Colchester Arts Centre Jazz Club relaunched

Jazz artist Anita Wardell plays Colchester Arts Centre Jazz Club

Jazz artist Anita Wardell plays Colchester Arts Centre Jazz Club - Credit: Archant

Colchester Arts Centre Jazz Club returns this weekend after a break of nearly 20 years. Entertainment writer Wayne Savagefound out more from Steve Wright, who formed the original club.

John Etheridge, another of the acts helping launch the Colchester Arts Centre Jazz Club

John Etheridge, another of the acts helping launch the Colchester Arts Centre Jazz Club - Credit: Archant

Coaxed out of “retirement” by Colchester Arts Centre’s director Anthony Roberts, Steve is under no illusion that he has his work cut out trying to raise the club’s profile again as it tries to showcase established and emerging artists.

“Once people stop coming, it’s very hard to get them back and, of course, some of those jazz fans who supported the club in the past are, sadly, no longer with us. Also, many other venues in the area have sprung up over the last 20 years,” says the former chairman, who formed the original club in 1983 up to its demise in the mid-1990s.

Acknowledged at the time by Eastern Jazz as being at the forefront of the renaissance of modern jazz in the county, the Arts Centre Jazz Club - as it was then known - showcased a wide variety of artists.

These included European and US stars John Abercrombie, Arild Andersen, Dennis Chambers, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Tal Farlow, Art Farmer, Dave Holland, Barney Kessell, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield and Jimmy Witherspoon.


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UK acts who played the venue included Antonio Forcione, Alan Haven, Spike Heatley, Julian Joseph, Claire Martin, Tina May, Morrissey Mullen, Eduardo Niebla, Ronnie Scott, Ian Shaw, Martin Taylor, Barbara Thompson and Stan Tracey.

Many Essex and Suffolk-based musicians appeared, either in their own right or supporting visiting UK and American artists. Among them was Chelmsford-born pianist and singer Reg Webb, one of the artists performing at Sunday’s launch night. Also playing are ex-Stephane Grappelli and Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge and 2013 British Jazz Award winner Anita Wardell with pianist Robin Aspland, who studied at Colchester Institute.

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Etheridge has a glowing reputation throughout the jazz world and beyond. After graduating from Essex University in 1970 and returning to London, he started to get noticed when working in bands like ex-Curved Air violinist Darryl Way’s Wolf. His big break came in 1975 when he was contacted by Soft Machine after they had been given his number by the departing Allan Holdsworth.

Less than a year after joining, Diz Disley suggested John would be his ideal successor to play alongside the legendary jazz violinist and ex-sparring partner of Django Rheinhardt, Stephane Grappelli. He spent the next six years touring the world with Grappelli in what he describes as one of his happiest times in music.

He’s also played with John Williams, Yehudi Menuhin, Didier Lockwood, Dizzie Gillespie, Herb Ellis, Mundell Lowe, Nigel Kennedy, Gary Boyle, Pat Metheny, Birelli Lagrene, Barney KesselL, Vic Juris and countless others.

For every Jamie Cullum, there are a dozen hugely talented British jazz singers who beaver away on the circuit, producing critically acclaimed albums and commanding the respect of their peers while lacking the benefit of a profile that might bring a wider audience to hear them. Wardell is a case in point.

Inspired by the improvisations of Eddie Jefferson, and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, she is regarded by many critics as the most creative jazz singer performing in London today. Bursting onto the London jazz scene in 1995 with the release of her debut CD Why do you Cry?, the Guilford-born singer has cut a further six albums, the latest being the critically acclaimed The Road.

Influenced by the likes of Bill Evans, George Shearing and Herbie Hancock, Reg Webb has successfully straddled both the pop and jazz camps. However, his first love has always been jazz.

Back in the day at the arts centre he played a memorable piano duo gig with the late Pete Jacobsen and performed with guitar greats Barney Kessell and Martin Taylor. He so impressed Jimmy Witherspoon when he accompanied him, the legendary bluesman wanted to take him back to the USA.

Future acts include the Tom Harrison/Cleveland Watkiss Quartet on February 7, Tom’s Duke Ellington project aims to bring some of the genius jazz composer’s more obscure music to light, as well as focusing on better known compositions.

March 6 sees two members of the Dankworth dynasty perform at the club - bassist Alec and daughter Emily on vocals - as part of Alec’s group World Spirit, which explores melodies from Africa, South America and other continents.

The last three concerts are part of the club’s Women in Jazz promotion and features guitarist Deirdre Cartwright’s play GROUP on April 3, Belgian singer Gabrielle Ducomble on May 1 and Joanna Eden, mentor to soul superstar Sam Smith; who celebrates the music of Joni Mitchell, on June 5.

Visit www.colchesterarts centrejazzclub.com for more details.

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