Pay a visit to Frederick Street on a Friday evening and the chances are the smooth sounds of Birmingham Jazz will be drifting out of our upstairs window. This month we sat down with the top dog Phil Rose to talk the upcoming season.
Q: Afternoon Phil, thanks for taking the time out for a chat. The first one’s on us.
A: It’ll be a pint of OTT, please. Usually upstairs in the Club Room preparing for the new packed season. Back after a summer of holidays and grandkids.
Q: Let’s take it way back to your humble beginnings. Are you a Brummie by roots or like so many of us by adoption?
A: Well both myself and Sue hail from Walsall, although I left it in 1970 and said I would never go back there – but I still follow the Saddlers. I came to Birmingham for work in 1976 and moved to Handsworth, where we lived until three years ago when a move to the JQ was the best option for us for the future.
I not only worked in the City but I was an activist and fundraiser, and a Councillor in Handsworth for 15 years – now an Honorary Alderman. I started attending Birmingham Jazz gigs in its first year 1976 and joined the committee in 1977.
Q: Your fifth decade of involvement in Birmingham jazz then, a pretty fine achievement. Are there any particular gigs or shows you’ve seen that really stick out from the rest?
A: My first live gig was at Birmingham University Student Union in 1968, for a Mike Gibbs gig, and I can still pull up the image in my head. He’s still my musical hero after all these years – great man. One of the most personal memories of recent gigs was Darius Brubeck – son of Dave – who not only played a gig but stayed the night with us in the JQ. Drinking 60% proof whisky after the most wonderful music – as he described as “oh it really is a room above a pub”.
Q: And a good room it is, Phil. Next month we’re celebrating the one year anniversary of Birmingham Jazz’s Friday night slot at 1000 Trades, but there’s an even longer history behind the gigs. What’s the brief version?
A: It started in 1976 by another guy, George West, because a regular club did not exist in the City at that time. It’s survived this last 42 years with a succession of committed Jazz fans and enthusiasts. It’s first home was the Grand Hotel for 5 years, after that the Strathallan, MAC, and loads of other venues around the City. In that time, it has developed from a small hand to mouth organisation, to significant funding from the City Council and the Arts Council.
I took over the reins in 2012 and settled on a regular Friday night at one venue with one off gigs around other venues depends on the project. In all that time we have presented Contemporary Jazz.
Q: And what makes a Birmingham Jazz gig at 1000 Trades special?
A: Making 1000 Trades our home has been the best thing we’ve done in many a long year. The owners are just top draw guys and their support and commitment is such a bonus to us. That support has enabled us to build a Jazz Club, with lights, piano and a backline. Why are these important? The bands we book feel wanted and appreciated because of the trouble we take. This carries through to gigs that are delivered by the very best musicians available, who are enjoying themselves and then entertaining the audience.
Jazz can be a difficult musical genre, and takes some listening to. But all the gigs have musicians of world class standard, in control of their instruments without fault. People attending can expect to see and hear that quality and sheer brilliance, from the most self-effacing artists playing good tunes with good stories too. My tip is listen to the drummer, they play the tunes not just a regular beat.
Q: People are saying that jazz is having a bit of a renaissance moment in dear old Brum. Is it the truth or a just a lot of hot air?
A: Jazz has made a comeback every year for the past thirty. No different now than twenty years ago. The scene in Birmingham has changed though. The Jazz Course at the Conservatoire produces many fine new players who go out and find places to play, including at 1000 Trades on a Sunday.
Q: The penultimate question: Birmingham is a city of a thousand trades, if you could pick one other than what you do now, what would it be and why?
A: I always wanted to be a Barrister, so the law. Not that it’s anything distinctively Brummie. Perhaps a micro-brewery with tuition from John.
Q: Well, you’ve always been welcome at *the bar* – ok, our puns need improvement. Lastly, what’s the plan for the year ahead?
A: Wow, what a year to come. Three touring bands from Sweden, a Coltrane tribute from Gilad Atzmon, a reunion for Perfect Houseplants, the first visit for Malija and Jasper Holby, plus two great women players: Fini Bearman & Josephine Davies. Everyone’s a winner and a star in their own right. All in all, 15 bands between now and Christmas.
We better stock up on the OTT then. Birmingham Jazz returns in September with a packed programme of quality jazz on Fridays. More information and tickets on the website.