[JPL] Jazz for a new generation at London club
drjazz at drjazz.com
Tue Apr 4 23:29:43 EDT 2006
Jazz for a new generation at London club
By Mike Zwerin Bloomberg News
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5, 2006
The Vortex Jazz Club, which is central to what some people are calling a
renaissance of British jazz, is celebrating a successful first year in its
shiny new location overlooking a parking lot in Dalston, in the
northeastern London borough of Hackney.
There is no tube service to Dalston and the birthday is not exactly a
national holiday, though there will be performances by, among others, the
jazz doyens John Dankworth and Cleo Laine.
The Vortex is well programmed; it has excellent sound; it is smoke-free;
there is no minimum charge, and you can order in a pizza from next door.
The renaissance involves a new generation, including the talented pianists
Zoe Rahman and Andrew McCormack, the bassist Orlando le Fleming and the
drummers Chris Higginbottom and Gene Calderazzo. There are also some well-
honed bands with names like Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Partisans,
Squash Recipe and Orchestra Mahatma that sound as though they mean business.
Many of them record for Babel Label, run by Oliver Weindling, who is also
the director of the Vortex. He compares the rebirth to other fertile
British jazz greats and eras - John McLaughlin, John Surman and Soft
Machine in the late 1960s and early 1970s; Loose Tubes, Courtney Pine and
Andy Sheppard in the 1980s.
In a recent article called "How Jazz Is Giving the Kids Sax Appeal" in the
London Evening Standard, Fiona Maddocks wrote that the Vortex "illustrates
a trend." Applications for jazz courses in British music colleges have
doubled in the past four years. Charlie Beale, once a Cambridge organ
scholar, teaches jazz piano at the Royal College of Music. Maddocks quotes
Simon Purcell, who heads Trinity College of Music's "fast-growing jazz
department," as saying: "You can now learn jazz from zero to doctoral
level" in Britain.
The first Vortex, which opened in the Stoke Newington section of London in
1987, was an essential small venue where musicians wanted to play and hang
out, something like the 55 or Smalls in New York. But then people who could
no longer afford to live in nearby Islington began to move to Stoke
Newington, which became unaffordable in turn. The club was forced to vacate
its original premises because of what Weindling calls "an unsympathetic
landlord and a ridiculous rent increase."
A "Save the Vortex" appeal was begun. Fund-raisers were organized.
Weindling, 50, was drafted to help because he had a record label and he
knew about the music business. Between sets, he would joke around at the
microphone by saying, "If somebody has a building to spare, let us know."
One night, Adam Hart, who ran Hackney Cooperative Developments, a
nonprofit, community-benefit company, was in the club to hear his brother
Charlie play the violin. Adam Hart was in the final stages of planning the
Dalston Culture House, the cornerstone of a new town square in a rundown
area that he wanted to regenerate.
"I have a building," he said to Weindling after the gig. "Are you interested?"
"You've got to be joking," Weindling replied. It was only about 1.6
kilometers from the old place: "It was a match made in social and cultural
Weindling has nothing but good news these days. "This summer, the parking
lot in Dalston will be converted into a park with grass, trees, benches and
fountains designed by the award- winning landscape architects Whitelaw
Turkington," he said. "We plan to open a record store and to start
recording concerts for downloading from our Web site. With a café on the
ground floor, the Vortex will play a key role in the renewal of the area.
There may even be an extension of the Underground by 2009.
"The Vortex is set up as a charity," Weindling continued. "Everybody's a
volunteer; I'm a volunteer. We have no subsidies. But we have this brand
new, bright blue building and good music, and the average age of our
audience is about 40. At least around here, young people are listening to
"There are always a lot of young people in the club," he said. "Our manager
is 25 - Oxford chap. He brings in all of his mates."
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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