A Moment To Reflect: Aug 1997

Neville Dickie  – August 1997


Sutton Jazz Club is 8 years old and going strong. During our existence, we’ve featured (at a guess) something like 200 different musicians, had lots of laughs on the way, dozens of great sessions and a couple of disasters. To get the Club up and running, many musicians played for expenses only – we used to pay thirty, later increased it to fifty and now we pay 1 (yes, you’ve heard that one before). It was run on a weekly basis – every Sunday evening – and we featured a different  guest instrumentalist with my resident trio, which had Micky Ashman on string bass and Lee Breckman on drums. Micky can be heard driving the band along on those great Humphrey Lyttelton 78s from the early 1950s. He also spent many years with the Chris Barber Band and has been at Sutton Jazz Club from the beginning. Five years ago drummer Norman Emberson  replaced Lee Breckman.

Norman had also been a member of the Chris Barber Band. Our original premises were the Civic Offices in Sutton, Surrey (the great Bobby Hackett played there in the 1970’s) but after a couple of years we moved to St. Elphege’s Centre in Wallington – a hall attached to a Catholic church. The music policy of the Club is Traditional / Mainstream. Running the Club (and playing there) once a week was very enjoyable but time-consuming and one major factor emerged: there were not enough musicians around who could front a trio and keep an audience entertained for a whole evening. From the start, we had always had a “Party Night” once a month where we put on a 6 piece band and provided a buffet. Although we charged more for this, we found that we were getting a full house on “Party Nights'” – we also found that people were turning up regardless of who the musicians were, as long as there was plenty of food! As audiences were dwindling on non-Party Nights, it seemed the obvious thing was to go monthly. It worked. Over the years we’ve had such distinguished guests as Humphrey Lyttelton, Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk, Don Lusher, Kenny Baker, plus a handful of American visitors: Kenny Davern, George Masso, Carol Leigh, Tim Laughlin, Michael Hashim and Al Casey.

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1937.

Of course we are no different from other Jazz Clubs – major sporting events (often held on Sundays) can affect attendances and if it’s too hot some members will prefer to dig their gardens instead of the music, and if it’s too cold, TV wins. We are also up against free jazz in local pubs, and I like to think that your average jazz fan can differentiate between the semi-pros playing in their ‘local’ for a few free pints and the pro who is trying to make a living.
DO ME A FAVOUR   “Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1934.
When we opened in 1989, there were no other Jazz Clubs in the immediate area, then suddenly three new ones opened. We had previously discussed running a Jazz Club with Sutton Council, which they were quite happy to do – with the proviso that we showed a profit in the first year! We couldn’t guarantee that so we took the plunge and went ahead on our own. A few months later, Sutton Council started weekly sessions of FREE open-air  Modern Jazz  500 yards away from our Club. What profit did they make there? They’ve gone and we are still here so we must be doing something right.

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1934.

We had a knock on our door soon after we had started the Club. A guy stood there.  He said he was starting a Jazz Club in the area and wanted some advice. He wanted to know how much we paid certain musicians and their telephone numbers and who drew the biggest audiences! I told him to ‘get on his bike’. The following week he was outside our Club – again with his file of papers – asking people for their addresses as they came in. It was at this point that my faith in human nature began to dwindle!

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1936.

Some years ago I was persuaded to book an Irish guitarist who was touring England. This “contemporary” musician had won many accolades and had even played with Benny Goodman. Despite our musical policy, I relented. He had been working earlier that day and arrived at the Club in what can only be described as an ‘unhealthy state’. He parked his guitar case  and made off to the nearest pub, returning half an hour later in a worse state. His first set consisted of his own original compositions with no announcements. During the interval, I politely asked him to communicate with the audience and at least inform them of the titles of the tunes he was playing. He didn’t. Many of the audience left – including some new members (who we never saw again). After a few more drinks he found it difficult to stand up. As I paid him, he mumbled something about our sort of jazz being Mickey Mouse music and I replied by saying his performance was Donald Ducking awful. My good nature was temporarily stunted and only the thought of injury to my left hand halted me from doing what I wanted to do. I found out that he was a member of the Performing Rights Society – I think the Performing Wrong Society would have been more appropriate!

