Getintothis’ Matthew Wood delves into the Liverpool jazz scene introducing influential jazz host, ParrJazz, and revealing the best jazz nights across the city.
My introduction to ParrJazz came late, far too late and prior to that I’d been twiddling my thumbs most Tuesday nights, missing out on a host of fantastic shows week-in-week-out, and best of all… free of charge.
Scanning photographs of previous events, I realised how much I’d already missed. Let’s face it, everyone needs a little something to brighten up their Tuesday and ParrJazz just does that.
The face behind ParrJazz belongs to John McCormick; a brilliant double-bass player with an unfailing ear for jazz talent. His consistency when booking gigs is second to none and I can guarantee his choice of acts cater for just about everyone.
Whether you’re looking for classic jazz pieces rewritten and reworked, cutting edge jazz fusion acts, or a blast from the past with a real-life legend, ParrJazz really does encompass it all.
Owing to the night’s success of late is the well chosen venue, Frederiks. For those of you who are yet to visit, it’s a cosy, twinkle-lit bar with temptingly cheap cocktails, top-notch grub and some proper comfy sofas.
Follow the bar down and you’ll reach the jazz hub, aka The Pillbox where the ParrJazz acts strut their stuff. The Pillbox is a vintage jazz scene, all its lacks are the plumes of cigarette smoke… I say ‘lacks’… but you catch my drift; candle lit tables, fairy lights, large corked bottles in ice, it’s a scene to savour in anyone’s book.
The mood on a Tuesday is enticing, Frederiks pulls a diverse crowd of all ages, from the hip, jazz lovers in their flat caps who sit patiently over their drink, taking it all in, to the wild eccentrics who pull in late to exhibit their talents at the open jazz jam (I’ll come back to this). What is inspiring is that there is always a great turnout, John and ParrJazz host something special, and once you’ve visited once, you’ll sack off Tuesday night telly to witness the buzz of the Liverpool jazz scene.
It really is a buzz, too, Frederiks is seeing host to more and more iconic figures whose musical repertoires are a little tattered around the edges, but their content will make your jaw hit the floor. Take for instance, Victor Brox, a kooky blues legend with a plaited white beard who once played a Leonardo da Vinci lookalike. He frequents the club when he’s in town to sing numbers about swigging mead in the morning and alternating between his old faithful acoustic and some vintage keys.
His voice has been praised globally, particularly by a couple of figures that may ring some bells; Jimi Hendrix and Tina Turner. Both are said to have held Brox’s vocal as the best white blues singer of their time… a true legend among us. It must be all that mead in the early hours…
Showcasing another facet of the jazz world, ParrJazz pulls in young and gifted acts such as Artephis; a quintet in their early twenties storming a range of jazz festivals across the country with their original compositions. It’s always astounding to see such fresh faces harnessing such raw talent and these lads are just getting started.
The Manchester band call upon the likes of Miles Davis and Grammy nominated trumpet player, Christian Scott when conjuring up their progressive numbers. The band released their debut album All Change No Change earlier this year so you can sink your teeth into that on their Bandcamp; it’s a smooth, flowing album that already sounds like a classic.
While there’s always time for a night with a serious, enriching edge, Frederiks can offer a real party atmosphere, too. Top wedding acts and stalwart entertainers fill The Pillbox on the reg, all with their unique talents that you’d otherwise have to pay for the privilege.
Take recent performers Grumpah! A whacky trio with multiple personas, switching between classic Louis Armstrong numbers (Bob Ludlam does a cracking vocal impression), 1920’s movie scores and contemporary anthems bursting with trumpet and sousaphone (see below). We could go on to mention every act we’ve seen, but where’s the fun in reading that? You’ll just have have to witness them for yourselves…
If we take a macrocosmic view of the jazz scene, and given today’s musical climate, it’s only a handful of bands and artists who can ever breakthrough to the mainstream. In pop music these acts abide by the big handbook of success and this can put a stopper in their progression as true musicians.
What you’ll witness with ParrJazz is understated talent that perhaps isn’t realised by some; while those on big bucks are hitting play on a laptop in front of 20,000 people, many jazz artists are weaving melodies you didn’t know could be physically played to a much smaller crowd.
