Denys Baptiste live at East Side Jazz Club. May 13 2014

Many years ago I used to get myself along, on occasion, to The South Side Soul Club, which was hosted in a room above a busy bar. It wasn’t quite a function at the junction because it was next to Clapham Common tube station, rather than near the railway hub- but it was a damn fine Northern Soul venue. Indeed, I remember seeing a wonderous declaration of urban romance when a young woman wrote ‘I Love You Seth’ (or whatever he was called) in the talcum powder that the ruler of her heart had spread to ease his terpsichorean endeavours.

Glancing at London Jazz Collector’s fantastic blog the other day, I read that one of his correspondents had recommended the East Side Jazz Club. Two clicks on the keyboard later I had discovered that the venue was within easy striking distance of my home and that there was a great bill on the following Tuesday. Renowned tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste was set to appear, with Gary Crosby on bass. They were to be supported by club stalwart and resident drummer, Clive Fenner and Joe Armon-Jones on piano.

I’m always excited by a visit to a new club (doesn’t happen a great many times these days though), so off I went to Leytonstone searching for the young jazz rebels.

The short drive was rapidly completed and the venue was another great pub function room, which looked as though it had recently been redecorated. The extremely moderate admittance fee was duly surrendered and we were in.

The band were already on the stand and it was an absolute pleasure to hear great musicians who probably had never played together as a group before coming to terms with classic hard bop and ballads (OK, I’m well aware that Baptiste and Crosby have played together for years).

The first half encompassed a great version of God Bless The Child, Denys Baptiste’s sparkling take on Dear John, Freddie Hubbard’s adaptation of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and a calypso flavoured tune that made me think of a Sonny Rollins.

I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines because the opener for the second half was the Rollins signature piece, St Thomas, ever a favourite of mine. Denys Baptiste introduced it by saying that it was chosen as a direct result of a conversation he had during the interval.

I remain slightly puzzled by the next tune. It sounded like a speeded up version of Charlie Parker’s amazing Parker’s Mood- but then again, it could have been a Thelonious Monk composition. Whichever, it enabled venue debutant, Joe Armon-Jones to showcase his delightful piano playing talents. By this time the band were really working together, with Denys Baptiste and Gary Crosby showing themselves to be masters of their craft.

The evening closed with an adventurous take on Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge. It was a privilege to see such fine musicians conjuring the music from their collective imaginations. What the audience was watching was the essence of jazz. No four musicians have ever played that combination of tunes exactly the same way before. Nor will anyone ever again. In tangible terms, a fiver was paid but in real terms, what we experienced was priceless.

Special mention must be made of Clive Fenner, the resident drummer. I can’t imagine the levels of experience, skill and confidence his role, as an accompanist to the weekly changing cast of visitors, must require.

I didn’t win the raffle (a quid could deliver the choice between a serviceable bottle of Corbieres or Art Blakey Live at Cafe Bohemia on CD). Nor did I find the elusive young jazz rebels who were either preening themselves for a late Tuesday session in trend-central Hoxton with LJC’s fabled East London Jazz DJ Collective, or watching Leyton Orient win through to a Wembley playoff final down the road. What I did have was a fine time listening to amazing live music.

Whilst I don’t suppose Polar Bear will be appearing there anytime in the near future, I’ll be back there soon.

The East Side Jazz Club has a website which you can visit here.

Latest updates about the club are on Twitter @EastSJC

Denys Baptiste’s website is here

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