PHOTOS: Calvin Presents The Roots Jam at Black Iris, Monday nights

Monday nights are the wildcards of musical week. Gigs are scarce and players are free to collaborate and explore, whether breaking new sonic ground or diving deep into the popular music that inspired them.

In 2023 RVA, there is no lineup wilder and less predictable than Calvin Presents’ The Roots Jam. Its current iteration at the Black Iris is the third incarnation. It was launched in 2017 in the Rabbit Hole basement of Vagabond, then moved to the Dark Room at the Hof for a memorable, pre-pandemic run.

The Black Iris, at 321 W. Broad St., is a combination social club, music venue, gallery. It’s well-stocked Tiny Bar features a mural that mushes together “Moby Dick” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” with David Bowie and David Byrne in leading roles.

The street-facing front room/gallery has a small stage with a lighting system that cycles between vibrant hues. There are about 50 folding chairs set up in front of the stage, with more available if needed.

On some nights, the jam is jammed, as a few weeks ago when players from Butcher Brown were in the house rhythm section. But on this night, shortly before 9 p.m., the lights are on, the DJ is playing tunes, people are drifting in an out to sign up on the clipboard, but the place is nearly empty.

Below are some images that will take you through a recent Monday night. In most cases, you can click on the photo for a clearer image.

To start, the opening and between-sets music from DJ Hip-Hop Henry sets the stage and keeps the energy up during the downtime as performers come and go between songs.

A few minutes after 9, the house band takes the stage, and the week’s Roots Jam is officially in session. Calvin Brown on keys, Anthony Cavanaugh- aka Cav- on bass, and Joshua McCormick on drums. In the first few songs, they ranged from the Jackson Five to Robert Glasper and Sam Rivers.

Organizer Calvin Brown, who studied at the prestigious New School and Berklee School of Music, has become a vital support for a heterogeneous scene ranging from hard-edged jazz to hip hop and neo soul. The jams are about expression, not genre. The intent is to provide an open, safe space for trying new things and taking chances.

Singer and educator Jarvis Griffin opens the rotating series of performances with soulful intensity.

This was the first open jam at Roots for bassist Phoenix (aka Thailik Naiquan.) “[It was] all improv, and I rocked the joint,” he posted on Instagram. “Can’t wait to do it again.”


Itinerant saxophonist/drummer Tim Turner showed up to add both blazing playing and positive energy to the session.


Artist and author Gwyn C. Moses took the stage to read two powerful and original poems; and she hung around to dance throughout the rest of the evening at every reasonable opportunity.


Neo-soul singer Ms. Jaylin Brown, who just ended her stunning run in the Firehouse Theatre’s production of “Ghost Quartet,” is a regular at the Roots Jam.


Taylor McNamara’s show-stopping version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was one of the brilliant surprises of the night.


Bassist/producer Brandon Lane [Future Prospect, multiple other bands] was back in town to sit in for a couple of songs.


Saxophonist Chet Frierson was recently back from months playing on Mediterranean cruise boats. Peak Roots: The chairs are filled, there are people standing in the back and lining the walls.


Marvin Taylor, who has his own weekly series with guest artists every Thursday night at the Vagabond Rabbit Hole.


Eric Hawkins brings a preacher’s intensity to the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets.” That he didn’t know all the words – but also didn’t want to lose momentum by looking at the phone in his hand – only added to the freewheeling fun of the performance.


Sir Rome did an impassioned take of “I’m Yours” from his new EP “Rome-ance, Vol 1.” Afterwards, he admitted making up about half of the words in this night’s version.


Rapper Abu Yillah Jr with trumpeter Sam Colaccino closes out the evening. It’s midnight, and the room has been emptying out for the past half hour. There will be a small crowd still buzzing from the evening on the Broad Street sidewalk as the organizers break down the mikes and drum kit.


Next Monday, it starts again.


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