History of Regent Jazz Leicester
Monday 8th July 2019
Regent Jazz is the name given to the live music concerts that take place at Leicester’s Regent Sports and Social Club. This article is about how the concerts started and have developed to the present time.
How it started
Jazz concerts were held, originally, at Leicester University’s Piazza restaurant, when the sessions were known as ‘Jazz at the Piazza.’ These started in 2003. Andrew Sime and Steve Harris were involved at this time. These performances were held on a monthly basis. There were several problems with this location; the main one being it was not available after six o’clock in the evening. When the restaurant was refurbished, in October 2009, the Jazz sessions were brought to an end and it became necessary to find new premises for the concerts.
Initially, the sessions moved to the Richard Attenborough Centre. They stayed there for six months until September 2009. A variety of operational issues then led to new premises being sought. That is when it was suggested that the session might move to the social club in Regent Road (not far from the RA Centre.)
The development of Regent Jazz falls into three phases: 2009 to 2012, 2012 to 2016 and 2016 to 2019. In the first phase, 2009 to 2012, Andrew Sime was running the show pretty much on his own. When the committee was formed, Andrew became its chair. When he stood down, after six years, the position of chairman was filled by Barry Dufour.
After leaving the RA Centre, on September 2009, the concerts moved to ‘a back room at a clubhouse’ as Andrew Sime put it. This was the Regent Club, in Regent Road. Concerts began at 8 p.m. After the first three years, the Regent Club decided that enough people were attending to allow them to hire a chef and begin to offer a food menu. Audiences responded well to this and numbers increased.
A committee was formed to coordinate the arrangements for the Jazz evenings. At first, this group comprised leaders of the bands that were involved. Richard Everitt, Ned Newitt and Jim Bailey were on the committee, at this time. This resulted in the creation of what was called ‘Modern Jazz Jam.’ These sessions were run by Richard Everitt. They took place on the second Tuesday of each month. On the last Tuesday of each month, Andrew Sime put on sessions made up of local and regional musicians with guest appearances by musicians of national importance.
The autumn/winter programme of Regent Jazz saw a show held on 29th September 2009, with Richard Everitt leading a concert of tunes with the Pete Houtman trio. This was the first of a series of sessions labelled ‘Jazz at The Regent.’
Andrew Sime took care of marketing in the early days. Richard Everitt was also involved. Others involved included Nick Hislam, Graham Dent, Peter Houtman and Paula Robinson. Steve Harris continued to take the entry fees on the door and was also on the committee. Andy Kirkland took over the work of marketing the concerts. In those days there was no formal structure or membership system. Concerts were open to the public. The committee was an informal group who met to organise the sessions and coordinate the bookings of bands and artists. It was not until much later on that a constitution was adopted. There has never been a membership system for the jazz concerts; it is, today, possible to subscribe to the membership of the Regent Sports and Social Club and this attracts a discount on Jazz concert entry fees.
In the early days of jazz concerts at the Regent Club, it was Steve Harris who took the entrance money on the door. He was also responsible for laying out the tables and chairs in the concert hall. He continues to do this to this day.
On 27th October 2009, the Nick Hislam Quartet played with trumpet star Dave Speedy. This was followed by a performance by the Jim Bailey Quartet on 24th November. Part of that programme included modern jazz jam sessions on 13th October and then on the second Tuesday of every month.
On Tuesday 25th January 2010, Regent Jazz Sessions, held a special event at the Regent Sports and Social Club. The concert was given by the Brian Humpherson Quartet, with Andy Kirkland on double bass, Brian on the keyboard, Barry Harvey on tenor sax and clarinet and Andrew Sime on drums. Concerts then became weekly, throughout the year except in August, when the musicians went on holiday.
In October 2011, weekly Jazz sessions were being held at the Regent Sports Club, on Tuesday evenings. Concerts, forming part of that programme, included Citizens of Swing, lead by Ned Newitt and his band, (which were held on the third Tuesday of the month), modern Jazz Jam sessions (held on the third Tuesday of the month), Paula Robinson and her Jazz friends and special guests Emily Heath with the Maurice Moore Quartet. Richard Everitt also put on Jam sessions on the second Tuesday of the month. 2011 also saw the introduction of Paula’s Christmas Jazz party in which five or six local bands played at a free session, attracting seventy or more attendees.
The second phase: 2012 to 2016
A concert was held on Tuesday 24th April 2012, billed as ‘The Three Double Basses!’ Each of the three musicians played twenty-minute sets with a small group and featured the work of one Jazz composer. The three double bass players then played together in new arrangements written for them by Geoff Cook. The three bass players were Paula Robinson, Geoff Cook and Andy Kirkland. Other musicians taking part that night included Peter Houtman, Andrew Sime, Richard Everitt, Dave Anderson, David Williams, Nick Hislam and Jim Bailey. The flyer for the concert noted that food was available. The title ‘Regent Jazz’ was first used in 2013, the same year in which a committee was formed to organise the programme.
