Improvisation is at the heart of jazz, and the same can be said of Tea Rooom. The newly-formed 5C band originated from a Pomona College Jazz Ensemble practice when Dylan Yin PO ’23, Alex Arguelles PZ ’24, Jeremy Martin PO ’25 and Nico Santamaria PO ’25 began messing around together in the early weeks of the fall 2021 semester. Instinctively building off the others’ musical cues, the four musicians sensed an instant connection.
Noting the role of jazz in the group’s formation, Yin explained this bond.
“One of the nice things about jazz is that it’s so key on finding good chemistry with your band mates,” he said. “It’s really, really important to be able to respond to each other on a split second basis and kind of jump off of each other to form a cohesive piece … [we] immediately had this good chemistry and were able to build off each other really quickly.”
The group often jammed before and after jazz rehearsal, and as they continued to experiment with their collaboration, they realized that beneath this spontaneity laid a seriousness for playing together. With Martin on drums, Arguelles playing piano, Santamaria playing the trumpet and Yin on the saxophone and vocalizing, they formed a band, practicing throughout the first semester.
But Tea Rooom’s improvisations don’t stop with their music; their band name materialized in a similarly impromptu manner. Martin got the idea to name the band “Tea Room” from one of Yin’s sweaters, and it was originally meant as a placeholder. However, when the group landed their first gig, the name stuck.
After arriving back on campus in January 2022, Arguelles received a text from a member of Village Green, another 5C band. Village Green’s upcoming gig at Last Name Brewing Company no longer had an opening act, and they wondered if Arguelles and the rest of the group would play it. Tea Rooom quickly replied yes — and just as quickly realized that they needed a lead vocalist in order to perform.
Luckily, in another spontaneous musical circumstance, Arguelles had already met Cece Malone PZ ’24 in September 2021 at a piano in one of Pitzer College’s common rooms. Refreshed by their common musical knowledge, the pair began playing together regularly.
So, four days before their first gig, Tea Rooom convened in its entirety with Malone as the lead vocalist.
“It was really easy the first time that I came and sang with you guys,” Malone said. “I was really impressed that you had already learned this shared language and were playing that really well, and so it was really fun to jump into.”
The band held two additional practice sessions before the Jan. 27 gig — by which point a poster had circulated, listing their band name with a mysterious third “O” in “Room.” None of the band members know how the misspelling occurred. But, like they do best, they just went with it. For every gig they play, they say half-jokingly, they will add an “O” to their name.
All five band members considered their first gig a success, remarking on their feelings of ease, excitement and pure joy while on stage, as well as a surprising lack of nerves.
“At the end of the day, we’re just having fun up there.”—Jeremy Martin PO ’25
They played Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning,” Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the theme song to Club Penguin, the popular early 2000s online game. Of course, there were mishaps: mics cut out, amps were too loud, others too quiet. But the fun was what mattered most to Tea Rooom’s members.
“I think when you’re having fun up on stage, that’s really what matters for a crowd … we love doing sort of cool technical stuff and jazz stuff like that, but at the end of the day, we’re just having fun up there,” Martin said.
It’s a known rule of improvisation to go with what others do in order to keep any number of options open for the future. In this vein, the band is cautious of sticking to a sole genre, preferring to let their spontaneity continue to lead them and to push them.
“A lot of people were telling me … [to be] Tea Rooom, the indie pop band. Or Tea Rooom, the R&B cover band,” Arguelles said, “but [I like] having that variety, not being constrained to a specific genre and being told what to play for the sake of publicity or marketing, because once we get to that point, it’s like what are we really doing it for?”
Martin echoed a similar sentiment.
“One of the big things that we really want to focus on as a band,” he said, “I think, part of it is having a lot of fun, but also we want to be able to really adventure.”
In the infancy of their trajectory, Tea Rooom hasn’t got it all figured out just yet — and that’s just another part of the fun.
“I would say this is very much the beginning,” Santamaria said. “We’re defining ourselves as we go along, and I think that’s going to be the case for a while longer.”
They understand the territory of a college band, and in keeping it all light, they avoid putting too much pressure on Tea Rooom’s growth. The group hopes to play more gigs, perform original songs and create themed sets — all in the name of creating a fun time for themselves and for their audience.
Under this sentiment, Martin sums up Tea Rooom simply.
“I think we’re serious musicians who don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he said.