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.