More on the clubs...
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More on the clubs...
Part of this page was adapted and edited from a page that Harry Francis wrote some years ago for Ron Simmonds, now defunct, 'jazzprofessional' website. It can now be found in full somewhere on the website of The National Jazz Archive...
Jazz was heard in clubs such as the Nest, the Shim Sham, the Bag O’ Nails, Jigs and the never to be forgotten 43, run by the celebrated Mrs. Kate Merrick and situated in the street destined to become, several decades later, the centre of the new Chinatown of London. This was the club that became subject to more police raids than most in the days when the 'plain clothes' advance guard of the force used to turn up 'disguised' as customers, wearing dinner suits and size 12 boots. Whereupon the stylish small band led by pianist Dave Frost would segue into 'The Policeman’s Holiday', giving the management time to show out through the back exit, a convenient lavatory window, any Royal patrons who happened to be present.

I am not forgetting the early 'rhythm clubs', the first of which was established back in 1933, all of which offered regular though casual employment for musicians, as did the hundreds of one night a week jazz clubs that were established throughout Britain during the early years following World War II. In addition to contributing towards the livelihood of musicians able and willing to play jazz, they made an important contribution to the popularising of jazz in Britain. Indeed, it was during that period that the description 'jazz', which had gone out of favour in the late ‘twenties, was firmly rehabilitated.

In those early post–war years there were few full time clubs established that presented a purely jazz policy and which provided six nights a week employment for musicians, Ronnie Scott’s being about the one exception. The other well appointed clubs, where musicians found employment on two, three, four or more nights each week, were the Feldman, the Flamingo and the Marquee, and there were also jazz clubs run on a casual basis at Mack’s Restaurant, at 100 Oxford Street, on the one night a week policy. One of these I recall was the Humphrey Lyttelton Club, another the London Jazz Club and yet a third was called Jazzshows Jazz Club. There were also the Dankworth Club, which met on two nights each week at 79 Oxford Street, and Studio 51, in Great Newport Street near Leicester Square, which presented Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen on four nights each week.

Ronnie Scott's club, which was first established in Gerrard Street in 1959, not far from the site of the old 43 Club, experienced many early struggles, but its fortunes changed when the Musicians’ Union and the then Ministry of Labour agreed upon a set of conditions which permitted the employment of a limited number of individual foreign musicians in clubs each year, without the necessity for reciprocal exchange arrangements. These conditions, of course, included a stipulation that a specified number of British musicians were to be permanently employed on a six nights a week basis. So far as I can recollect, the only other club management who were able to take advantage of these arrangements were Eric Striven and trumpeter Ernie Garside, a partnership who ran the Manchester Club 43 during the ‘fifties. Garside, however, left Manchester back in 1966 to work with and, in fact, manage the orchestra of that magnificent trumpet technician Maynard Ferguson. By 1966 the Scott Club was able to move to bigger and better premises in Frith Street, where it proved possible to present not only the visiting foreign soloists but also, by arrangement with Harold Davison, entire American orchestras, such as those of Basie, Herman and Rich, as a part of the tours they fulfilled under the reciprocal exchange arrangements.


I visited the Sugar Hill and the Sunset Clubs. the first in St. James and the second in Carnaby Street before it became 'gentrified'. I was a regular at the 51 Club and I recall that the doorman wore a commissioner's hat and was ginger! Weekdays in the evenings I would travel with the Ronnie Scott group to Tottenham, Manor House and other grotty places.Then there were the clubs, not jazz clubs as such, but fun, such as The Gargoyle, The Mandrake, The Collonade, Cabaret, etc. I also went to the Flamingo and the Taboo in Greek Street. (Anon)

The BBC, too, had played its part in winning public interest in jazz, commencing with its war time Radio Rhythm Club, of which Harry Parry’s Sextet, firmly in the Goodman groove, had been the 'house' band, and other programmes that featured the best in British jazz. In its early days around 1941, Parry, on clarinet, was leading George Shearing (piano), Roy Marsh (vibraphone), Frank Deniz (guitar), Sam Molyneux (bass) and Ben Edwards (drums), and a grand sound it was indeed! By 1945 Buddy Featherstonhaugh was leading his Radio Rhythm Club Sextet, which comprised himself on tenor, Don McCaffer (trombone), Malcolm Lockyer (piano), Alan Metcalf (guitar), Reg Beard (bass) and Stan Marshall (drums) but, by 1949, the Radio Rhythm Club had been superceded by Mark White’s Jazz Club, from which the BBC extracted some choice tracks for one of their published albums a few years The personnel of one of these comprised Jack Jackson (trumpet), Sid Phillips (clarinet), Harry Gold (tenor), Nobby Clark (trombone), Billy Munn (piano), Jack Llewellyn (guitar), Will Hemmings (bass) and Max Abrams (drums), whilst another consisted of Freddy Randall (trumpet), Cliff Townshend (clarinet), Laurie Gold (tenor), Geoff Love (trombone), Dill Jones (piano), Vic Lewis (guitar), Hank Hobson (bass) and the worthy Max again driving things along from the drum stool.
Yet another driving BBC group, a broadcast of which was also recorded, but some fourteen years later, was the Jazz Club All Stars, the line up being Tommy McQuater (trumpet), George Chisholm (trombone), Cliff Townshend (clarinet), Jimmy Skidmore (tenor), Billy Munn (piano), Joe Muddell (bass) and Eddie Taylor (drums).


The drummer Leon Roy had a regular weekly gig in a place known as The Jungle along Tottenham Court Road. Leon was the brother of actress Shani Wallis. Every great West Indian player that ever hit London was in that band, including the trumpeter Pete Pitterson, with Sammy Walker and George Tyndale in the saxes. I believe that Leon, Johnny Keating, Derek Neville, the baritone player, and myself were the only white people in the building. The place was dimly lit, packed out, and unbelievably hot. The people stood so close to one another in front of the band that you could have walked over their heads. A closer look at them would reveal that they were all, without exception, stoned right out of their skulls.
Leon had a big library of scores from the new Dizzy Gillespie big band. Someone had taken all of Dizzy's solos down from the records, note for note. There were about twenty of them at the time. Just putting your head in the band room in the intervals. was enough to make you high. The police were hot on the tail of musicians smoking and some of the guys were getting busted all the time. Derek Neville didn’t hang around much after that band folded. He emigrated to Australia and became a taxi driver in Melbourne. (Ron Simmonds) more...


Does anyone remember The Blue Lagoon, if I remember it was just off Oxford St? I remember the night that Dinah Washington and her pianist Beryl Booker played there I think it must have been 1959. The Dill Jones trio were playing that night. When Dinah came on stage ( very small) she dispensed with the microphone and had all the lights turned on. It was absolutely terrific, I think one of the best nights I've spent in a jazz club.
Another short lived club was Benny Green's " Jazz City" in Tottenam Court Rd. (Fred Elwell)
Double bass player Spike Heatley adds "I was with Dill Jones` trio at the time and we also accompanied Helen Merrill and Abbey Lincoln at the same venue subsequently, the Blue Lagoon sadly, was very short lived but was great whilst it lasted."
Harry Monty adds: "I certainly remember The Blue Lagoon. I was lucky enough to have gone there twice - can't remember who was playing the first time but the second time was when Helen Merrill was appearing and invited Dinah Washington up to sing. That was a fantastic night!!! The Blue Lagoon was located in Carnaby Street before it became famous as the fashion centre of London.


This page was last updated during November, 2015.
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