Celebrating 15 years of the Spice of Life – 6th November till midnight

That pianist does look familiar – Congratulations to Paul Pace who has been promoting at the Spice of Life for 15 years. He writes:

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Paul Pace writes:

On Wednesday 6th November, I will have been promoting live jazz in its myriad of forms from traditional, swing, contemporary, funk and occasionally ‘improv’ at the Spice of Life pub in Soho for 15 years. We have presented a huge variety of musical outfits from solo performers to 20-piece big bands! Countless musicians have passed through the ‘Spicejazz’ portals encompassing those at the beginning of their careers and others more established with a fair sprinkling of British jazz legends such as Jim Mullen, Mike Garrick, Frank Holder, Kenny Wheeler, Peter King, Stan Sulzmann, Tommy Whittle, Barbara Jay, Art Themen, Don Weller, Mike and Kate Westbrook, Evan Parker and Harry Beckett along with US sax heavyweights Seamus Blake and Jim Snidero, masterful pianist Darius Brubeck, and a taste of New York jazz cabaret with Marlene Verplanck and Daryl Sherman. A number of performers such as Jamie Cullum, Soweto Kinch, the Puppini Sisters and James Hunter played some of their early gigs at the Spice and are now well established on the world circuit. A crowning moment was the visit last year of Wynton Marsalis. The Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra were in residence at the Barbican and a handful of his musicians including trumpeter Terell Stafford were guesting with the Guildhall Big Band directed by Martin Hathaway at the Spice. This was a heady enough atmosphere for a jazz fan to contemplate prior to Mr Marsalis dropping by and gently leading his quorum of JLCO musicians through a brace of standards before soloing with the Guildhall Big Band on Ellington’s ‘A Drum Is A Woman’ suite.

It’s a strange feeling to have stuck with something for so long but maybe I should not be surprised since the promotion of jazz particularly in its live form has been a passion of mine since my student days in the 70s.  With my central London flat as a base, and having contracted the ‘jazz bug’ a few years earlier, I was determined to experience as much live jazz as was humanly possible. At that time, there was a healthy ‘grassroots’ scene which existed mainly in pubs alongside some imaginative programming by the Jazz Centre Society in three regular London venues – the Phoenix in Cavendish Square, Seven Dials Community Centre and the Architectural Association. The cornerstone of the scene, as it is now, was Ronnie Scott’s and along with seeking out musical adventures in the less auspicious but worthy venues, armed with my student membership I was able to visit Ronnie’s often and be in the company of musical icons such as Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Anita O’Day, Chet Baker, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Zoot Sims, Freddie Hubbard, Nina Simone and Buddy Rich. Looking back, this period seems part of an incredible dream.

  It was these visits to Ronnie’s and later to the Bass Clef set up in Hoxton by bassist Peter Ind in the 80s that became the inspiration in my own jazz promotion endeavors. To be in an intimate space with good acoustics, close-up to the performers and to feel the emotion and sound in one’s own body and intellect can be nothing short of magical, an experience heightened when in a room of like-minded souls. Recalling vivid moments when all these elements converged, the interplay within the classic quartet of pianist Cedar Walton featuring a constantly beaming Billy Higgins on drums, David Williams on bass and the gritty New York tenor sax of Bob Berg, yearly visitors to Ronnie’s, became almost a ‘jazz archetype’ to my mind, of how the music should be presented.

Fast forward to September 1998, and following an extensive search for a suitable room for jazz in a good location, I was directed by a market trader in Earlham Street in Covent Garden to the Spice of Life pub, an elegant Victorian brick and stucco building situated next to the Palace Theatre (‘Les Miserables’ was playing there at the time), just on the fringe of Cambridge Circus and half a minute’s walk from Ronnie Scott’s. I approached the manager Brian McEvoy who showed me the basement bar, an angular space containing two levels with a 100 capacity and a long bar to the far side of the entrance doors which instantly felt right as a space for the music. I could see that this quirky room could gain an intimacy and atmosphere evoking the world’s best jazz clubs.

