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Live Jazz in Glasgow – Alison Eales

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Guest blogger Alison Eales writes about Glasgow’s regular jazz sessions in this week’s blog, and finds a dynamic scene which features a mix of trad, mainstream, and modern jazz styles across the city, both indoors and in the city’s outdoor public spaces. One of her main findings is the growth of a younger jazz scene which encourages musicians to play more modern styles of music, and part of the blog post explores the reasons for this emerging trend.

This post looks at some of the regular jazz sessions which take place in Glasgow’s bars, pubs and public spaces on a weekly or monthly basis, and which are free to attend.  Most of these sessions are included in the fringe programme of Glasgow Jazz Festival each year.  Various types of jazz are covered, from trad through to more modern styles, to sessions with a slightly broader remit touching on funk and Latin sounds.  Not covered here are ticketed jazz gigs: a notable omission, therefore, is the Bridge Jazz series, run by Bill Kyle (owner of Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar).  Supported by Creative Scotland, Bridge Jazz brings modern jazz acts from all over the world to Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as showcasing local talent.  Its Glasgow gigs are usually on Thursday evenings at the Art Club.  Another recent development not covered in this article is a new ‘Jazz in the Afternoon’ series at the Tron Theatre.

This post is accompanied by a video of some of the sessions covered (to see which clip is in which venue, see the video information on YouTube):-

There is also the following map which shows the locations of the venues (click on the blue icon for a general overview of the venues; clicking on the red markers will give you further information about each venue):-

Trad Jazz Sessions

For the purposes of this post, ‘trad jazz’ needs a broad interpretation, since the bands who frequent Glasgow’s popular sessions are generally not New Orleans purists.  These bands often have a typical ‘trad jazz’ line-up including banjo, clarinet etc., but incorporate later big band-style songs and standards alongside a ragtime or Dixieland repertoire.  The sessions at which they play typically take place in city centre bars on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and tend to draw an older audience, with the majority of attendees perhaps in their 50s-70s.  There is usually a good gender mix – in fact, it is not unusual for there to be slightly more women than men.  People will often get up and dance (if there is room!).

Avant Garde (formerly Laurie’s) has been refurbished fairly recently, and its new, modern decor is in keeping with other bars nearby.  Its Saturday afternoon jazz sessions, however, predate the refurbishment – the six-piece trad band have been resident here for years.  Led by Dave Wilson (a well-known banjoist, pianist and piano tuner) until his death in 2013, their line-up is augmented by a bluesy female singer for some numbers; she is one of only a tiny number of female performers to appear at any of the sessions mentioned in this piece, and perhaps even the only one who performs regularly.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is generally known for rock and indie/alternative music.  Each Saturday afternoon, however, Penman’s Jazzmen – one of Glasgow’s longest-established and best-loved jazz bands – take over the downstairs bar.  On one occasion I got chatting to a gentleman, perhaps in his early 60s, who had travelled from East Kilbride to come to this session, bemoaning the lack of live music in his home town.  Before leaving, I pointed to a Belle and Sebastian poster on the wall and told him that I once saw Dave Wilson’s Uptown Shufflers supporting them in Dunoon.  Not to be outdone, he told me that he once saw The Rolling Stones supporting Acker Bilk on the Isle of Man.

At The Three Judges’ Sunday afternoon sessions, music is provided by either Muldoon’s Ragtime Band – who also have a Saturday afternoon residency at MacSorley’s – or The Witnesses.  This session is always extremely busy: turn up at 3pm and you are unlikely to get a seat; turn up early to get a seat and you are likely to displace a regular.  Along one side of the pub, close to where the band play, there is usually a core of people who seem to know each other well.  One afternoon, the whole pub was treated to sandwiches and sausage rolls brought in by someone celebrating a birthday.

Glasgow’s trad jazz sessions are remarkable in terms of their popularity and warmth.  On a good day, dropping in to one feels almost like crashing a party: many attendees are long-standing regulars, mingling from table to table, chatting to old friends.

Modern Jazz Sessions

In terms of more modern and mainstream jazz – again, terms which require broad interpretation – there appear to be two scenes in Glasgow, characterised by a generational difference, but with a substantial overlap.  Certain modern sessions attract a generally older audience (though younger than the trad sessions), perhaps in their 40s-60s.  Whilst there is still a good gender balance, it is often the case that there are more men than women.

On the first Saturday of each month, Ubiquitous Chip hosts a jazz lunch in its downstairs restaurant.  From 1pm til 4pm, a set menu is offered, accompanied by live music – typically a trio or quartet playing standards.  The jazz lunch is popular enough that booking in advance is advised, yet the music itself is a notably unintrusive element of the event, played at a low enough volume that diners are able to converse.  Even without amplification, the venue’s high ceiling, brick walls and cobbled floor allow sound to travel.

