Jazzin’ around: where to get your musical fix in London
For reasons completely unrelated to the fact that one of our tour guides has recently taken up the saxophone, we thought it might be a good idea to point some of the bluesier amongst you in the direction of where to hear the finest live jazz in London. Although people tend to think of Paris and New York, Chicago and Rome as the prime for Mingus-maniacs and Coltrane-converts, London has a rich and world-class scene which can be sampled very cheaply, or even for free, if you know where to look. Take a look at our list of venues below for inspiration.
Ronnie's gets the biggest names, the elite players and has one of the best house bands in the world
Ronnie’s is the premium jazz institution of London. The one everyone talks about, from jazz royalty down to the occasionals just passing through town. It gets the biggest names, the elite players and has one of the best house bands in the world. Named for the its original owner, the famous saxophonist, Ronnie’s became the spiritual home of many of the American GIs who came to Britain during the Second World War. They brought their jazz records with them (in exchange, goes the legend, for permission to dance with the local lasses) thus creating a forum for the music that would inspire generations of British artists. Based in the heart of Soho, Ronnie’s tends to be quite expensive for the main show of the night. The trick is to go after 11pm. You can get in for a fiver for the “late show” and still experience the atmospheric caverns of the club, listen to great music and sample some of the expertly made cocktails. One for the serious jazzheads.
Ain’t Nothin But
I have a soft spot for Ain’t Nothing But. Tiny, noisy, beery, friendly. Though not strictly-speaking a jazz bar, this Kingly Street institution makes the list on the pure enjoyment it provides its animated crowds. You’ll find constant live music here with everything from serious concerts and open mic nights to house bands and audience participation singalongs. The cramped space is made to feel a little roomier by the fantastic murals adorning the walls, as well as the slightly bizarre live projection of the bar and stage on to the wall of the smoking area, presumably intended to allow the smokers to keep up with the fun even when they’re out for a crafty fag.
Pizza Express Live
Sample Coltrane with a calzone, Parker with a pizza...you get the idea.
You’re probably all familiar with Pizza Express, the ever-so-slightly fancy Italian restaurant chain. But you may not know that their location in Soho doubles as a friendly jazz venue. You can listen to Parker while eating pizza, sample Coltrane with a calzone…(you get the picture). Incredibly relaxed - an atmosphere helped along by the simple fact that everyone is eating and listening at the same time - Pizza Express Live takes its bookings seriously: Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones and Gregory Porter have all trodden the boards at this popular location. Live music 7 nights a week for the the more culinarily-inclined.
The Jazz Café in Camden is another serious venue. Part restaurant, part inspired cocktail bar, part intimate concert venue, this is the place to go to see the freshest, most eclectic roster of musicians from the cutting edge of the jazz scene. You can hear jazzy hip hop beats, soulful electronica or full-on brass sections having it out here. Every night is different, a feature which has made it a popular destination for tourists looking for something a little different. Camden is thick with pubs and bars, but this is one of the cooler spots in the area. Check out our Camden Pub Crawl for more like this.
In order to give a bit of geographical balance, we look further afield now to Dalston’s historic jazz bar, Vortex. It makes the list on talent alone as well, providing the nouveau cool of East London with their nightly dose of the good stuff. Now tucked away in Gillet Square, Vortex was originally based up the road in Stoke Newington. For 10 years now it has carved a place for itself in the local music scene, opening a social club and record label to complement the bar. Known as one of the original venues of choice for London mercury-prize nominees Portico Quartet, Vortex is a good choice for people looking for a bit of jazzy respite from the roaring chaos of Kingsland Road.