Our inaugural night on Wednesday 4th November 1998 featured pianist Jenny Carr, bassist Jerome Davies and drummer Jonathan Lee accompanying the highly versatile singing talents of Rachael Calladine and Victoria Newton resplendent in brightly coloured ‘Spice girl’ wigs! However, the premises did not possess a music licence and so in keeping with legislation at the time, we were restricted to having no more than two performers playing at any one time. Consequently, musical aggregations were generally duos or trios at the most.

After running a fairly successful run of gigs at the Spice for two years, It was noticed by an enlightened area manager from McMullens the brewers and owners of the Spice, that the live music suited the room and was an excellent way of attracting customers to the downstairs bar. A music licence was obtained, the room refurbished and a piano purchased. The number of nights for live jazz was stepped up from one to two, namely Wednesdays and Thursdays and most importantly, took the restriction off the sizes of the bands.  Incoming manager Andy Ranum also brought in promoters of other musical genres for the other nights and thus helped establish the Spice as a serious music venue for all tastes.

Wednesday nights have had vocal emphasis which is typically a ‘name’ guest vocalist backed by a piano trio, often led by Barry Green performing in the main set. Featured guests have included such top singers as Anita Wardell, Jamie Cullum, Lee Gibson, Rachael Calladine, Victoria Newton, Trudy Kerr, Joe Stilgoe, Craig Schneider, Anton Browne, Iain Mackenzie, Pete Churchill, Nina Ferro, Cecilia Stalin, Frank Holder, TJ Johnson, James Hunter, the Puppini Sisters, Barbara Jay, Marlene VerPlanck, Daryl Sherman, Malene Mortensen, Fini Bearman, Emilia Mårtensson, Emma Smith, Annabel Williams, Nia Lynn and Natalie Williams.

Thursday nights are ‘band nights’ and have featured jazz in its broadest sense from the straight-ahead swing of the Alan Barnes Quartet, via the guitar virtuosity of Jim Mullen, Carl Orr, Deirdre Cartwright, Cameron Pierre and Andrea Quintarelli, the high energy of the Gareth Lockrane Septet, established and rising stars of the scene such as vibists Jim Hart and Lewis Wright, trombonists Trevor Mires, Tom White and Tom Green and saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Dave O’Higgins and Brandon Allen, trumpeters Abram Wilson, Gabriel GarrickSteve Fishwick and Quentin Collins, pianists Geoff Eales and Rick Simpson, bassists Gary Crosby and Jeremy Brown, drummers Winston Clifford and Jon Scott through to the freer outreaches of the music with the improvising titan Evan Parker. Other jazz influenced genres generously represented have been fusion, jazz-rock, funk and afro-beat represented by the likes of London Horns, The Engine, Soul Immigrants, MTHeadz, Jazz Proof and Seeds of Creation.

We have enjoyed may fruitful collaborations with other jazz organisations such as with Gary Crosby and Janine Irons of Dune Music who ran a Tomorrow’s Warriors session twice a month, thus providing a fertile nurturing environment for young musicians. J’Noir Nights curated by Priscilla Ometan brought a fresh insight to the scene with her monthly nu-jazz and spoken work events, as did the young multi-genre Chaos Collective comprising a multitude of projects presented by a core of students from the Trinity Laban jazz course and headed by trumpeter Laura Jurd, pianist Elliot Galvin and drummer Corrie Dick. SE Collective, based in New Cross also brought a stimulating contemporary programme to the Spice earlier this year. The most recent collaboration has been with the Czech Centre through which top artists from the Czech Republic such as pianist Emil Viklický are present throughout the year.

Current monthly residencies include Vando Jazz Jam hosted by saxophonist and Vandoren Reeds endorsee Matt Telfer on the first Thursday of each month where the core band play an hour set and then open out the evening to the floor. Special guests have included US sax master Jim Snidero and the highly regarded alto player Geoff Simkins. Saxophonist Toby Stewart’s highly spirited ‘Monsters On A Leash’ comprising the best West-End musicians congregate to ‘have a blow’ on the demanding yet funky Tower of Power charts at the end of each month, and the superb London City Big Band directed by young trumpeter Barney Lowe show how a big band can be brought down to a whisper as well as ‘blowin’ a storm’ also on a monthly basis. In fact, Spicejazz has garnered a reputation as a home for a thriving big band scene and has often been the venue of choice for many large ensembles where they can develop their material in a sympathetic space and an appreciative audience before moving onto the touring circuit. The Gareth Lockrane Big Band, Tom Richards Jazz Orchestra, Matt Roberts Big Band, Beats & Pieces Big Band, London City Big Band and Stan Sulzmann Big Band, Ruben Fowler Big Band, Stuart Fowler Jazz Orchestra and the Callum Au Big Band. All played their early gigs at the Spice.

