The image of a jazz club has changed drastically in recent years. The biggest change? Well no one smokes in clubs any longer, although gig-goers may huddle on the pavement outside where the sounds of that seventeenth chorus inside can still just about be picked out through the vents. Saxophones no longer honk, it’s just as likely to be the hum of a Mac or the pop of a guitar plugging in as the gleam of a Selmer or the bright flash of a Monette when the stagelights go on. But jazz clubs yearn to live up to romantic clichés, and yes you can find some places with murals depicting the heroes of yesteryear proudly displayed, or clubs with beautifully framed photographs or paintings on the walls, their interiors decked out with little lamps or candles sitting discreetly on tables, and knowledgeable bar staff on hand ready to reminisce about the days Harry Sweets Edison played the club, or Wynton arrived to jam at two o’clock in the morning.
Many clubs, worthy of the name, put on jazz just once or twice a week, providing ‘nights’ only. Take Wednesday nights in Sheffield. You won’t find the kids who necessarily want to be the next Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, or Human League at the Lescar on Sharrowvale Road, although this “charmingly vintage pub” does have a quiz night on Tuesdays to stoke their general knowledge in the meantime. Starter for ten: Who appeared at the Lescar this month? Well, guitarist Ant Law did, taking in the Lescar as part of his first national tour. The price of a couple of cups of coffee, just £5 on the door, would have gained you admittance to hear the guitarist, with his band of James Maddren, Dice Factory’s Tom Farmer, and new star of the alto saxophone, Michael Chillingworth. It’s not just national names at the Lescar, as the scene looks after its own as well, as all the best and longest running jazz spots tend to do, and Sheffield singer Sally Doherty was there last night. Coming up are Jiannis Pavlidis (27 March), the miraculously-monikered Fluff (3 April), GoGo Penguin, the cuddliest piano trio on eternal tastemaker Gilles Peterson’s radar at the moment (10 April), and Beats & Pieces guitarist Anton Hunter with his trio on 17 April.
Real jazz fans of course muse on living the dream, having a club at the end of their street, ideally. They’d live in one if they could, or at least go there most nights, hear music, but crucially treat the place as a café, a bar, a restaurant, somewhere to glance at the paper, fiddle with their phones, date, and ruminate on the issues of the day while taking in the best improvised music irrespective of whether it’s played on orthodox instruments or kazoo, stylophone, banjo, mini-iPad, or the back of a biscuit tin. There’s been an upsurge in jazz club activity even in these days of the imminent triple dip and the Con/Dems’ ruinous economic policies. In the wake of the budget yesterday, and where better than to gauge the mood of the economy than in a jazz club, which club would JM Keynes, were he still around, ‘chill’ in to take a break from addressing the nation’s woes? He might well muse sat in one of the clubs below that “jazz improvising," or ‘words’ as Keynes had it, “ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking." MB
The rest is improvisation
Clubs in Britain
Ronnie Scott’s, London www.ronniescotts.co.uk
Pizza Express Jazz Club, London www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk
Vortex, London www.vortexjazz.co.uk
Cafe Oto, London www.cafeoto.co.uk
606, London www.606club.co.uk
Spice of Life, London www.spiceoflifesoho.com
Charlie Wright’s, London www.charliewrights.com
Bull’s Head, London www.thebullshead.com
Quecumbar, London www.quecumbar.co.uk
Pheasantry, London www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk
Hideaway, London www.hideawaylive.co.uk
Boisdale, London www.boisdale.co.uk
Jazz Bar, Edinburgh www.thejazzbar.co.uk
Dempsey’s, Cardiff www.jazzatdempseys.org.uk
Band on the Wall, Manchester www.bandonthewall.org
Matt & Phred’s, Manchester www.mattandphreds.com
Seven Jazz, Leeds www.sevenjazz.co.uk
Lescar, Sheffield www.jazzatthelescar.com
Jagz, Ascot www.jagz.co.uk
The Verdict, Brighton www.verdictjazz.co.uk
Be-bop club, Bristol www.bebopclub.co.uk
St Ives jazz club, St Ives, Cornwall http://www.stivesjazzclub.com
JJ Smyth’s, Dublin www.jjsmyths.com
And in other parts of Europe
Duc des Lombards, Paris www.ducdeslombards.com
Sunset Sunside, Paris www.sunset-sunside.com
Bimhuis, Amsterdam www.bimhuis.nl
Porgy & Bess, Vienna www.porgy.at
L’Archiduc, Brussels www.archiduc.net
Blue Note, Milan www.bluenotemilano.com
Blue Note, Poznań www.bluenote.poznan.pl
Half Note, Athens www.halfnote.gr
A-Trane, Berlin www.a-trane.de/
Stadtgarten, Cologne www.stadtgarten.de
Unterfahrt, Munich http://www.unterfahrt.de
