By Alice Carlson 

On Jan. 25, The Hall CP was buzzing with families and students, sharing bottles of wine and coal-fired pizzas as they waited for the jazz performances to begin. The music filled up the building as everyone talked, laughed and swayed to the beat. 

Elijah Jamal Balbed, a D.C.-based saxophonist, led the show with The Hall’s house band, playing an hour-long set to start off the night. The band also includes Jon Ozment on keys, Adam Kahana on guitar, Madison Rast on bass and Kelton Norris on drums. Balbed has been playing since fifth grade; he said he started playing gigs when he was in high school.

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Elijah Balbed plays a saxophone solo at The Hall CP on Jan. 25.
Credit: Lauren Reeder

“The University of Maryland has a great jazz program, but one of the hard parts about jazz education is it’s so much better to learn when you’re playing with real musicians. This program also has the proximity of D.C. In a way, we are bringing the D.C. jazz scene to the University of Maryland,” Balbed said. 

The Hall CP has been hosting jazz jam sessions on the last Wednesday of the month since September, according to Austin Sposato, event coordinator for The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland. Jazz jams he coordinates at The Hall CP are unique, he said, as they are largely focused on students from the university. 

“I think that jazz jams are just kind of one of the most cool, unique things that happen in music in general. They’re a way for different generations of musicians to connect and to share knowledge — and to share traditions and history,” Sposato said. “It’s a way for younger players to see how older players act when they’re, you know, out in the world.”  

The Hall first opened its doors in January 2020, and the owners wanted the space to be a venue for events even before it became a restaurant, Sposato noted. They were enthusiastic about hosting jam sessions and immediately agreed to Sposato’s suggestion.

“It’s such a cool place to do this,” Balbed said. “It’s a great venue, and the people and the management are very hospitable and appreciate and love the music, so that makes it such a great environment.”

The house band finished out their set, and during a brief intermission, staff members with The Hall CP surprised Balbed with a birthday cake. Once they started singing “Happy Birthday,” the whole crowd joined in.  

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Elijah Balbed receives a surprise piece of birthday cake from The Hall CP’s staff.
Credit: Lauren Reeder

Students from the university took the stage to showcase their talents, some singing, and others filling in for members of the house band members to show off their own skills. 

Seventeen-year-old Minh Vo, who has played piano since he was seven, stunned the crowd with his impressive performance. Tap dancer Gerson Lanza added another layer to the music when he joined in on the fun. Students waiting on the sidelines were eager for their turn in the lineup.

Sposato beamed with pride at the event and talked about how heartwarming it is for all the students to get the chance to play alongside people who have devoted their lives to this kind of music.

“[The Hall has] carved out space for the University of Maryland students to come to a place that kind of feels safe for them, where they know the lay of the land, and they can practice their skills,” he said.