Not many jazz clubs can claim to have promoted jazz 50 nights a year for 35 years.
The founders - drummer Dennis Hitch, guitarist Roy Elsey, bassist Bob Walker and keys player Mike Gordon - were just looking for somewhere to play, which is how Scarborough Jazz started.
Dennis and Roy are now playing at the great jazz club in the sky but Mike and Bob are still part of the resident trio, with Tom Townsend on drums.
The club was launched in 1984 at Elvenhome, which later became the Stage Door and is now a storeroom in Clinton’s card shop in the town centre. Its other homes were the Mermaid (part of the Futurist complex), the Golden Ball, the Ramshill, Beiderbecke’s, Scholars and, for two spells, the Cask, where it has been settled since 2007.
Audiences of between 40 and 60 attend Wednesday sessions at the Cask. “Musicians are always commenting on the great atmosphere and how they love playing here”, says Mike, who is chair of Scarborough Jazz. “They are impressed by how attentive our audiences are, without being too formal”.
He adds: “We have had some great highlights including Peter King, Alan Barnes, Martin Taylor, Dave O’Higgins, Clark Tracey, Don Weller, Dave Newton, Jim Mullen, Snake Davis, Stacey Kent and, before they became famous, Clare Teal and Anita Wardell”.
The club’s policy is to actively promote some of the country’s most exciting young bands including Partikel with Duncan Eagles, Yoruba (part of Jazz Yorkshire's Jazz Futures project), the Matt Anderson Quartet, Jazz Aesthetic (a Hull University 12-piece led by Peter Elsdon) and Artephis.
Jazz musicians of all standards have an opportunity to perform at players’ sessions which take place two or three times a year; the next one is on 21 August. Professional film maker Dennis Lowe made an outstanding 13-minute film about the club which has shots of the annual jazz festival. It can be seen on the website www.scarboroughjazz.co.uk. Dennis is famous for his special visual effects in The Talented Mr Ripley and The English Patient.
The club is well aware that its future depends on support from local fans, both at club nights and behind the scenes. Newcomers receive a friendly welcome at club nights.
A free party celebrating the club’s 35th anniversary was held at the Spa in July. Sharing the bill were Dennis Rollins, the New York Brass Band, the Mike Gordon Trio with Kate Peters and Ian Chalk, Social Oven, Hip Hop Jazz Jam (standing in for AC3), Vibeology and DJ Mark Thompson’s Jazz Jukebox. The Sun Court in the afternoon and the Promenade Lounge in the evening were packed, Mike says. “Adrian Riley did a great job organising the events”.
Just as the club was spawned out of the founders’ love of jazz, the town’s annual jazz festival, at the Spa in September, emerged from Mike’s devotion to the genre and is now firmly established on the national jazz-map. The town owes a huge debt of gratitude to Mike for his unswerving work in promoting jazz. In 2017 the festival received a Parliamentary award for the best jazz festival. The competition included the London, Manchester and Cheltenham jazz festivals.
Mike is quick to point out that the club’s continued success depends on the support of the committee and key individuals. They include David Kennard for writing programme copy and reviews of highlight events; Marian Gordon for her unstinting work behind the scenes, mailing out information and preparing poster content; treasurer Tom Mellor; secretary, soundman and bassist Bob Walker, who puts in an enormous amount of work prior to, and during, each performance; and Sarah Dyson for the club’s Facebook and Twitter presence.