Fasching, Stockholm www.fasching.se
Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo www.nasjonaljazzscene.no
Casa del jazz, Rome http://www.casajazz.it
A jazz audience anticipates the night’s entertainment ahead top; and GoGo Penguin above coming to the Lescar in Sheffield soon
She’s been on the cover of both Downbeat and Jazz Times, and with the release of her latest album Claroscuro as recently as the autumn, the multi-award winning clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone player Anat Cohen, with a finely honed individualism in her extraordinarily burnished playing, here achieves maximum impact with her down home version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’. That version alone along with her reputation Stateside should whet the appetites of UK jazz fans sufficiently to draw the serious jazz heads down to the Soho basement club she’s to play when the Israeli-born musician debuts in the UK for a first appearance in London as part of a brief European tour. With a band on the album that includes the hip Jason Lindner on piano, skilled bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freedman, all of whom are making the trip, there’s much to savour from the deep traditions of jazz clarinet onwards towards the modern global sound on an album that playfully uses the Spanish spelling of the Italian word ‘chiaroscuro’ in its title. Don’t forget to catch Cohen’s wonderful take on Artie Shaw’s ‘Nightmare’, with Paquito d’Rivera guesting, if you pick up Claroscuro. Stephen Graham
Anat Cohen above plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London tonight
Last minute tickets: www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk
Thought-Fox: part of the new wave of the Irish jazz scene
Named after a Ted Hughes poem Thought-Fox are a world away from a Hughesian landscape, with the poet’s somewhat severe and even brutalistic grasp of the natural world a long way distant. With singer Lauren Kinsella’s voice the main distinguishing feature, My Guess (Diatribe) opens with the knotty ‘Nightlight’, which might have benefited, though, from being placed much later in the album. Kinsella’s advanced approach compares immediately to a singer such as Gretchen Parlato, so it’s not a big blustery wave of noise but one that favours asides and confidences, syllabic invention, and daring intervallic leaps, with a control at low volumes that can translate to a bigger effect. The singer is a confidante, as it were, to the instrumentalists who respond from her hints and cues.
‘Ideas burning brightly’
Thought-Fox are that bit different, with a bespoke rhythm imperative, and Simon Roth on drums sculpts this alternative direction with a growing sense of unforced momentum as the album develops. By ‘Worm of Thought’ (inspired by The Waste Land) when the album gains a free improv impetus both he and Kinsella have clearly found common ground, a sort of “peace of mind” as the lyric to the title track later has it, as the singer’s ambition increases and the direction of the music becomes less mannered.
Remaining tracks ‘Malin’s Chai’ (the best melody by far and most involved band interplay), ‘Celia’, and title track ‘My Guess’ build on the promise shown first in ‘Worm of Thought’. There’s probably an even better album inside this one crying to get out but it’s clear that a fine new singer with ideas burning brightly inside and the right improvising attitude has arrived. For that in a scene often bereft of original approaches we should be very grateful. Stephen Graham
My Guess is released on Monday 6 May. Thought-Fox play the Vortex in London on 8 May
Newly named a UNESCO artist for peace the distinguished bassist and producer Marcus Miller is to perform a concert on Friday (22 March) at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York, in a programme that will follow the slave trade route, starting with artists from Africa, the Caribbean and North America, with other artists taking part including the National Ballet of Cameroon, west African band Benyoro, singer Somi, and Handsworth Revolution reggae legends Steel Pulse.
Miller’s involvement with UNESCO goes back to masterclasses he taught at the first International Jazz Day hosted by UNESCO in association with the Thelonious Monk Institute, and next month Miller will be involved in jazz day once more. In July the bassist famed for his work with Miles Davis among others will be officially designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace in Paris and in his new role Miller will support UNESCO’s Slave Route Project and promote peace, dialogue, and unity through jazz. The international day of remembrance for the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade is held on 25 March, with this year’s theme celebrating emancipation.
