Upstairs @ the Brixton Ritzy and some random nonsense on jazz clubs

I’ve had a hit and miss time with London’s jazz clubs. I first went to Ronnie Scott’s in Soho a “few” years ago for a friend’s 21st. We were 15 students who loved Jools Holland and thought ourselves fairly well-educated and open-minded music wise. As the first person turned up and loudly wished the birthday boy happy birthday, we were massively shooshed by EVERYONE. And there began the most painstaking jazz experience of my life-  as 13 other progressively more drunk students turned up, we were shoosed, given dirty looks and tutted at. We were near the front and rounded upon by all sides. Every round was a nightmare. Any conversations had to take place in whispers. It was very Fast Show Jaaaazzzzzz with some jazz flotist, a West African band and an arty singer. All appreciated quietly by nodding patrons, but I couldn’t wait until the bits between songs so I could chat and relax (note: this was probably a bad experience and made worse with memory. I have heard great things about Ronnie Scott’s since).

I’m not a fan of music that you have to listen to quietly. I’m all for whooping when a “tune” kicks in, for dancing madly and laughing. And even when its slow and moving and beautiful, I like to be able to chat to whoever I’m with about how much I’m enjoying it. That’s why I found the Proms horribly staid and why I think jazz clubs and classical music should allow for some appreciation to be shown at the time. Thats not to say I don’t enjoy opera and classical music, I just find it hard to save my excitement for a post-song bravo.

Next was Camden’s Jazz Cafe – a cool intimate venue with a fun, funky crowd, some great acts (I’ve seen Amos Lee and Roots Manuva there) and good value for money. You can eat, drink, whoop, dance and holler to your heart’s content. And I loved listening to The Jazz in Paris Project upstairs at the Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, which combines jazz, champers and French food really well. I’ve been to the Dalston Jazz Bar but I don’t recall it playing any jazz and all I remember is how drunk everyone was, and after slowly spilling an entire glass of red wine down my arm, that I was too.  

And finally, I stumbled upon a fantastic jazz band in the Upstairs bar of the Ritzy cinema in Brixton (see photos above and below). Upstairs has transformed itself into a cool little venue for comedy and music, with classic film posters, decent beer and an interesting crowd. It was free to go in too. They also had a fantastic band on – jazz in a cool Corduroy-type funky way and they asked everyone to get up and dance and so they did – all smiles and funky moves. As the smoking ban has ended the days of smoky jazz bars, this is the kind of place I want to listen to jazz in – somewhere relaxed and fun and friendly. Check out their Facebook page for upcoming events.

4 responses to “Upstairs @ the Brixton Ritzy and some random nonsense on jazz clubs

  1. Hehe, we talked about this. If you’re a serious jazzer you just sometimes need a bit of quiet. Did you notice the STFU painted on the back wall of the Jazz Cafe? (Don’t know if it’s still there.)

    I’m sure I’ve actually broken the STFU rule myself on many an occasion, thinking about it.

  2. Upstairs at the Ritzy

    We just came across your blog and we love it! We’re giving away comps for an amazing event happening on fri 11th march to competition winners and nice people who we like and who like us… fancy a couple?! It’s not actually happening here, but as we’re screening the film tonight, Picturehouse have been awarded exclusive tickets for this particular event. Have a look at the link and drop me a line at if you want them.
    Thanks again!
    Upstairs at the Ritzy

  3. Upstairs at the Ritzy

    Here’s the link:

    We are proud to reveal that STAFF BENDA BILILI will be playing at the stunning UNION CHAPEL, London N1 on Friday 11th March.
    An exclusive performance following a one-off preview screening of BENDA BILILI! the film. Limited seat availability.

  4. MUZIK KINDA SWEET BY POGUS CAESAR 1st – 30th October 2011

    The British Music Experience at O2 presented by the Co-operative, in association with OOM Gallery will be showcasing an exclusive exhibition of 38 rare photographs celebrating legendary black musicians working in the UK.

    Using a simple camera photographer Pogus Caesar followed the musicians and singers around the famous venues producing a collection that celebrates a style of black music that brings together the UK, the US and the Caribbean.

    From Stevie Wonder in 1989, Grace Jones in 2009 and Big Youth in 2011, this unique exhibition documents how black music, in its Reggae, Soul, Jazz and R&B tributaries of sound, has changed and renewed itself over the decades.

    Journeying from Jimmy Cliff to Jay-Z via Mica Paris and Mary Wilson of The Supremes to David Bowie’s bass player Gail Ann Dorsey, these images conjure up an alphabet of the music of the Black Atlantic.
    The photographs selected from OOM Gallery Archive are also as much about the clubs and venues, as it is about the singers, producers and musicians. The Wailers at The Tower Ballroom, Sly Dunbar at The Hummingbird Club, Courtney Pine at Ronnie Scott’s, Cameo at the Odeon Cinema, Ben E. King at the Hippodrome and Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B at BBC Pebble Mill, many venues now lost to regeneration or renewal, and only recalled through memory and imagery.

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