(Updated, August 2021. Everything stopped during the pandemic of course – the notes below indicate who has got going again. Have preserved the old bits for interest. Will update further as things develop, possibly…)
A Londoner at heart, I still think of Bristol as a small place where it’s easy to track down the jazz. Still, we’ve acquired a few new venues over the last year or two, so maybe it’s helpful to say a few things about what is on offer at the ones I’ve sampled to add to the comments in individual posts. Links to current listings on RH side of this page.
This isn’t comprehensive, you can hear music of diverse kinds in *lots* of pub rooms in the city, but I think these are the main ones. I like to actually listen to my music, so there is some mention here of how easy that is to do in comfort.
The wonderful old church just off Park Street is the best space in the city for listening to top quality music of all kinds. Musicians love it. Can hold 600 or so, which is enough for all but the very biggest jazz names. SInce we’ve been in town I’ve heard Mike Gibbs, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Fred Hersch, Tomasz Stanko, The Bad Plus, Phronesis and more there. The acoustics are superb, and you’ll often hear people play unmiked, which is great as long as the drummer is adaptable. They sometimes miss out on tours you wish they could buy into because the venue has no subsidies, but their programme is always worth combing through. A fine venue which has just opened an upgrade and extension to the building that gives it a fine new foyer and a new performance space for smaller events. post COVID update: All systems go again. website
Nice new foyer with a couple of concert spaces attached which now need their own refurb. I find the big (2000) hall unatmospheric sometimes and the small (200) one can have muddy sound but on a good day they both work well enough. Enterprising programming recently for the small hall, (Anthony Braxton, Sun Ra and Kamasi Washington, all in 2015!). Also the indispensable hub of the new Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, when the place comes alive in the first weekend in March. Closing soon for a major makeover, and there’s talk of a new, specialised jazz space in the basement… Meanwhile, there are also occasional free foyer gigs in the evenings – which would be great if there was anywhere comfortable to sit in the space, and if it did not suffer from an architecturally inept front door which admits a large blast of cold air when anyone enters or leaves the building. Perhaps remedy that before splashing out on the rest of the old place, folks? It would make a real difference I reckon.
post COVID update Colston remains closed, apart from the foyer, for a major refit of the old building. The whole thing is taking longer than planned, and costing a horrific amount more because of problems with the site that – like the fall of the Afghan government – could not have been foreseen by anyone (unless they had experience of remaking old buildings, perhaps). A management and oversight fiasco, in short. I suppose the place will open again one day and we’ll all say it’s great, but for £100m we could surely have had a completely new concert hall, and change. Or a purpose built small venue in each part of Bristol. But history, and lack of imagination, rule in these decisions. And the foyer door is still rubbish.
Those are the two spaces for special events (though also worth keeping an eye on the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon). The rest are the ones for the weekly fix.
The BeBop Club, at the Bear in Hotwells. Friday night gigs all year, save for a summer break.
post COVID update – now at the Hen and Chicken in Southville, and on Thursdays. Much better. Dates here.
Mainly local line-ups with the odd touring band. A devoted jazz audience who listen hard, an advantage not to be underestimated. The other-worldly economics of jazz mean you can often hear world class music here for a few quid, and sit as close as if you were in your front room. When the audience turnout is small, it can feel a little forlorn, but on a good night it’s a great space.
The Fringe in Clifton. post COVID update Another back room here, and was even smaller than the Bear’s. So Fringe Jazz have restarted at the Bristol Music Club on St Paul’s Road, on Wednesdays. Dates here.
However… The Fringe themselves are also hosting a new monthly jazz gig of their own “in the round”. Not sure what that means in terms of set-up but sounds promising. First Tuesday of the month, with details on their FB page.
Expect to see a mix of Bristol bands and classy out of towners. Prices a little higher here, but the new venue has a good piano, something other clubs generally lack.
