Live jazz in London
I haven't been to a huge amount of live entertainment, thus far on my trip. But tonight, I was in for a treat: Max and Joel took Jack and myself out to a club in London's West End, which is famous for its all-star line-up of Monday night jazz music. Apparently, the place is crowded and sleazy (and the music sucks) on other nights. But every Monday, they have this setup where a great band — comprised of some of England's best-known jazz musicians — play for an hour or two; and then, they hand over the floor to amateur musicians, which is anyone who's walked in the door (with their instrument, preferably), and who is willing to get on stage and to join in, improv style. No cover charge, either. This is a great show, and it's also clearly a huge opportunity for aspiring musicians to get themselves heard. Anyone's welcome, but the night is certainly first and foremost "by musicians, for musicians".
The main band consisted of: two saxophonists (who were comically competitive with each other on-stage); one double-bass player; one keyboardist; one jazz guitarist; and one drummer. They performed sensationally well, clearly doing spontaneous improv for the majority of the time, and clearly enjoying themselves as much as we enjoyed hearing them. Once they handed over the stage to the amateurs, the show continued to be sensational, both in quality and in variety. Some of the amateurs took over the original instruments; but we also saw a whole bunch of new instruments hit the stage, including a trumpet, a flute, and even a few vocals. Seems that this single event really is one of the hubs of the jazz community in London: it's where professionals play; it's where amateurs have a voice; and it's where talent-seekers are on the prowl.
The four of us got there nice and early — about 8:30pm — so we managed to grab an excellent front-row table and seats, and to catch the music almost from the beginning. The place was almost empty when we walked in; but an hour later, it was nearly full, and people were already fighting for a space to sit down on the floor (let alone on a chair!). The atmosphere was very friendly: clearly, everyone was there for the music; whether it be to create it, to critique it, or just to listen and to enjoy it. However, the beer was also well worth coming for: once again, plenty of great stout English pints, and quite a few not-yer-average-brew Belgian blends available on tap, as well.
All up, one of the best nights out I've had in a while, and great company — both old and new. I even managed to catch the tube home before it closed down — which was just as well, because if I'd had to catch a taxi in London, I think that'd be the budget blown for the next 4 months of my trip!