Marcus Miller above
Jay’s Jitter Jive dance night began at the Hippodrome on Charing Cross Road, just yards from Leicester Square earlier this month with trumpeter Jay Phelps leading his eight-piece band featuring Lauren Dalrymple on vocals, and Perry Louis, of Jazzcotech renown, leading the dance moves. Jay, acting a role as one of two trumpeters in the Louis Lester Band, and also on the hit soundtrack of Adrian Johnston’s music for the Dancing on the Edge band, and whose own debut as a leader Jay Walkin’ was released to good reviews in 2010, did a trial run for Jitter Jive just before the end of 2012 at Kings Place. On his website he says speaking of the night at the prestigious York Way venue: “We had a great time playing the music of the era, and we even included three tunes from the Snakehips Johnson band transcribed by Soweto Kinch.” On recent BBC2 documentary Swinging into the Blitz the death was grippingly recalled of Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, who was among the many to die in the Blitzed-out West End night club Café de Paris, just a few hundred yards from the Hippodrome, on 8 March 1941. Jay performed in the documentary band sequences recreating the Snakehips sound as did Soweto Kinch who has a new record out, The Legend of Mike Smith, released earlier this year, and Jay appears on it in one of the best spots of the whole affair on the ballad ‘Vacuum’, his horn set alongside the elegiac piano of Julian Joseph. SG
Jitter jive takes place on Wed 27 March. More at http://www.hippodromecasino.com
Watch some Cab Calloway jitterbug jive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N06KxYyUZkk
A jazz sensibility connects with a great deal of world music. Many African artists manage to navigate their music away from too many compromises in reaching out to new audiences but inevitably (if you recall Baaba Maal’s Television) the tunes are memorable but made for a limited ‘pop’ shelf life albeit loaded with much more mass appeal potential than most jazz people could ever dream of. Malian singer Traoré’s latest begins in a very poppy way with the appealing ‘Lalla’ but the album stroked home impressively by Seb Rochford, with PJ Harvey producer John Parish on board recording not in Bamako but Bristol, moves beyond simple radio appeal swiftly enough from ‘Kouma’ on. All the songs were written and composed by Traoré, an important cultural role model for a new generation of musicians in Mali including the acclaimed singer/guitarist Fatoumata Diawara who used to be her backing singer. There’s plenty to savour, although ‘Lalla’ is easily the most accessible song even if the song structures are hardly a stretch throughout. Traoré has a gritty forceful side to her voice and there’s a vitality and a certain edge in her delivery that jazz fans best appreciate and, as her fame widens, genre niceties won’t hold back. Released on 8 April
Christine Tobin, Guy Barker, and John Etheridge have been nominated for jazz musician of the year at this year’s Parliamentary Jazz Awards sponsored by royalties body PPL and Jazz Services the winners of which will be announced at a ceremony in the Terrace Pavilion of the House of Commons on 8 May.
In the album of the year category, Irish singer Tobin receives another nomination for her acclaimed album Sailing to Byzantium, while Jazz FM award winner Saltash Bells by John Surman and Walking Dark by Phronesis are also nominated.
The jazz ensemble of the year nominations are Beats & Pieces Big Band, Impossible Gentlemen, and Troyka; while the Live Jazz award of the year nominations are Café Oto, Herts Jazz, Manchester Jazz Festival, and the Vortex.
Jazz journalist of the year nominees are: previous winner John Fordham of The Guardian; the Financial Times’ Mike Hobart; and The Herald’s Rob Adams who was nominated last year. Jazz broadcaster of the year nominees are Gilles Peterson, previous winner Helen Mayhew, and Mike Chadwick, often nominated at the awards now in their ninth running, while jazz publication of the year nominations go to Catherine Tackley for Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert; previous winner Jazzwise; and the website London Jazz News.
The jazz education nominees are Brian Moore, Jonathan Eno, Nick Smart, and Tommy Smith; while Services to Jazz nominees are Evan Parker, BBC producer Keith Loxam, Norma Winstone, and Stan Tracey.
The winners are chosen by peers and MPs, the judging members of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group in Parliament. James Pearson and the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars will perform at the awards in May, making a return appearance.
Double nomination: Christine Tobin, top
Rotterdam bound: McCoy Tyner
Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival has announced details of artists to appear at this year’s staging of the long running festival, held over three days as usual in July.
On the opening day, Friday 12 July, Santana, Diana Krall, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Roy Hargrove Quintet, retro diva Caro Emerald, the Monty Alexander Trio, soul singer James Hunter, Mala in Cuba, and Lianne La Havas are all scheduled to appear. Next day Saturday 13 July has John Legend, Kenny Barron and his trio, Chick Corea’s new band the Vigil recently debuting at Ronnie Scott’s, quartertone trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, the great jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jazz FM gold award-winning pianist Ramsey Lewis.
