Culture Trip takes a look at seven of the best venues in London available for you to appreciate jazz at it’s best.
Ronnie Scott’s, Soho
The list of jazz musicians who have performed on Ronnie Scott’s stage could take up this entire article. If you enjoy the music of artists such as Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie and Miles Davis, then this is the place you should spend your next night out. Heading inside Ronnie Scott’s would indeed mean taking a tour through a place where the history of music has been written and played. A solid reference point in the London jazz scene; this Soho-based club is still a monument even after the death of its founder, the saxophonist Ronnie Scott, in 1959. From its very first location in the basement on Gerrard Street, to the bigger and current location on Frith Street, this jazz house is constantly finding new ways to open itself up to a wider audience. Don’t miss The Late Late Show from Monday to Saturday if new and surprising niche performances are what you’re seeking.
47 Frith St, London W1D 4HT, 020 7439 0747
Ray's Jazz Events at Foyles, Soho
Ray’s Jazz Events at Foyles, Soho
If you’re looking for a different way to enjoy some good music — maybe after work, or whilst having a cup of coffee with a friend, then Ray’s Jazz at Foyles is the place. The Ray’s Jazz has faced many changes since its founder Ray Smith started to spread the jazz music word in the 70s with his vinyl record shop in the basement of a store on Oxford Street. Later on the small shop was moved and sold to Foyles bookshop in 2002 and placed on the first floor of the old Charing Cross Road branch. Today, with its new location, Ray’s Jazz has found a perfect combination to make the transposition of the music it promotes into an immediate live music experience. Just imagine heading into a shop to buy some books and then finding yourself in a totally unexpected situation. During coffee breaks or happy hour this outlet gives you the chance to pop into a jazz concert and take a welcome break from your shopping. Also, as a partner of the EFG London Jazz Festival, the Ray’s Jazz at Foyles is a new way to consecrate Ray Smith’s massive effort to spread jazz music.
Ray’s Jazz Music Section, 2nd floor Foyles Bookshop, 107 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0DT, 020 7437 5660
The Votex Jazz Club in the heart of Dalston | © Steven Cropper – Photo Courtesy The Vortex Jazz Club
The most modern of these venues a jazz-lover should visit is the Vortex Club — just around the corner from the vibrant neighbourhood of Dalston. This contemporary jazz club was founded in 1991 by David Mossman. If different is what you like, make sure you head down to The Vortex, an improv jazz platform for artists to collaborate or share their tips, a place which has something for everyone. Behind the scenes it is a volunteer-supported non-profit organisation, which makes this a particularly vibrant environment accessible to a broader audience. If you’re planning a high-quality music night out at a very affordable price, you should definitely have a look. In 25 years this north-east London venue has launched the careers of successful and accredited bands such as the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Portico Quartet, who recently played at London Jazz Festival. The Vortex offers a great choice of alternative events in its downstairs section, with the London Jazz Sunday Night Session every Sunday till midnight and the gigs, films and DJ nights in the early evening between 7PM and 8.30PM throughout the week.
11 Gillett St, London N16 8AZ, 020 7254 4097
The Jazz Café, Camden
The Jazz Café, Camden
In the heart of the fanciful Camden Town, this year the Jazz Café is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In the past two-and-a-half decades, the names who have stepped onto this stage have made the Jazz Café a champion on the London jazz scene. More attentive to the needs of the Camden neighbourhood audience, mainstream acts such as legendary names Amy Winehouse, Bobby Womack and Grandmaster Flash have all performed there. The Jazz Café gained credit thanks to the American soul singer D’angelo even outside the national borders. Have you ever heard his September 1995 performance that was released as a live album by the EMI records? This eventually made the place known by every R&B and jazz-lover. The old and legendary meets the new at this authentic venue, where the managers are launching the ‘Future Legends’ initiative, to find the best of the best in upcoming talent that will make music history in the next 25 years.
5 Parkway, London NW1 7PG, 020 7485 6834
Bar, European, $$$
Nightjar in Shoreditch is a fun and vibrant speakeasy bar playing a variety of live music, including jazz and blues. If you like soft lighting, intimate seating and showy décor, Nightjar’s 1920s-style setting will not disappoint. Fans of cocktail art should pay a visit too, as each cocktail has been carefully thought out, with stylish glasses and decorations, in addition to some rather unusual ingredients! These dazzlingly creative cocktails and cosy golden lighting form the backdrop for the main event: the music. Nightjar have pulled in an impressive array of acts over the time they have been open, from swing jazz to ragtime to blues, you can guarantee that there will be an act for everyone. It’s worth noting that the Nightjar is seating only, so it is best to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
The Nightjar, 129 City Road, London EC1V 1JB
Based in Chelsea, the 606 Club has received numerous reviews in praise of its delicious food, affordable prices and wonderful live jazz music. As policy the 606 hand picks only British-based artists to perform at the club, making a total of around 10 different bands a week — a number you’d find hard to beat elsewhere. As well as old-style and modern jazz music, you’ll also be able to find RnB and latin influences, making the 606 a venue with something for everyone. The club also offers jazz fans the chance to become a member, with some exclusive benefits available. Given that the club can only serve alcohol with a meal, why not make the most of the evening by having dinner there? There is a range of freshly-cooked dishes available with a European and Middle Eastern influence as well as drinks and hot snacks to share. As the club is so popular, it is advisable to book well in advance, especially for Friday and Saturday night.
606 Club, 90 Lots Road London SW10 0QD, 020 7352 5953
Located in Shoreditch, New Orleans-inspired cocktail bar Nola is well-known for serving relaxing blues, soul and jazz tunes alongside some classic, signature and themed beverages. Its name comes from the abbreviation for ‘New Orleans, Louisiana’, echoed by the style and theme of the bar, including New Orleans-themed cocktails such as the Sazerac. Believed to be the oldest cocktail in America, the Sazerac cocktail (made in the traditional style) is famous among customers and perfect for soaking up the jazz music. It has even been awarded the Seal of the Sazerac! Nola also has a separate cigar menu for its cigar terrace — a quirky twist. So, if you’re looking for a small venue tucked away amongst the more mainstream establishments, Nola is the go-to bar.
Bedroom Bars, 1st Floor, 68 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3AY