Perhaps one of the most prolific jazz musicians in Glasgow, saxophonist Michael Deans has a Thursday night residency at the Beer Cafe, a modern bar adjacent to the City Halls. Deans’ repertoire depends in part on the line-up of his band – again, typically a trio or quartet – which varies from week to week.  Keyboardist Pete Johnstone brings a funk/prog edge to the band when he brings his Hammond (or, at least, his Nord) along.  On other occasions, the band adopt a more Latin sound.  Deans also plays with a quintet each Sunday in the Whisky Bar at Òran Mór, all dark wood and low light with casks mounted behind the bar.  It is not unknown for impromptu trad jazz sessions to take place here.  The layout of the bar is not ideal, however: the band are squeezed into a corner close to the toilets, with a seating booth immediately in front, acting as a sort of barrier between them and the rest of the bar.

In the past few years, a number of new modern sessions have sprung up in Glasgow.  These sessions tend to feature younger musicians, attract a younger crowd (perhaps in their 20s-40s), and, as with the trad sessions, there is usually a good gender balance.  These sessions are generally later and louder than those mentioned above (with the possible exception of the Beer Cafe).

Jazz at The 78, which takes place every Sunday night, has become one of the venue’s most popular events.  The resident trio are pianist Tom Gibbs, bassist Euan Burton and drummer Stu Brown, with many local and visiting musicians sitting in.  It is always busy and it can be challenging finding a seat, especially close to the band.  This is one of the Glasgow’s louder jazz sessions, not just in terms of the amplification of the band, but also in the volume of conversation and applause.

One of the most recent additions to The Halt Bar’s calendar of live entertainment is a Saturday afternoon jazz session.  The band, whose membership varies from week to week, will typically play two sets.  During the first set, they generally stick to standards; after a short break, they will play a louder and more uptempo set, the numbers more modern, the solos more exuberant.  Another of the newer sessions, Jazz at Slouch is similar to the 78 sessions – usually busy, perhaps surprisingly so for a late Tuesday night session.  Similarly, the Wednesday night session at The Rio Cafe (usually hosted by bassist Brodie Jarvie or guitarist Allan McKeown) starts at 9pm but still draws a decent crowd.

The emergence of these ‘younger’ modern jazz sessions may be connected to the establishment of the BMus in Jazz at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, led by Tommy Smith.  The course admitted its first cohort in 2009; Jazz at the 78 predates this by two years, but the sessions at Slouch and the Halt are more recent (having been established in 2012 and 2013 respectively).  The course’s intake is intentionally small, but its students are encouraged to seek as much work on the local scene as possible in order to build experience and contacts, accounting for a small increase in the supply of jazz musicians in the city.  That there appears to be sufficient demand to accommodate them is very promising – even late on a Sunday or weekday evening, their sessions attract a lively and appreciative audience.

Jazz in public spaces

In October 2013, as part of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau’s ‘People Make Glasgow’ campaign, the St Enoch Centre begun to play host to live entertainment in order to bring people in for early evening shopping.  An empty retail unit on the ground floor was used as a space for stand-up comedy, whilst on the first floor, an area alongside large advertising hoardings and a stall selling art prints became an impromptu jazz stage.  Tuts’ resident trad band, Penman’s Jazzmen, were one act to play here.  Representing the more modern end of the spectrum – with particular leanings towards funk and fusion – were the Marco Cafolla Trio.  The band can be found playing in various bars around Glasgow during the week, and also played in Central Station as part of the 2013 Glasgow Jazz Festival, as part of a continuing initiative to provide live music on the station concourse on Friday evenings.

Glasgow also has its share of buskers, of course, though the weather is not always suited to playing outdoors.  I once encountered the gentleman in the video assembling his clarinet on the Subway.  “I’m just cleaning it,” he announced unconvincingly to the carriage, before launching into ‘Stranger on the Shore’.

Blowing changes

Whilst the most consistently busy jazz sessions in Glasgow still lean towards the trad/big band end of things, there does appear to be an exciting shift in progress.  Opportunities are arising for younger musicians to play more modern styles of music (indeed, these musicians are actively creating their own opportunities to do so), and the resulting sessions are proving popular with a younger audience.  The reputation of these sessions extends beyond Glasgow: Jazz at the 78 was recently featured in a list article detailing interesting things to see and do in the city (The Halt Bar and Òran Mór are also mentioned in the article, though not for their jazz sessions).

It will be interesting to observe how these sessions develop as further cohorts of young jazz musicians emerge from the Conservatoire.  It will also be interesting to see how many more such sessions this younger scene can and will sustain.

 Alison Eales

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7 thoughts on “Live Jazz in Glasgow – Alison Eales

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  1. Do you know of anyone who could use an extensive library of jazz CD’s as a friend is hoping that they should go to someone who would appreciate them.

  2. I’m real sorry to see the demise of trad jazz in the ‘Three Judges’. I think that a lot of folks will miss it (i take the bar takings are down). Is that the end of the ”Witnesses”?

  3. Hi apologise this might not be the right place for this,but we are looking for a trad jazz trio/quartet (non singing) band to play at our wedding, we are having great difficulty finding one especially as we are based in Kent and the wedding is in Pollockshields Burgh Hall.
    Any suggestions extremely welcome

  4. great post alison.

    we got to the RECIRD FACTORY in byres road 2-5pm on sats. 17 piece band and a male singer.

    my parents tend to like trad jazz so if any other suggestions, esp for weekend daytimes, please let me know. thanks.

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