Mike Gray, Brian Walker, Alan Rossiter and Alan May on Jazz at Chats and in London

Mike’s memories of Jazz in London

Sat 21st Nov 1959
Dave, Marty and my sister Nina and myself went to the Festival Hall to see the M.J.Q. tonight. Very good seats, fourth row in the stalls. A really enjoyable concert. John Lewis on piano was exceptional. We all went afterwards to the Terminus where Russell Quaye was playing. I feel a really good night.

Sun 6th Dec
We went to the Flamingo again, in the evening and saw the Tony Kinsey quartet and the Tony Crombieband. The latter did not meet with my approval but Kinsey was very good again.

Sun 20th Dec
We found a wonderful place tonight, ‘The Café des Artistes’ in Fulham Road, Chelsea. The best British Jazz group I have heard. Michael Garrick on piano, John Taylor on bass and someone on vibes and drums.

Tues 15th March 1960
Went to Ronnie Scotts (old place) to see Garrick and spoke to the world’s greatest clarinet player, Jimmy Guiffre. He was there in the audience with Jim Hall and Paul Smith from the Jazz at the Philharmonic concert. Ronnie Scott used to tell the clients, like me, at his club in Dean Street. ‘Please order some food it’s very good. I assure you it’s not touched by human hands (pause). Our chef’s a gorilla!

Mike Gray, Brian Walker, Alan Rossiter and Alan May on Jazz at Chats

Mike Gray
We used to have regular jazz events on Sundays which were well attended and I think free but we did well at the bar! I have a sketchy diary for 1979 which says that we had two jazz groups playing regularly on Sunday afternoons. One group was called Brasso and consisted of local musicians led by Seth Procop who was Australian, all the players were local people. The other was a group led by pianist John Gill. We didn’t have a piano so he must have played keyboard. They played traditional jazz which was not really my bag! I was a great fan of modern jazz, but the likes of Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis all sadly never played at Chats!!! Those Sunday performances must have been forerunners for more well-known groups like Mike Westbrook and Joe Harriott.

Brian Walker
Sunday Jazz was never free, but it was cheap, I know because I stood at the door taking the money many times when you were not doing it. A lot of the punters would try to get in for nothing, giving all sorts of excuses, I learned to harden my self and make them pay the paltry amount. Jazz brought in a very mixed audience, from teenagers to pensioners, I recall those pleasant Sunday mornings with
affection.

Like you, details have faded from my mind, but I remember a wonderful woman with a fantastic Jazz voice, also a brilliant jazz pianist, he was very camp and his surname was Cross. Of course I remember the very easy to swallow, real ale.

Alan Rossiter
The Jazz at Chats palace was organised by Eric and Bob Peachy. Eric was and still is a drummer and Bob a window cleaner saxophonist. There was a regular thursday night and sunday lunch time which was a mixture of trad jazz and contemporary jazz. my favourite was John Bennets Big Band.

Mike Gray
The name Peachy I recall but can’t put a face to it. But it is clear now that the brothers played a key part in booking some of the best jazz groups in England at Chats. One of the best jazz pianists at the time was Mike Garrick who became a good friend of mine. On one occasion when we went to hear him at the old place Jimmy Giuffre the clarinettist and Jim Hall guitar were in the audience. I said to them how much I enjoyed their music on record. At that time the Musician’s Union operated an embargo on American jazz stars unless there was a reciprocal arrangement. When the Beatles and Rolling stones became popular in the US all that changed fortunately. And we got jazz all time greats like Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane in London. I remember hearing Coltrane and Eric Dolphy in Hammersmith playing a freely improvised version of my favourite things’ from Sound of Music, a rather banal song in the voice of Julie Andrews but a 40 minute masterpiece in the hands of Coltrane and Dolphy!!

Alan May
I was a big fan of the London Jazz scene and a saxophonist. There was a vibrant scene and regular gigs run by a funded organisation which may have been Jazz Services- West End gigs at the 100 Club and a number of pubs. Bob Peachey had a connection with this I believe. Mike was a fan and if 2 or more people had an idea which Al R supported we’d go for it sometimes with a Guarantee-against – loss grant from the then Greater London Arts Assoc (GLAA).

There was a glorious addition of political refugees from South Africa to the musical mix- most notably Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath which was a big band comprising the most amazing players: Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Ernest Mothle, Louis Maholo, Lucky Ranku among many, playing multi-layered South African with wild improvisations. The many gigs I saw are etched into my memory. The band also invited top British players to join them so you would have horn players from the Free Jazz scene playing rocking riffs and TUNES – Harry Beckett, Mike Osborne, Elton Dean, Evan Parker, Alan Skidmore amongst them. This also pollinated the other way and many of the S.African musicians played in various Improvised Jazz sessions. Louis Maholo, their powerhouse drummer played at Chats in one of these.

As a teenager starting to play sax I was a big fan of Soft Machine with Robert Wyatt on drums and Elton Dean on sax. Before this he played in a blues band whose pianist Reg Dwight nicked his name. Elton went on to play with many jazz-rock and free jazz collaborations and he would have played at Chats in one of the latter smaller groups like his Quintet, often with Marc Charig on cornet.

John Stevens was an inspiring teacher as well as a dynamic drummer and bandleader. I invited him to run a workshop for The Chats Arkestra (around 30 players) which was inspiring. He was trying to get us to understand discipline within free improvisation, a difficult concept for a group of players with a wide range of experience and ability. This was blown out of the water somewhat by the arrival of a very drunk Dudu Pukwana who played wildly and beautifully with John Stevens’ band that evening. I had booked the Arkestra to play support of course. I didn’t go to many of the gigs but the occasional Sunday lunchtime gigs I went to were amazing. The place was heaving, with kids running around and amazing John Bennet’s Big Band rocking on stage. These sessions built up a loyal following.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s