There are a couple of names that always crop up when discussing Jazz venues in the UK. Perhaps the first off most lips will be Ronnie Scott’s, an establishment synonymous with Jazz since the 1950s, whilst others will mention The Stables, the venue in Barnes founded by Cleo Lane and her husband the late great John Dankworth. Those with more experimental ears will point to The Vortex, the club opened by Babel Label’s Oliver Weinding that’s been so figurative in the new generation of players, or even its immediate neighbour Cafe Oto, a hang out for advocates of Free Jazz and Improv.
There is another spot in the Capital that’s been keeping a light burning for the Jazz community since the 1960s, the 606 Club in Chelsea. First opening its doors at 606 Kings Road, the club was the epitome of Swinging London. Outrageous locals, visiting musicians and passing stars would all frequent the tiny basement, which boasted seven tables and a log fire, the only available heat during the long winter months. Throughout the Seventies and Eighties the club’s support for local musicians was unwavering, and as its renown grew it became clear that relocation was required. In 1988 Steve Rubie, the current proprietor who’d been a customer, performer and even a chef at the club, moved the 606 to the other side of Chelsea to a bigger premises where it’s since flourished.
This year marks 606′s 25th anniversary at its current location, and such is the impact its had on London’s Jazz scene it’s managed to attract an all-star line up of London’s finest to celebrate. A fortnight of shows starting in late May showcase many generations of British talent, all playing in the perfect environment for Jazz.
Ian Shaw is a perennial presence on the Jazz circuit. As well as being a two time winner of the prestigious BBC Jazz Award for Best Vocalist, Shaw is a well known broadcaster, presenting the Ronnie Scott’s Radio Show on Jazz FM and co-hosting the Big Band Special show with fellow singer Claire Martin. Shaw and his quartet play the 606 with another guest vocalist, the inimitable Jacqui Dankworth, who’s added to the rich Jazz legacy left her by parents Cleo and John.
Later in the programme there’s a night of unashamed nostalgia with two bands that represent the rich roll call of musicians who’ve played at the 606 over the years. The Ronnie Scotts All Stars, an ever changing group led by Ronnie’s musical director James Pearson, will warm up for a band put together especially for the evening, the 606 Club Band: Past & Present.
Two pianists with close links to Barclaycard Mercury Prize will also pay tribute to the SW10 institution: Gwilym Simcock and Kit Downes appear on a bill that will set the pulses of British Jazz fans racing. Gwilym appears with his trio, whilst Kit takes to the stage with saxophones Julian Siegel. Were that not a sufficient draw, the evening also promises a performance from one of UK’s most respected musicians, saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
Other highlights include a set from Clark Tracey, son of legendary pianist Stan and a world respected drummer in his own right, Empirical’s smart dressed saxophonist Nathaniel Facey and the inimitable Liane Carol who appears with her trio.
There’s no underestimating the importance of clubs like the 606, which provide an essential platform to an art form that can sometimes struggle to make an impact amongst more mainstream audiences. The strength of the line-up this May is certainly testament to how the club is regarded by the musicians who play and customers who come to listen. Congratulations to all involved in reaching this auspicious milestone, and here’s to the next 25 years!
For more information visit the London Jazz News website