There is no need to cross the river if you are hunting for some Jazz. South London shares a long history with this versatile music genre; areas like Brixton, Camberwell, Greenwich, Peckham and Streatham were where the the glory days of London Jazz began.
The history of Jazz in the UK goes back to 1919, when the Southern Syncopated Orchestra started shaking up the London music scene. Formed by American composer Will Marion Cook, the orchestra consisted of 27 musicians and 19 singers from British West India, West Africa and America. Many of the big players, who were instrumental in the orchestra’s success (pun intended), settled down in South London.
So we went on a little Jazz crawl around some of the main areas to bring you a selection of the best venues for jazz in South London, where you can unwind while listening to amazing live music and nursing a glass of red, or a whiskey on the rocks.
Oliver’s Jazz Bar, Greenwich
You are not a true jazz enthusiast if you don’t know Oliver’s Jazz Bar in Greenwich. Disappear in a different world when you walk down the stairs, after passing the picturesque entree with arch window, garden bench and colourful flowers. Upon arriving in the basement, there’s a bar in the middle, a lounging area on the left and the stage in a separate room on the right. You are free to make yourself comfortable at the bar, find a comfy chair down the passage, or pay a small entrance fee to sit in the stage area. Easy to spot is the French owner Oliver with his impressive moustache, together with his friendly team. The venue is small and intimate so you are very close to the musicians. Expect to end up in random conversations with music lovers -and often with the musicians themselves!- with a good line-up, reasonably priced drinks and doors open until 2 am.
The White Lion, Streatham
Independent pub The White Lion, in Streatham, does Jazz nights on most Sundays - the perfect lazy day for Jazzy tunes. It’s a cosy, family friendly space. The interior is homely and the bar is music inspired with cut-out guitars as drinks holders and drums as lamps. Their food menu is diverse, consisting of nicely priced pub food, including vegetarian options. The love for food, music and South London is palpable. What’s more, to make your Jazz hopping nights a bit more affordable, you can receive 20% off food and wine with your South London Club Card. The music evenings are irregular, so check beforehand to avoid disappointment.
While in Streatham and on a hunt for live music, you can stroll on down to Hideaway for a more formal experience. This Streatham venue opened their doors early in 2010, organising live Jazz, Soul and Funk music nights as well as a few comedic performances. The team at Hideaway put on different music events every week and can fit 250 people in to admire both new talent and known artists. If you dream of being on stage yourself one day: Hideaway organises a weekly jazz workshop and jam session on Mondays, working towards an end performance. It’s definitely a good one for a classy night out. You might want to start early so you can spend the whole evening in Hideaway as the tickets vary from 10 to 20 pounds on the weekend. Be assured that your money will be well-spent.
Jazzlive at The Crypt, Camberwell
There’s something about dark underground locations that make it even more special listening to live music. The acoustics you get in an underground bar are certainly part of the charm. Jazzlive at The Crypt in Camberwell is such a lovely location as it’s an actual crypt. So come and lose yourself under St. Giles’ Church in a maze of musical delight, joining a Jazz night that has been enjoyed by many since it’s inception in 1995 and through the steady stream of events enjoyed forthwith. Every Friday you have the chance to see top Jazz musicians for the meagre sum of 8 pounds, while tucking into a delicious yet affordable meal. The space is cosy and fits about 150 people - check their website for accurate gig info!
The Effra Hall Tavern, Brixton
Brixton is home to many entertaining music and party venues. One of them, particularly on a Thursday, is The Effra Hall Tavern with their reputed Jamaican Jazz night. Bubbling up from Brixton’s thriving established Jamaican community, this sensational night has seen some talented musicians that could easily be the descendants of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, many of whose members settled in this part of London to have families. Apart from listening to authentic Jazz, you can continue your Caribbean experience throughout the night with classic Red Stripe beer and plates of steamy home-cooked jerk chicken. The Effra Hall is a very relaxed place, with traditional food and great music nights.
Jam Circus, Brockley
Jam Circus in Brockley is most likely going to be your new favourite living room. It’s a cute local pub with comfortable sofas, board games, books, a weekly pub quiz and last but not least -since that’s what we’re here for- a monthly Jazz night. Jam Circus host Jazz musicians and their revellers every last Thursday of the month, having recently seen the amazing Alice in Grooveland Quartet’. When combined with exquisite cocktails, a funky 70s chill-out room and the collective conversations of this stunning venue’s amiable clientele -the likes of which can only be found in an independently owned pub- this makes for an enchanting evening.
Lewisham Arts Café
This multi-purpose arts café in Lewisham is often a stage for live music. Owner Fred is part of a Jazz quartet himself and so makes sure there are always performances on the agenda. The Arts Café is currently closed for Christmas, but reopening on the 7th of January, will be kicking off with their first music event the next day: a live experimental concert by Linear Obsessional Recordings, a London music label for experimental and improvised music. Regulars know this one, it’s a monthly event. The same goes for the Jazz/Swing band The Pimentos with a vocalist, who will be playing on the 21st January. Lewisham Arts Cafe do many other events and you can get 10% off everything with your South London Club Card. More gigs are to be announced, so stay tuned!
In between Brixton and Camberwell a very lively venue opened back in 2015. Music bar and café The Junction, the logo of which is ‘spelled’ with a saxophone as the J, is run by 3 music loving and playing friends: Cris, Luke and Paul. Their idea is to give themselves and other musicians a place to play. Therefore you’ll find something going on any night of the week from Jazz and Blues to Latin or Pop. The Junction offers a full agenda including a weekly Jazz jam session on Tuesday, musicians –chosen by Luke- playing hard bop on Wednesday, regular bands on Thursday and Friday and ‘Pauls Choice’ on Saturday. The place feels like you’re visiting a friend’s house that is full of musicians who are continuously jamming and communicating with one another, only they’ve taken it a step further by serving many well-chosen beers, wines and tapas to go with the music.
And so concludes our round-up of South London's best Jazz venues. Enjoy!
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