Sam Leak: A Jazz Musician’s guide to the EFG London Jazz Festival 2021

Between 12 and 21 November 2021, the EFG London Jazz Festival will be presenting almost 400 concerts – an impressive feat indeed, but how on earth will you decide what to watch?

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When Sam Leak wrote his first ‘Jazz Musician’s guide to the EFG London Jazz Festival’ for LJN in 2019 he described his role as akin to that of a tour guide – ‘to walk you around the festival programme and let you know what a Jazz musician might choose to watch’. This preview focuses on the grass roots jazz venues that are the pulsing heart of the scene all year round.


The Vortex is a staunch favourite of Jazz musicians. Some highlights from their programme are Allsopp-Edwards-Forbes (12/11), the Leo Richardson Quartet (18/11), and the Shirley Smart Sextet (19/11).

L-R: James Allsopp, Shaney Forbes, John Edwards
  • James Allsopp is an award-winning saxophonist and composer with a unique improvisational voice, particularly evident on his recordings with ‘Fraud’ and ‘The Golden Age of Steam.’ Joining him are the greatly admired duo of double bassist John Edwards (Evan Parker, Roscoe Mitchell, Derek Bailey), and ‘Empirical’ drummer Shaney Forbes (Steve Grossman, Jason Marsalis, Soweto Kinch).
  • The hard bop saxophonist Leo Richardson’s first album ‘The Chase’ was listed by The Times newspaper as one of the Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2017. For this gig his quartet will be presenting music from most recent record “Move” along with new material written during the lockdown.
  • Cellist Shirley Smart’s sextet will present her original music, drawing on a background of 10 years living in Jerusalem and working with the overlapping worlds of jazz, Arabic, Turkish and North African music.


Pizza Express will be presenting a staggering array of music at their venues in Dean Street (Soho), Holborn, and The Pheasantry (Chelsea).

Emma Rawicz. Publicity photos
  • The Dean Street venue’s jam-packed programme features performances from guitar wizard Ant Law (12/11), fast rising star saxophonist Emma Rawicz (12/11), acclaimed pianist (and a personal favourite) Ivo Neame (15/11), and Parliamentary Jazz Award winning saxophonist Josephine Davies’ ‘Satori.’ Also of note are performances from BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year winner Deschanel Gordon (16/11), the Sultan Stevenson 3o (19/11), and The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra (21/11).
  • Iles will also appear at The Pheasantry, presenting ‘A Time Remembered – The Music Of Bill Evans’ alongside UK Jazz legends Norma Winstone, Stan Sulzmann and Dave Green (13/11 & 14/11).
  • Their Holborn venue features an impressive piano trio double bill from Andrew McCormack and Rob Barron (19/11), and also a performance from the multi award-winning Jazz supergroup ‘Empirical’ (21/11).
  • For those in the market for a Jazz hang, I will hosting the Holborn club’s jam session on 20/11 – this will be a great opportunity to catch some of the Jazz scene’s top names and rising stars hanging out, guesting, and playing together in an informal setting.


Chelsea’s 606 Club will also play host to some astonishing talent.

  • Loose Tubes/Polar Bear Saxophonist Mark Lockheart will present his ‘Generations Band’ (15/11)
  • Multi-instrumentalist Gary Husband (John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Beck) will present his ensemble ‘The Speed Racers + 1’ (17/11)
  • Mercury Award nominated pianist Gwilym Simcock (Pat Metheny) will perform with his quintet (18/11).
  • Also of note are the Alex Hitchcock Xhosa Cole Quintet performing ‘The John Coltrane Songbook’ (20/11), Shane Forbes exploring the music of Blossom Dearie (16/11), and the multi award-winning vocalist Liane Carroll (21/11). Further to this, in memorial to the recently-departed saxophone legend Peter King, Mornington Lockett will present a ‘Memorial Sax Summit’ featuring British Jazz Awards winner Alex Clarke, and the Deschanel Gordon Trio.


Gareth Lockrane Big Band

Soho is in many ways the home of Jazz in London. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club has a rich history and a reputation as one of the best jazz clubs in the world, and it has put together a fantastic programme for this year’s festival.

The focus of this tour is on home grown talent so I’m going to draw your attention to two gigs in particular.

  • After a successful livestream during lockdown, pianist James Beckwith has been asked back to play a set of original music drawing upon the impact of the lockdown upon our collective mental health (16/11). He says “Ups and downs are a normal part of life, but the pandemic really took its toll on the arts and musicians, myself included… As a way of helping with this, I created these meditations that are dedicated to the rising of the Sun, Moon, and Earth on the horizons, and use ambient music elements and multiple synthesisers to create the huge climaxes at the end.”
  • On 14/11 Simon Spillett’s quartet will mark the 60th anniversary of British jazz legend Tubby Hayes’ ground-breaking debut in New York, an appearance that paved the way for a stream of US jazz giants to visit Ronnie Scott’s.

Just around the corner at The Spice of Life you can catch some incredibly burning performances from the likes of the Gareth Lockrane Big Band (14/11) and the Quentin Collins Sextet (15/11).


Rosie Frater Taylor . Publicity Photo

Twickenham’s ‘Jazz Sanctuary’ is a new venue that, as a point of personal interest, just so happens to have cropped up next door to my primary school. They’re presenting a nicely varied programme of concerts including pianist Alex Webb’s ‘Quintet Blue’ featuring Denys Baptiste and Nigel Price (14/11, support from Alice Auer), the Kielan Sheard Quintet (17/11), and the exploratory saxophone trio ‘Partikel’ (18/11).

