So, farewell to Jazz at Future Inns. There’s one jazz gig to go at the Ian Storror managed venue down at Cabot Circus (and last night’s Andy Sheppard date sold out), but other engagements mean our last visit was for Django a La Creole a week or so ago now.
That was a hugely enjoyable night – music with a smile on its face. Leader Evan Christopher combines a scholarly knowledge of Hot Club and New Orlean styles with a tremendous verve performing them and has a really beautiful sound on clarinet. Everything he played – from Morton to Bechet to Ellington to Reinhardt – sounded simply gorgeous. The whole thing reminded me of a night when a friend took me to hear the great Paulo Moura in Rio – more than 10 years ago (sigh). Moura, who died last year, was a more versatile player, but had a similarly ravishing tone on an instrument which few play really well. And, like so much else, it sounded especially good down in the basement at Future Inns.
A nice memory to take away, but impossible not to feel a a little downcast by the demise of the club. It had a great feel from the off, a bit less than two years ago. We have been over 30 times since – but not enough others did the same, apparently. A shame, as it brought a continuing stream of great musicians to the city. A partial listing of highlights includes Tim Whitehead, Peter King, Michael Janisch, Killer Shrimp, Jonathan Gee, Phronesis, Don Weller, Phil Robson…
Jazz musicians in that echelon, world class but not world stars (there are a lot) are where the economics get tricky. Provincial jazz clubs divide roughly into two kinds. There are musician run clubs which provide a space to play and the performers get door money (The Be-Bop club is ours in Bristol). These can run forever and are usually small (40-odd punters is a crowd at the Bear) and not worthwhile for out-of-towners. Then there are enthusiast run venues which put on fewer dates, say one a month, and rely on 60-80 people to pay a decent entry fee so they can bring in classy visitors – Cheltenham has one of those.
A few fortunate, larger cities have have one or two venues which manage to do this kind of thing more often – Manchester is probably best placed outside London just now. But making this work with one or even two gigs a week is hard, and it looks like Bristol – at around 500,000 – isn’t big enough to make it happen.
That says something about the place of jazz in the musical life of a city which certainly doesn’t lack places to play or people to fill them – though a good proportion of what they’ll hear is one variety or another of dull music for drinkers. Also, I think, something about corporate support for the arts (lack of). Future Inns is a pretty damn big (150 rooms) hotel. What does a jazz club need? Not a lot: A bit of room in the basement. A decent piano, kept in tune. A PA and sound desk, but nothing fancy. And a smart booker/manager. We had everything in place there for a while, and the sad thing is the number of visiting musicians who were visibly boosted by having such a nice place to play.
Granted, the audience had shrunk since the end of last year, but it is pretty dismal that the powers that be at Future Inns did not stick with the venture for the three years they supposedly signed up for. Still, it was a small good deed while it lasted.