Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jazz in Soho, 1950-1967 - a plea for help

Reminiscences of Soho in the 50s and 60s. 

I am giving a talk in Hamburg in May about jazz in Soho from 1950 (when Club 11 started) to 1967, when Ronnie Scott's Old Place on Gerrard Street closed. If you have any interesting leads or thoughts, please let me know. I have had some lovely memories from John Jack, a reading list from Vortex fan Alan Hayward and more. I'll be further trawling the National Jazz Archive and British Library. (The photo above is of Archer Street, where all the musicians met regularly who were looking for gigs!)

Duncan Heining's book “Trad Dads, Be-boppers and Free Fusioneers” is a must read. It is rather dense at times, making it easy to lose the thread. But definitely worth the persistence to make one realise how vital the scene was. It's probably the time when the music really consolidated over here. Rendell-Carr, SME, The Johnny Dankworth Seven and many, many more are seminal groups in the history of jazz worldwide. We are lucky that many of these musicians are still around to give the scene a creative boost, such as Kenny Wheeler, Evan Parker over here and regular visitors such as Louis Moholo-Moholo.

It's an intriguing time in Soho generally. Perhaps it's finest period? Not just the jazz, but also the night club scene (such as Quaglino's, Oak Room), the artists (Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon hanging out at the Colony Club), the wordsmiths (including the start of Private Eye). Peter Cook's Establishment Club brought over Lenny Bruce and Dudley Moore could be heard playing in the basement most nights.

The jazz was rife. Perhaps the musician leitmotif for this talk is Ronnie Scott. In 1950, he had started Club 11 with John(ny) Dankworth and 1967, when the period of this talk will end, coincides with the end of his Old Place in Gerrard Street. But there's much more. This period also coincides with the ending of the MU ban on US musicians and may well look at the impact of that, the rise of the 60s bands and the pressure it placed on jazz. Joe Harriott was beginning the UK approach to free jazz, while Derek Bailey and John McLaughlin could be heard playing together....

There's already a Google Map on Lost London Jazz Venues which I am constantly updating. While I did a talk last year on that subject, there is a version of the presentation also available here.

My Google map is on

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