Over in Wood Green you can catch the acclaimed singer-songwriter & guitarist Rosie Frater-Taylor performing original music that blurs the lines between jazz, folk, pop & soul, with influences ranging from Joni Mitchell to George Benson (18/11). On 21/11, Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe will be performing music from their album ‘Out to the Sky,’ described by the Sunday Times as ‘a rare mix of visceral emotion and jazzy intelligence’.


Camden’s ‘The Green Note’ played host to my first London Jazz Festival gig (I won’t try to remember which year that was in..). It’s an intimate venue with a great listening crowd. The stage is barely big enough for the band to fit on, but the vibe is amazing. Standout concerts from their programme include vibraphonist/multi-instrumentalist David Mrakpor & guitarist Nick Costley White double billed with Glasshopper (14/11), and the Dave Storey Trio (featuring James Allsopp) double billed with Howl Quartet (19/11).


Over in Camberwell, The Crypt are presenting guitarist James Kitchman’s new quartet playing stark and refreshing music with influences from classic jazz, to chamber music, to contemporary folk (19/11). On 20/11 Larry Bartley, Shaney Forbes, Jean Toussaint and Jason Yarde will come together to play music underpinned by a commitment to pushing the boundaries of interaction and composition (20/11).


Kennington’s Toulouse Lautrec is another important venue on the London Scene, presenting music from Jas Kayser, Daniel Higham and Jay Phelps (17/11), and Georgia Mancio (19/11), as well as improvisation workshop from trumpeter Charlotte Keeffe and saxophonist Lara Jones (21/11).


Another spot to check out is Hampstead Jazz club, with a performance from the brilliant pianist Jamie Safir Trio a particular highlight (12/11). I will also be performing there myself with my trio on 15/11.


Those with a taste for straight ahead Jazz may want to check out some of the music scheduled at Barnes’ ‘The Bull’s Head,’ Piccadilly’s ‘Crazy Coqs – Live At Zédel,’ and the Cadogan Hall Foyer.

The Cadogan Hall foyer will feature swinging trios from the likes of Gabriel Latchin (16/11) and Nick Costley White (17/11).

The Bull’s Head will see performances from UK Jazz legend, and former orthopaedic surgeon, Art Themen (12/11), and the Jessica Radcliffe Quintet playing the music of Burt Bacharach (14/11).

At Crazy Coqs you’ll be able to see the incredible vocal talents of Sara Dowling (18/11) and Liane Carroll (19/11), as well as an exploration of the evolution of jazz piano music from Ronnie Scott’s house pianist James Pearson (17/11). Pearson will delve into the realms of Ragtime, Stride, Boogie Woogie, and more.

On 20/11, Brick Lane’s “Ninety One Living Room” will present alto saxophone star Rachael Cohen and popular trumpeter Mark Kavuma, playing alongside an all-star band.


Sam Leak. Publicity photo

This leads me onto a programme of music that I’ve put together myself. The ‘Sam Leak Presents’ series at Greenwich’s ‘Oliver’s Jazz Bar’ will feature the following acts:

• 13/11: The Liberation Suite (a dedication to the ‘Liberation Music Orchestra’) – Sam Leak/George Crowley/Miguel Gorodi/Simon Read/Jon Scott

• 15/11: Helena Kay

• 16/11: Turnt Tuesdays: The Huw Williams Trio double billed with Gwilym Jones’ Teimlad

• 17/11: Gareth Lockrane’s “Grooveyard Unplugged”

• 21/11: Jason Brown featuring Orrin Evans (formerly of The Bad Plus)

It should go without saying that I am a big fan of all of these musicians. It’s a lovely experience to have a yearly opportunity to provide a platform for some of my favourite acts to perform at the festival.

Club owner Olivier Revault has also programmed his own excellent series, which includes Francesco LoCastro (12/11), Nicholas Meier (14/11), Maciek Pysz (19/11), and Robert Castelli (20/11).

So there we have it – we’ve completed our tour through the astounding array of performances that will be taking place at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. Obviously there are lot of concerts that I haven’t been able to mention, so I do also recommend having a look at the full programme for yourself. It’s going to be a very music-filled ten days!


Sam Leak is a London-based Jazz pianist described by JazzFM’s Helen Mayhew as ‘One of the brightest stars in the Jazz piano galaxy, a heavenly improviser, and a brilliant prospect for the future.’ This EFG London Jazz Festival he will perform:

• 13/11: The Liberation Suite – Oliver’s Jazz Bar, Greenwich (9pm)

• 15/11: The Sam Leak Trio – Hampstead Jazz Club (8pm)

• 20/11: Samuel Eagles’ Spirit – Southbank, The Purcell Room (3pm)

• 20/11: House trio for the Pizza Express (Holborn) Jam Session (9pm)

LINK: Full EFG London Jazz Festival Programme 2021

Categories: Features/Interviews

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1 reply »

  1. Efg London jazz festival does not present 400 concerts, they promote a few dozen of shows that “serious” chooses. The rest are gigs at venues working 7 days a week all year who get to be in a flyer all wrapped up as Ljf and serious takes all the credit as if they booked and promoted it all. This way they get to con the public into thinking they spent their half million a year from arts council on “the whole scene” when they only give shows to the very small pool of artists they actually like and use the rest on admin costs. The real credit goes to the venues. As for serious they’re running a racket with public funds in broad daylight.

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