Gallery 1412 image courtesy of the venue
BY ALEXA PETERS
In 2010, Racer Sessions, an improvisation-based event featuring a set from a presented artist and a jam session, was founded by a group of music students from the University of Washington. In the 14 years since, Racer Sessions, which lives at the intersection of free and collective improvisation, avant-garde jazz, and classical music, has been a regular homecoming for a tight-knit community of sonic adventurers.
Racer Sessions occurred weekly at the original Cafe Racer location in the Univerity District until the venue’s sudden closure in 2017. In 2021, after Cafe Racer reopened in the old Barca Lounge space in Capitol Hill, Racer Sessions returned on the first and third Sundays of the month. As of September 17th, the session will relocate to Gallery 1412, a performance venue and independent artist collective in the Central District. Composer/guitarist Tom Baker and bassist Kelsey Mines break in the new space with a session starting at 7pm.
“1412 is really aligned with what we want to do. Like, the stuff they present is already in the free improvised, avant-garde, experimental music category,” said Haley Freedlund, Racer Sessions curator since 2017. “I think the new space will be really good for the overall vibe.”
The original Cafe Racer—a small, funky space tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood—was integral to the start of Racer Sessions. For years, that’s where the founders hung out of their own accord, enticed by the intimate room and artsy usuals. Despite attempting to adapt to the new Cafe Racer home, a large, bi-level cocktail lounge, Freedlund says it just isn’t a good fit.
“It’s just not the right space for us to present a small free improvised jam session,” said Freedlund. “The old location was a third of the size and a lot more intimate. And we were able to run our own sound—[at the new space, we’re] reliant on a sound engineer.”
Likewise, parking’s been a nightmare: “People would circle the block for hours trying to find a parking spot and they just go home instead of coming to the session,” said Freedlund.
Along with abundant free parking, Gallery 1412 is akin to the original Cafe Racer. At 1412, “members” pay a monthly fee to use the space for their creative endeavors, imbuing it with the energy of radical, DIY artmaking. The stage is the focal point of 1412’s compact room, and there is a simple sound board, house drum kit, amplifier, baby grand piano, and high-quality PA system that will make it easy to self-produce Racer Sessions. What’s more, many of Gallery 1412’s members are embedded in the Racer Sessions community.
“I think that what we can do at the Gallery [with] the Racer Sessions is go to some of the deepest places of creative self-expression…with people that are completely on the same page in a physical space that is designed for that,” said Neil Welch, an original founder of the Racer Sessions and a member at Gallery 1412.
Racer Sessions remains free and all-ages at Gallery 1412, but there will be an appeal for donations at each session to help offset operating costs. There’s also one noticeable change: Gallery 1412 does not offer food or alcohol. As organizers see it, a bar-less event is a minor sacrifice to make for this positive new partnership, which they hope will infuse Racer Sessions and the wider experimental music community with fresh creative energy.
“I’m looking forward to…unabashedly push[ing] the limits of what it means to do creative sound expression in a space 100% about art making [and] not focused on meet[ing] the bottom line through alcohol sales,” said Welch. “Racer Sessions is on good footing here.”