The Hen and Chicken, Southville. Just round the corner from the Tobacco Factory, this is where long standing Bristol scene-maker Ian Storror runs his classy promotions these days. Yes, it’s still a pub back room, but a really big one, with decent stage and systems. Plenty of space and a good place to listen to music in reasonable comfort – can get a bit stuffy, so dress lightly. The entry cost tends to be a little higher than the other small venues, but you get top notch players for your money. Gigs are intermittent, but well worth keeping up to date with the programme. Really the only place to hear bands who are not big enough to play St George’s or Colston II, but still need a bigger venue than the Be-Bop club – there are lots of these! Look for current dates using the link for Jazz at the Albert.
post COVID update– Ian still laying plans for a restart – venue unknown at the time of writing.
Future Inns, Cabot Circus. Used to have a weekly jazz date programmed by Ian Storror when the hotel opened, but that ceased a while back. Nowadays has a new programmer on Thursday nights. You may hear players who appear at the Fringe, the Be-Bop club and other venues around town, but they feature a lot of high quality touring bands as well, often on their sole visit to Bristol so worth keeping an eye on the listings.
The USP is that the space downstairs from the bar was fitted out as a “proper” jazz club – stage, comfy tables and chairs, nice piano, decent(ish) sound system. Some slightly generic “jazz” pics on the walls remind you it is basically a dull corporate hotel, but what the hell, there’s a good bar and even table service for food and drink if you want. There’s a small charge, usually a bit over fiver. It’s a nice setting and has had some large and enthusiastic crowds. (post COVID update – no news. I’m guessing the hotel may not want to resume gigs post-pandemic, but have no actual info.)
The Canteen, Stokes Croft. This is Stokes Croft Central, ground floor of Hamilton House, with great food and music seven nights a week. Enterprising jazz bookings, most often on Thursday nights or Sunday afternoons. Free entry, often really busy, though not necessarily with people who came for the music. Good place to drop by late at night to see what’s going on. There’s a fortnightly jam session on Mondays. Also check out the Canteen’s stablemates, No 1 Harbourside (address gives location) and the brand new Old Market Assembly (ditto), which have similar music programming. Wardrobe Theatre, in the back of this vast bar, has occasional music gigs as well. (post COVID update – no news here either.)
Old Duke, King Street. I’m not a regular, but a nice pub venue which has been offering jazz -mainly trad and mainstream – for donkeys’ years. Occasional more modern sounds add spice to the programme. Has a two day festival every Summer, too. post COVID update – music yet to return.
Coronation Tap, Clifton. Much-loved Bristol venue, which does well by jazz. Look out especially for occasional nights programmed by local saxophonist James Gardiner-Bateman, who is well connected with most up and coming players on the UK scene. Low on comfort but bags of atmosphere – and a notable selection of ciders. (2018 note – I’ve left this here for old times’ sake, and for cider lovers, but they seem to have given up on the music.)
Alma Tavern, Clifton. Just off Whiteladies Road, and home of the Alma Theatre upstairs. Music, though, happens in the rear of this nice pub, generally on Sunday nights. James Morton and Andy Sheppard have been know to appear here, so keep checking their calendar. Free entry. Expensive food – which is superb.
The Cube. Quirky independent Cinema co-op and arts venue which has lots of left-field music, too – sometimes presented by the rather brilliant Qu Junktions. Some larger musician-led gigs get programmed here, too – and the 80-odd comfy seats and generous stage make it a great venue for the right players.
post COVID update – back in business, AFAIK
Golden Lion, Gloucester Rd. Scruffily atmospheric boozer. Something happening here every night, too. There may be jazz, but there will also be a good many shouty people out to have a good time who aren’t interested in what’s happening on stage. You have to play really loud here to get people’s attention. Not really my kind of place, then, but might be yours… post COVID update –back in business, AFAIK
Behind St Nick’s Market, the Old Fish Market pub has a regular Sunday evening (7.00 start) session, usually with a trio. post COVID update –back in business, AFAIK
I’ve left out a few places I visit rarely, not because they’re not nice but because one advantage of the City is being able to stay local – I can get to most of these venues on foot. There are other fine venues a bit farther afield, notably Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon, and the Widcombe Social Club in Bath, where long-time promoter Nod Nowles is booking some excellent bands, but that’s about it for Bristol.
The situation with gigs and venues obviously remains fluid, so feel free to rectify any omissions in the comments, or email details (jonturney *@* gmail.com) Thanks!