Jazz music can be confusing. A minefield of different types, hard to distinguish from each other and sounds either really good, or very, very bad – with little room in between. It’s both formal and spontaneous. It can mean expensive cocktails in Ronnie Scotts and perfectly timed applauses. But also free expression, romance and a history of cool, tragic heroes. There’s room for all of this in London – a duality Ruth Gibbs is here to helps us navigate.
Even the majority of people who like it don’t often see it live. The heroes of ‘modern Jazz’ that we listen to at home were around over 40 or 50 years ago – creating the legendary records many of us own. But the Jazz scene didn’t stop there. Since moving to South London I’ve become aware of groups of people dedicated to creating a living and breathing music scene right here in the city. They’re young musicians playing jazz, influenced by all that London has to offer.
Jazz Nursery was the first Bring-Your-Own bar I’d ever been to. £10 entry – pay to see the music and BYO booze – they open it for you and provide the glasses. Their original venue in an old railway arch in Southwark helped to set it firmly in a modern context. The venue has jumped ship since, to an actual ship, The Golden Hinde.
Then there’s Kansas Smitty’s, a little basement bar on Broadway Market run by musicians – in part for other musicians as a place to meet and play together, but mostly for anyone who turns up to listen. The vibe is great, so many people seem to know each other and they play unusual records, which they’re always keen to talk about. I open their newsletter every week and scan what’s on to get to the bit at the bottom where they recommend a record. It’s usually chosen by a different member of their extended family with an obscure anecdote, or piece of personal information.
Good Evenings, mostly run by local legend Tom Sankey, who for years has been working overtime to champion young musicians, helping them get gigs and get paid in various venues across South London, is a safe bet. Gigs are as informal as they come, with people there to listen, dance, chat and enjoy great music. Documented by Sankey himself, these beautiful photographs portray a coherent, connected scene of young people paying respect to the history of jazz in fun, creative ways. Have a flick-through and get hold of the listings.
It’s clear that there a lot of very talented young people out there in London playing incredible music, who learned their craft well. Start in one of these places, and you’ll be sure to find it.