Welcome, Visitor Number

13 April 2017


Let me tell you about a visit I made recently to a jazz club here in England. It was interesting because it said a lot about the state of traditional jazz in the United Kingdom – and probably about the state of jazz in many countries.

The 'Club' itself was actually a sub-section of a Social Club which has existed for almost 40 years. It is housed in an impressive building. The hall used for entertainments is large and well equipped with tables and comfortable chairs. It has a decent full-width stage with a permanent and very good P.A. system. There is a bar selling drinks and light refreshments.

The club puts on a traditional jazz night once a month but I learned from posters that there were other kinds of entertainment (bingo and solo artists mainly) at other times.

On the night when I attended, the performing band was a well-known six-piece group from 40 miles away. It was hard-working and played two sets of an hour each, mixing classics from King Oliver, Armand Piron and Jabbo Smith with well-known standards and even a couple of comic numbers for light relief. Three members of the band provided vocals.

The performance began punctually at the advertised time - 8.30pm. It ended a few minutes after 11pm. 

The band's programme was efficiently prepared: there was hardly any delay between tunes. In all it played about 12 tunes in each set. 

The audience paid £7 each for admission (£6 for club members) and there was a raffle with a prize draw during the interval.

Talking with some members of the audience, I discovered they were serious traditional jazz lovers, genuinely interested and knowledgeable. 

So far, so good. But here are some points of concern.

The audience consisted of only 27 men and 22 women and it seemed to me that all of them were above the age of 65. In fact, most appeared to be closer to 80. There were a few couples but mostly they were people who arrived on their own. My guess is there were quite a few widows and widowers among them. I suppose the club provided an escape from loneliness. They could enjoy a drink and a chat with friends and listen to some gratifying music. 

And what about the band? The audience was told it was formed in 1986, and there had been changes of personnel with the passage of time. The musicians were in the same age group as the audience. One or two of them were probably over 80. 

I could not help wondering what the situation will be in 10 years from now. With no sign of young blood re-invigorating either the audience or the band, will such concerts be a thing of the past? 

I also noticed that by 10pm some in the audience had their eyes closed and their heads were drooping. It seemed to me that two or three might even have been asleep! This was in spite of the fact that the music was lively enough. Around 10.15pm, a few stood up, put on their coats and headed for home, even though the concert was scheduled to continue until 11pm. 

This particular club is in the middle of a built-up area and I noticed that most arrived on foot. Obviously they lived close by. Only a few came by car. Even so, the dozing and the early-departing people reminded me of a point I have often made before. I think it is much more sensible for such jazz clubs to hold concerts in lunch hours, when the elderly audiences and the musicians are not yet tired and much more willing to be out.

It is all very well for the Frenchmen Street clubs of New Orleans to be in full swing at midnight. But the situation is totally different there. The audiences are young, on holiday, and looking for a good time. The musicians, too, are young and accustomed to the nocturnal life-style.
Midnight on Frenchmen Street
But where jazz is provided in such venues as this one I recently went to in England, the audiences are elderly and the club is in effect providing a social service. I think it makes more sense to have lunchtime or afternoon concerts, with good hot meals on sale as well.

If the performance really must be in the evening, I think the start and finish times should be earlier. Elderly people would be happier starting at 7pm and ending by 10pm. For the musicians, too, tired at the end of the gig, this would reduce the amount of late-night travel.