There has been much fun and laughter amongst the serious music making and occasionally there have been gigs that have felt like a ‘good get-together’ rather than a concert. The ‘Birthday Bashes’ come readily to mind, whereby it was a yearly plan to form a band of the following musicians who shared 30th May in common as their birthday. These included various combinations of yours truly on vocals, journalist Jack Massarik on guitar, pianist Michael Garrick, trumpeter Harry Beckett and Mike Bradley on drums. Our attempts at forming a fully functioning rhythm section comprising 30th May ‘babies’ was always thwarted by the unavailability of fellow birthday boy, bassist John Edwards due to his ever busy schedule.

After 12 years of sterling managership, Andy Ranum left to return to his native New Zealand at the end of 2012 and was replaced by Patrick Pittard who has continued the support for live music at the pub and overseen another refurbishment of the room including a new stage, new tables (ex-Ronnie Scott’s) and sound system. We look set for an exciting time ahead including a full-hearted involvement, as in previous years, with the EFG London Jazz Festival this year with an eclectic programme of 10 gigs in 10 days!

Running concurrently with my jazz promoting activities was the joy of working within the music as my ‘day-job’. Towards the end of the 90s, I worked behind the counter at Ray’s Jazz Shop in Shaftesbury Avenue for 3 years and then a further 6 years as manager when the record shop moved into Foyles bookshop. In January 2009, I joined the Ronnie Scott’s music team. This afforded me a unique position being able to propose acts for the club programme, who having played a number of times at the Spice as well as other London venues, were ready for a Ronnie’s booking. A few examples come to mind – the Gareth Lockrane Big Band, Callum Au Big Band, Beats ‘n Pieces, Sara Mitra Quartet, Laura Jurd Quartet, There have been a few examples where having developed good working relationships with musicians, they have gone on to host nights in the upstairs bar at Ronnie’s, such as trumpeter Andy Davies with the Wednesday jazz jam and saxophonist Renato D’Aiello with his ‘Acoustic Jazz Lounge’ every Monday.

The past 15 years at the Spice has been a great adventure and I would like to thank McMullens & Sons Ltd, managers Brian, Andy and Pat and their wonderful staff for the excellent working relationship that we have enjoyed as well as the provision of the tailor-made performance space. I receive great spiritual nourishment from the musicians who perform there and very importantly the audience to whom we are all indebted, as well as the jazz community at large who have been incredibly supportive. Last but not least, I have been fortunate to have good friends who have given great moral support as well practical assistance will all aspects of presenting the music and ‘putting on a gig’. These have included photographer Benjamin Amure, saxophonist and fellow promoter Oli Arlotto, soundman Matt Brewer, Janet Penfold, Tim Beaton, Anton Browne, Bob Burger, Philip French, Alan McGuire, Ienne Hunter, Alice Rose BownerKat Pfeiffer and last but not least, the legendary Jackie Docherty – doorman extraordinaire, well-loved Soho character, magician and dispenser of vast jazz knowledge and rare recordings who has maintained his left-field sensibility, ‘child-like’ wonder and love of the music which has inspired many along the way!

We hope you are able to join us to celebrate…

Wednesday, 6th November – SpiceJazz : 15th Anniversary Party

A very special celebration of great live jazz at the Spice of Life since 1998 – ‘3 vocal-led sets presenting the bass baritone of singer/guitarist ANTON BROWNE evoking soul-jazz greats Joe Williams and Lou Rawls, the innate swing and gorgeous tone of ex-NYJO singer JENNY HOWE and the Sinatraesque bluesy baritone of PAUL PACE + exciting tenor saxophonist BRANDON ALLEN, all driven along by an well-meshed rhythm section comprising pianist ROB BARRON, double bassist TIM THORNTON and drummer SEBASTIAAN DE KROM

Doors open: 6pm, Live Music: 8-12 midnight
Tickets HERE. £10 – £8 MU / student

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