However, there’s a glowing sense of pride in the fact that they’re considered jazz musicians and to commit so much for so little reward (in comparison) is an attitude rarely seen these days.
When you bear in mind some of these musicians may not have even played together before, they’ll have a quick chat half an hour before their set over a cup of coffee and read over some sheet music, but it rarely goes beyond that. Yet their versatility and ability allows them to provide seamless performances that utilise expressive improvisation and true musical instinct to guide themselves through the most complex of pieces.
Pop music and jazz don’t have to exist at opposite ends of the spectrum, they can coexist and even compliment each other, but it’s certainly true that inspirational musical talent can go unnoticed because of its label ‘jazz’.
It’s the artist’s musical intuition that separates jazz performances from most others, and you only have to stick around past 11:00pm at Frederiks to witness a unique conglomeration of jazz lovers of all ages and all abilities in the open jazz jam. Encouraging everyone and anyone to take part, whether they’re tapping along on percussion or leading their newfound band members with a ballsy sax solo, it’s a great chance to push your abilities and develop your onstage antics.
Frederiks isn’t the only jazz night to host an open jam either, and these steps to make jazz more inclusive are crucial in the progression of jazz that we’ve seen in the mainstream of late.
Jazz has always had a influential, nourishing role to play in music history, and it’s still does. With acts such as Kamasi Washington, Snarky Puppy, Go Go Penguin and Thundercat among some of the most successful at the time of writing, it’s true that some talents are not left without mention and more and more are revelling in the wonders of jazz; which is why we’re seeing such young and prolific talents break onto the scene.
Jazz has its origins in the dim lit bars of New Orleans and it still owes as much to these small, intimate mid-week performances as it always has done so come on down and support your local jazz scene, you won’t regret it.
Alongside ParrJazz and Frederiks, Liverpool, of course, boasts a bundle of venues that lay home to some top jazz nights. Pretty much every night of the week you can treat yourself to a dose of jazz ,whether it be laid-back atmosphere to take the edge off or a fully immersive gig alongside a few ales; you’re bound to find something.
Ma Boyle’s Alehouse & Eatery – Water St, Liverpool L3 1LG
Also working alongside ParrJazz and featuring John McCormick and co. is Ma Boyle’s Alehouse & Eatery, hosting jazz every Saturday. Another cosy setting with a royal host of acts including ones you may have missed the Tuesday before at Frederiks. Get onto parrjazz.co.uk for the full listings.
The Caledonia – 22 Caledonia Street, Liverpool L7 7DX
Nestled on a corner in the grand Georgian Quarter you’ll find The Caledonia, a top pub for a quiet drink but this place can really come to life with their live acts. August will see a fortnight of live music starting July 31 for the Annual Caledonia Americana Festival. Among the performers are Blind Monk Trio, putting their own slant on some Thelonious Monk work; Marley Chingus, celebrating the jazz supergroups of the 60’s; and local lot the Speakeasy Bootleg Band who’ve been storming Heebie Jeebies of late with their energetic live performances!
Everyman Bistro – The Everyman Theatre 5-, 7-11 Hope St, Liverpool L1 9BH
Another jazzy gem located on the cultural hub of Hope Street, head down every first Wednesday of the month and you’ll be rewarded with a set from six-piece ensemble, Liverpool Jazz Club. Another unique venue to add to your calendar outings and it’s always a good idea to support your local theatre!
The Grapes – 60 Roscoe Street, Liverpool L1 9DW
Local favourite, boasting a recent rooftop extension, The Grapes is always a good idea whatever night of the week. Pop down on any given Sunday for Jazz Con Fusion from 9pm and delight in tight jazz standards with a Latin twang.
EBGBS – 80-82 Seel Street, Liverpool L1 4BH
Everyone enjoys a night at ‘The Meeting Place‘ and with their dirt cheap happy hour and Jacknife Jazz every Monday, you’ve yet another reason to head down to the iconic haunt. Featuring special guests and their own open jam session, you may be singing the blues Monday morning but you’ll be up and grooving come 9pm… free entry too!