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
Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Vortex, London
Cafe Oto, London
606, London
Spice of Life, London
Charlie Wright’s, London
Bull’s Head, London
Quecumbar, London
Pheasantry, London
Hideaway, London
Boisdale, London
Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
Dempsey’s, Cardiff
Band on the Wall, Manchester
Matt & Phred’s, Manchester
Seven Jazz, Leeds
Lescar, Sheffield
Jagz, Ascot
The Verdict, Brighton
Be-bop club, Bristol
St Ives jazz club, St Ives, Cornwall

In Ireland
JJ Smyth’s, Dublin

And in other parts of Europe
Duc des Lombards, Paris
Sunset Sunside, Paris
Bimhuis, Amsterdam
Porgy & Bess, Vienna
L’Archiduc, Brussels
Blue Note, Milan
Blue Note, Poznań
Half Note, Athens
A-Trane, Berlin
Stadtgarten, Cologne
Unterfahrt, Munich
Fasching, Stockholm
Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo
Casa del jazz, Rome

A jazz audience anticipates the night’s entertainment ahead top; and GoGo Penguin above coming to the Lescar in Sheffield soon