The middle day of the festival also sees Dutch favourites New Cool Collective, John Zorn at 60 Marathon, Michel Camilo (newly signed to Okeh records), and flamenco star Tomatito.
While there are no significant surprises, the festival this year has picked up on a high profile mix of legends and newer names in remarkable quantity as ever. It’s possible to survey great swathes of the global jazz scene over just three days spent in Rotterdam checking out the gigs held inside the massive Ahoy venue.
Also for the Saturday shows are Gary Clark Jr, Sangam featuring Charles Lloyd, the great McCoy Tyner and his Latin Jazz All Stars, Laura Mvula, Shuggie Otis, Cody ChesnuTT, Re:Freshed Orchestra, and Bassekou Kouyate/Ngoni ba.
The final day at North Sea this year features Sting, Kendrick Lamar, Marcus Miller, Joe Jackson and the Bigger Band featuring Regina Carter, Dionne Warwick, Charles Bradley, Bettye LaVette, Branford Marsalis Quartet, Avishai Cohen Quartet, José James, Ebo Taylor, Mud Morganfield, and Calexico. MB
The trad era, with the passing of luminaries Kenny Ball, Terry Lightfoot at the weekend, and the writer Jim Godbolt earlier this year probably turned away as many people from jazz as it attracted to it, a paradox unseen in its day as trad reached the largest audiences jazz has ever reached in this country.
With their subsequent outlandishly outmoded stage wear, and the music seemingly reluctant to move beyond banjo-and-braces clichés it’s no wonder that trad became seen as part of a cultural backwater eventually, a garden gnome of a genre.
With the birth of rock ’n’ roll it became a joke, and the music identified with your parents’ generation. Former rock journalist John Harris, writing in The Guardian has put it like this: “I came of age in a culture in which the jazz both categorised and demonised as ‘trad’ would not do at all. I have childhood memories that fit the picture – of impatiently flicking through the three TV channels, and alighting on ensembles of men in candy-striped waistcoats, blowing out a racket that seemed dated, even flatly silly.”
Poet Philip Larkin used trad partly as a criticism of modernism in his jazz critiques, while Melly tells how, rather than taking sides, he found that in the Scala theatre in London’s Charlotte Street he discovered the power of ‘revivalist jazz’, the term used before ‘trad’ supplanted it. “I came out of that concert a changed person,” Melly wrote in Owning Up first published in 1965, when trad was a distant memory. Now the music is still widely played in under-the-radar places, often very stubbornly, to an often baffled, uninterested, and dwindling audience.
Melly discovered the revivalist scene via the Melody Maker and began to sing with Beryl Bryden at the Leicester Square Jazz Club and later Eel Pie Island eventually joining Mick Mulligan’s band, a big hero of Melly’s whose picaresque adventures the singer was so adept at telling so very entertainingly.
Trad for Melly was a state of mind, and it was about fun, not a word that the young maths-jazzers today like to use overly much. The venues then were pretty unrecognisable from today’s jazz places, according to Melly’s description. “Many of those pub rooms were temples of the ‘Ancient Order of Buffaloes’, that mysterious proletarian version of the ‘Freemasons’, and it was under dusty horns and framed nineteenth century characters that we struggled through ‘Sunset Café Stomp’ or ‘Miss Henry’s Ball’."
Melly is astute enough to mention that some traditionalists became modernists or mainstreamers, and some trad musicians “began to realize that Gillespie and Parker, Monk and Davis were not perverse iconoclasts but in the great tradition.”
Yet there developed a schism between the two big styles in jazz of the day, a lack of toleration, that carried a heavy toll. With Larkin ludicrously pitting Miles Davis (bad) on the one hand against Eddie Condon (good) on the other the madness of the rivalry, and the prejudices involved still scream off the page. “As it enters the ear,” Larkin wrote, “does it come in like broken glass or does it come in like honey?”
There are a few figures from the trad era still left and topping festival bills, most notably Acker Bilk who appears at Brecon in the summer, and the constantly touring Chris Barber. Although the years of trad as a popular movement disappeared long ago just as the craze for jungle or grime in recent years has, trad has endured long beyond its natural shelf-life, and will in all likelihood live on past the departure eventually of all of the trad gentlemen of jazz. Will a new generation, even if it wanted to, manage to capture that initial excitement that made trad significant in the first place? Maybe not. Remixing ‘Petite Fleur’ or performing a punk jazz revamp of ‘Stranger on the Shore’, might have to wait a while yet.
The cover of Owning Up, pictured top