Monday, 17 February 2020

Croydon and All That Jazz

When I was in Sheffield on 31 January I ignored BREXIT and went to hear the Fergus McCreadie Trio at the Crookes Social Club. A friend is a member of the committee of the non-for profit Sheffield Jazz organisation run by volunteers which organised the evening.

The Club hall was packed with over 160 people seated at tables. Elsewhere is the building was a quiz night. All in all an excellent evening for the Social Club which used to be the Crookes’ Workingmen’s Club.

Sheffield  has a lively jazz scene. There is also Lescar Jazz, as well as jazz played at the Auditorium at the Sheffield University’s Students’ Union and the Crucible Theatre Studio. 

The McCredie Trio

The McCreadie Trio from Scotland write their own material influenced by the landscape etc of Scotland. They have released one CD so far and a second will be on sale later this year. I was impressed with the technical excellence and interpretative range  and showmanship of the trio.

They will be at the 606 Club in Chelsea on 4 March as part of a tour around the country. Croydon is not on that tour.

It got me thinking about other jazz connections and the jazz scene in Croydon.

Jazz and Coleridge-Taylor

The old Fairfield Halls put on jazz. Two memorable performances were during the 2012 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival. On  31 January a lunch-time concert included original compositions by students of the Croydon Music & Arts Piano Centre run by Fred Scott . Jefferson Tawaba performed  stunning jazz piece The Changed Story inspired by Deep River, a one-off improvisation. There were also lyrical performances of Miles Davis’s Freddie Freeloader and All Blues. The inclusion of jazz came about from a discussion Fred and I had.

Soundpractice Music run by Fred organised in February a performance by the John Law Trio. It included some jazz versions of the composer’s compositions presented. Fred is a co-founder of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network, who now runs the Phoenix Piano Academy at the re-opened Halls.

You may be puzzled at linking jazz and Coleridge-Taylor, who was a composer in the classical tradition.

Possibly  the best performance of Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River is by jazz pianist Julian Joseph, which can be seen on You Tube at:
Joseph went to Allfarthing School in Wandsworth, as did years later Soweto Kinch.

In Dahomey and Southern Syncopated Orchestra

Coleridge-Taylor was enthusiastic about the smash hit West End African American show In Dahomey. William Marion Cook of the show went on to run the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which helped introduce jazz into Britain after the First World War. Its members included Sidney Bechet. The teenage Ted Heath, whose father ran the Wandsworth Town Band,  joined one section of the Orchestra on one of its tours to Europe, and later backed Nat King Cole in the States.

Sidney & Daniel Bechet

Bechet was honoured in 2014 by a Nubian Jak Community Trust plaque unveiled by his son Daniel.

Daniel also performed at events organised by the jazz promoter Ra Hendricks. He arranged an excellent show at Le Quecum Bar & Brassiere in Battersea High St, an appropriate venue as Ra had been at school at St Walter’s St John’s just up the road.

The Rejected Jazz Package

Ra and I put a proposal for a jazz package of events involving Daniel and other leading jazz musicians for Croydon’s Ambition Festival to e beheld in 2015. It involved concerts of the songs that had been performed by sung by Ella Fitzgerald,  a Gary Crosby and Daniel Bechet concert, a play about Olaudah Equiano play (Total Insight Theatre Company), talks about Equiano, and Carmon Munroe in conversation. A  combined event bringing some of these elements together in  Voices of Slavery and Resistance including Crosby/Bechet performing jazz pieces on slavery and resistance including Bechet’s Voices of the Slave , and jazz versions of some of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies, inc. Deep River, spirituals and new jazz works inspired by Equiano. Musical elements of the programme would also be aimed at schools. It was rejected. We then offered it to Fairfield Halls management: rejected.

Other Nubian Jak Plaques

Other members of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra have also be honoured with plaques: Frank Bates 

and Peter Robinson: 

Previously Nubian Jak had put up the plaque to Coleridge-Taylor in Waddon as one of the final events of the 2012 Croydon Festival  commemorating the centenary of the death of the composer.

I worked with Jak on a schools project about John Archer Coleridge Taylor’s friend, black rights activist and Mayor of Battersea (2013-4) which led to a plaque on the building where his shop and flat used to be on Battersea Park Rd. Later I helped with another school project on Black Music in Britain 1900 from Coleridge-Taylor to the Southern Syncopated Orchestra.

Croydon’s Jazz Scene

It is difficult to find on the internet much happening on a regular basis, apart from at the Oval Tavern, and the lunch time jazz at the Clocktower Café on Thursdays between 12.15 and 2.15pm.

The nearest specialist venue near Croydon is The Hideaway near Streatham Station:

There are occasional jazz performances at Stanley Halls, like  the free one-day event on 20  November 2016 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. On 21 June 2018 Croydon's Gill Manly performed at the Halls and on 21 December last year the Lambeth based Endurance Steel Orchestra.  

Gill Manly

Katie Rose wrote about Manly’s formation of the South London Jazz and Blues Club in 2016. This initiative, however, did not last. Paul Dennis wrote about Manly in 2017

Gill Manly was involved in the Croydonites Drama Festivals in 2018 and May last year, details of which can be seen at

Her current CD - "Everything must change" is a collection of songs made famous by Nina Simone.

Manly is just one of several Croydon based jazz musicians whose details can be seen at:

Croydon Citizen remains a valuable collection of reviews about a variety of music events  including jazz at:

British Black History Seminars

I met up with Ra again last month at the first of the new British  Black History seminar series. Ra’s comment on the event was: ‘A larger auditorium is a must to cope with the fully engaged response to this initiative at the South Bank University . Both Professor Hakim Adi and Dr. Marika Sherwood were able to give an historical perspective from their many decades of struggle. As the late Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem constantly advised comrades: 'Don't Agonise! Organise!'’

My assessment of the seminar can be seen at:

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