from all walks of life: music, Spanish, and physics majors; first-years, seniors, and everything in between; music teachers; tennis and Frisbee players and cross country runners. They come from funk, classical, bluegrass, big band, Latin, or rock backgrounds. But they all jam over the same familiar tunes, each time with a different twist, a new solo improvised for that night only. Tonight they fill space with cool Ellington and heat the room with Herbie Hancock ’60.
And students flock to Bob’s, filling the couches, tables, and booths. Some swing dance in the entryway, while others wait in line for a cup of coffee from a quirky barista. Most study, or pretend to study, getting cozy with a monster textbook or taking revenge on a dozing friend with a highlighter. Papers and laptops are strewn across tables between bagels and mugs. At one table, two guys lean over a chessboard, each concentrating on his move and then turning to chat with friends.
Maybe people come to listen to the music, or they read better with background noise, or they just want to hang out with friends. Maybe they’d be here whether there was a show or not. I wouldn’t know — I only come on Mondays. But even the workers behind the counter seem to be enjoying themselves, tapping their feet and dancing a quiet little dance of their own when no one’s in line.
Especially on cold winter nights, Bob’s is a cozy beacon shining out from the south side of campus, slowly drawing students away from the still bookshelves of the library or the cramped confines of a dorm and into a vibrant pool of community.
Of course, I’m here for the music. I stand for a moment, letting the beat pulse through my hands, my fingers shaping the notes of the next line before the sound hits my ears. The chatter swirls around me in the background, but the melody beckons.
I throw open my case, but no shiny brass greets me here. I run my fingers over the warm grain of my fiddle, then lift it out and tweak the strings into tune. The drums crescendo as I jump out in front of the piano and into the middle of the song.
Henry Reich '09 is a Physics major from Mahtomedi, Minnesota.