Jazz does not have a long history in Britain. In fact, up until World War II it was relegated to the occasional performance just before closing in a few restaurants in London. The influx of American servicemen during the war changed matters to the extent tat jazz became accepted as an independent musical genre and small jazz clubs sprang up around the capital.
Jazz clubs in London are now world renowned for their quality and for offering the best in jazz to knowledgeable and demanding patrons. British jazz fans know their jazz so to survive and thrive they have to be first class. Here are the stories of some of the best.
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
Ronnie Scott’s first opened in a small basement in Gerard Street in 1959. It was a dream come true for Scott, who had spent all his money 12 years earlier at the age of 20 on a jazz-inspired trip to the United States, and his friend Pete King; but without a £1,000 loan from Scott’s stepfather to pay for the lease, the club would not have been possible.
The opening night featured the Tubby Hayes Quartet but it was not long before Scott and King wanted to bring performers over from the US, then banned by the Musician’s Union. They got their way opening the door for US acts, the first being Zoot Sims.
By 1965, Scott’s had outgrown its venue and with help from promoter Harold Davison to the tune of £35,000, it was able to make the move to Frith Street, since when it has gone from strength to strength, becoming one of the premier jazz clubs in London. With Scott’s death in 1996, King sold the club to impresario Sally Greene.
When Ranald MacDonald established his first Boisdale in Belgravia in 1986 he chose as his theme his great loves: Scotland; whisky; cigars; and, jazz. The younger of Clanranald and the eldest son of the 24th chief and captain of Clanranald, MacDonald saw the restaurant become so successful that there are now three Boisdale restaurants in London, the newest being in Canary Wharf.
Although both exhibit Scottish-themed décor, feature the same menu and share a whiskey collection unmatched anywhere, they could hardly be more different when it comes to atmosphere. While the Belgravia venue is tight and intimate, Canary Wharf is wide and large and can accommodate 200 seated guests.
What they do have in common is the best jazz music in London and a worldwide reputation for excellence, with top jazz artists regularly featured, Boisdale may have a relatively short history, but in that limited time has become a favourite with jazz lovers everywhere.
Another of the oldest jazz clubs in London, the 606 Club started life over 50 years ago at 606 Kings Road. By 1969, with just seven tables and a log fire for heating, it was being run by former actor Steve Cartwright who was the prime force in developing the club as a jazz venue, primarily for home grown artists.
Present owner Steve Rubie took over in 1976 and has not looked back, especially since the move to the current premises, a derelict warehouse near Chelsea harbour, in 1988. The run down surroundings give the club a Bohemian feel that is much appreciated by the patrons who flock in to hear the best of British jazz.