Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Tyneside's jazz scene...

Lots happening on the Tyneside Jazz scene! Russell Corbett from Jazz North East shows us round...

"The jazz scene on Tyneside is variously buoyant, in flux and in (terminal?) decline. With Newcastle at its epicentre, venues proliferate, promoters programme apace and a resilient core of musicians continues to reinvent itself, working in new combinations in pursuit of the next gig. Five city centre venues co-exist within earshot of one another (three of them regularly chasing the Friday/Saturday night jazz gig-goer).

Jazz North East, Newcastle’s grant-aided promoter is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. Austerity-era Britain has made securing funding for jazz a precarious business. Audience numbers have been in steady decline – the days of one hundred plus attendances are long gone. The Bridge Hotel, the Lit and Phil and the recently re-opened Jazz Café – the latter two with pianos – offer rooms to the promoter accommodating up to one hundred people. The recent award of an Arts Council grant will see Jazz North East survive into next year. The Lit and Phil has its own jazz programme with a monthly lunchtime session promoted by pianist Paul Edis a noticeable success. The Jazz Café, on Pink Lane, presents jazz on a commercial basis, with regular jam sessions, workshops and gigs featuring the best of the area’s musicians and selected touring bands.

A recent development has been the acquisition of a public house by Newcastle’s Jazz Co-op. The Globe on Railway Street, purchased by means of a share issue, enables the Co-op to promote events across the spectrum. These activities are inevitably in competition with other city centre venues – the Jazz Café, the Lit and Phil and the very successful soul jazz bar Hoochie Coochie. The latter’s clientele regularly part with upwards of forty pounds to hear high profile names. The proprietor has been rewarded with sell outs of three hundred or so people (all standing), most recently to hear Roy Ayers. In September the appearance of Soweto Kinch is likely to draw another capacity audience. The Vermont Hotel, a large establishment adjacent to the Bridge Hotel, recently introduced a four-nights-a-week jazz offer. Duos or solo pianists, the quality is consistently high, but so far the Newcastle jazz fan has yet to make the effort. Perhaps the issue is one of perception; a swanky hotel can mean only one thing – ‘cocktail jazz’.

Newcastle is a university town. Thirty thousand plus students live in the city yet very few show up at jazz gigs. At the end of the recent academic term Newcastle University’s final year music students endured the trials and tribulations of their final recitals. In a welcome departure this year some of the jazz students went off campus to perform at the Jazz Café. The occasion was a resounding success. It is a mystery why these talented jazz musicians otherwise absent themselves year round from the local scene.

Towering over the Newcastle jazz scene (literally and metaphorically) is Sage Gateshead. On the south bank of the Tyne, the Norman Foster-designed facility captures the marquee names – Kurt Elling, Ravi Coltrane, Marcus Miller – and, perhaps, fulfills the casual gig-goer’s requirements. The Newcastle/Gateshead jazz community, if such a thing exists, is arguably too small to sustain a multiplicity of venues offering jazz just about every night of the year"

More about the gigs on offer this autumn in Tyneside will follow"                

Russell Corbett 
Jazz North East

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