“Fats” Waller (Piano Solo) – 1929.

The old theory that putting eleven of the best footballers together doesn’t necessarily make a good team was proved right when I had the idea of teaming three bandleaders on the same night (trumpet, clarinet & trombone), backed by my rhythm section. It brought home to me that some musicians are fine leading their own band, but not so good when you put them with “aliens”. It was such a disaster that it prompted me to  write a letter of apology to the highly respected trumpet-playing bandleader. Most musicians are thankfully compatible and one mistake from about 300 sessions isn’t a bad record. I recall my mother saying something similar!

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1934.

On the odd occasion we have had calls enquiring if we give a discount for Senior Citizens. My wife Pat’s reply is usually to the effect that if we did, nobody would pay the full price. It’s not quite true of course and we do get quite a few young ones. Even our young barman has been converted to jazz (from heavy metal!)

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1935.

I met a guy recently who was a regular at our old Club and asked him why he doesn’t come to the new one. He said it was too far to drive (it’s one mile further on for him). One of our members has a 50 mile drive and hasn’t missed a session yet.

BYE BYE BABY   “Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1936.

A lady came into the Club one night and said it was her first visit and enquired who the band was. I informed her it was a good Dixieland line-up and she said she was looking forward to it. During the first break, Pat saw her heading towards the exit and enquired “are you leaving so soon?” to which she retorted “yes, this band sounds too rehearsed”. Quite a compliment, although I haven’t quite worked out her reasoning.

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1937.

I couldn’t believe it when a well-known musician turned up at the Club without his trumpet. He said he had dropped it just before he left home and bent one of the valves. I immediately thought of Red McKenzie and realised this might have to be a comb and paper job. Then I remembered that one of our members had a collection of trumpets and cornets and a quick car ride solved the problem – our trumpet-less friend was able to take his pick from a dozen instruments.

“Fats” Waller  (Piano Solo) – 1929.

One of the worst nightmares for a musician must be when he turns up for a gig and finds that with only 5 minutes before starting time there is no audience and NO MUSICIANS. I booked a clarinet player who, despite sending him detailed instructions with a map, finished up at a deserted  theatre about a mile away, sat outside for  an hour, then drove home when nobody else showed up. Luckily, a couple of musicians had popped in for a listen and luckier still – they had their instruments in the car, so the night was saved.

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1941.

As stated earlier, the buffet is a big attraction and at the risk of being proved wrong, I would say it is the biggest and best of any Jazz Club I have played. We try and please everybody – meat pies, chicken, 12 dozen vol-au-vents, 16 loaves of bread (for sandwiches) and 15 dozen boiled eggs. At 9 pm the band have a break while the audience help themselves to the food. By 9.30 it’s all gone.

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1936.

Happy, swinging jazz is what we aim to create at Sutton Jazz Club and we couldn’t have achieved that without the dedication of my wife Pat who designs the programmes, does all the mail-outs, cooks all the food, greets everyone with a cheery smile and TAKES THE MONEY.

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1936.

The Club has always been run on a non-profit making policy and we have made donations to the Guide Dogs For The Blind – enough to buy them two dogs. Talking of dogs, I can’t finish without mentioning our Pooch “Jazz” who greets everyone into the Club with a yap. After a hectic week-end it all comes to an end at 11pm and we return home:

“Fats” Waller & His Rhythm – 1938.

I dreamed of running my own Jazz Club ALL MY LIFE (1936) and I’m now  HAVIN’ A BALL (1936). I’ve GOT NO TIME (1939) for those who prefer STAYIN’ AT HOME (1940) because they are TOO TIRED (1940) – SHAME! SHAME! (1938). I UNDERSTAND (1941) if they are UNDECIDED (1939) or they would rather WAIT AND SEE (1939) though SOMETHING TELLS ME (1938) THAT AIN’T RIGHT (1943). Finally, I HATE TO TALK ABOUT MYSELF (1935) but WHO’LL TAKE MY PLACE WHEN I’M GONE (1939).