A summer Jazz Party started in June or July of 2012. At around this time, Andy Kirkland organised an annual charity night. He also began to put on theme nights, including, for example, Hollywood and Broadway jazz which celebrated the music of George Gershwin, Ella Fitzgerald and the Three Double Basses. A charity night was held on Tuesday 22nd May 2018, billed as Charity Night for Bloodwise, to raise funds for blood cancer research. The concert’s programme included six bands.
The music of Duke Ellington featured in a concert given at a Regent Jazz concert on Tuesday 4th March 2014. That marked forty years since the Duke’s death in 1974. The programme featured a guest appearance by singer Mellow Baku. Instrumentalists performing that night included Andy Kirkland, Paula Robinson, Peter Houtman and Andrew Sime. The flyer also printed the website address for Regent Jazz and, by that time, pages had also been created on Facebook and Twitter
During the Leicester Comedy Festival, in 2014 and 2015, jazz was performed in the bar area of the Regent Sports and Social Club. In October 2014, Regent Jazz celebrated its first five years by hosting the twenty-piece Dave Speedy Big Band. The formation of the modern jazz jam sessions leads to several bands being formed by musicians who played at those concerts.
A few international artists have appeared at Regent Jazz, over the years. Since 2015, artists that played at the concerts have included, among others, American saxophonist Greg Abate, Alan Skidmore, Amy Roberts, John Hallam, Peter Churchill, Maurice Moore, Paul Dufour and Dick Peace.
Phase three: 2016 to 2019.
In 2016, there was a concert billed as ‘Dougie Wright plays & Sings’, held on 23rd February. Drummer Dougie Wright played the drums and sang (at the same time). He was a top London session drummer and recorded with Cilla Black, Adam Faith, Paul Jones, Alvin Stardust, Jeff Beck, the John Barry Seven and many others, the flyer explained. Others performing that evening included Graham Taylor, Barry Harvey and Andy Kirkland.
The programme for 2016 shows there was a double bill that included Salty & The Condiments and the Susen Mauser Sextet. Later that month, The Silver Song Five played the music of Horace Silver, the composer. September finished with a concert given by Chris Conway’s Happy Landings Trio and Quartet. In December, Paula organised another of her Christmas parties with Django All The Way, the Cool Jazz Trio, The Jamms Band, The Not So Big Band, Peter Houtman trio and The Afro City Swingers.
The music of George Gershwin was celebrated at a Regent Jazz concert on Tuesday 23rd May 2017. The programme featured six bands, nineteen musicians and a range of well-known Gershwin titles. The concert was a fund-raiser in support of Bloodwise (a charity concerned with beating blood cancer.)
In 2017, the programme for Tuesday 3rd October included a range of tunes specially selected for this night at Regent Jazz. At this concert, saxophonist Alan Skidmore performed, supported by other musicians, including Peter Houtman on piano, Richard Everitt on baritone sax, Paula Robinson on Double Bass and Andrew Sime on drums. Alan Skidmore has played with many well-known acts, as, for example, Georgie Fame, Stan Tracy, Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts and Van Morrison.
Singing songs by Sinatra and Nat King Cole, and others of that style, Birmingham vocalist Roy Forbes performed on 24th October 2017. With him were Barry Speirs (Keyboard), Nick Hislam (Sax), Simon Morley (Drums) and Andy Kirkland (double bass.)
A concert held on 22nd May 2018 celebrated the Jazz of Hollywood and Broadway. Another charity night to raise funds for Bloodwise, this programme featured six bands. The autumn season of 2018 kicked off with a set by the four Regent regulars. Peter Houtman (Keyboard), Richard Everitt (Sax), Andy Kirkland (Double Bass), and Andrew Sime (Drums.) Their set included numbers from the classic American songbook and, for part of the concert, was augmented by top Leicester tenor Andy Nicholls. By September 2018, The Modern Jazz Jam night has become firmly established. These shows enabled a wide range of musicians to perform in various combinations.
The KGB Jazz band performed on the 18th June 2018 in a programme of swing, Latin and standards in addition to the band’s own compositions. Vocals were supplied by singer Gemma Lakin. The Great American Songbook was the theme of the concert held on 23rd October 2018. On stage, for that show, were Mike Kemp, vocalist Kat Pagett, Double Bass player Andy Kirkland and drummer Stu Graham. The week after, there was a concert given by Swing Gitan who performed music inspired by Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt.
2019 continued to provide audiences with enjoyable shows. The Swinging Bass Band played on 19th February with vocalist Roy Forbes. On stage that night were Roy Forbes (Vocals), Neil Hunter (Keyboard), Steve Liptrot (Saxophones), Andy Richardson (Drums) and Andy Kirkland (Double Bass.)
On 18th June, The Dave Collinson Quartet performed with Alex Hewins. They were accompanied by Barry Speirs (Keyboard), Andy Kirkland (Double Bass ) and Stu Graham (drums.) Dave Collinson has been composing and leading a band for many years. Alex Hewins studied at Trinity Laban College in London, has played with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Leicester’s Bardi Orchestra.
Today Regent Jazz is a flourishing part of Leicester’s music scene. Bands can hire rehearsal rooms at the club. The Regenerates, for example, meets there every Thursday lunchtime. Other bands often hire time at the club to prepare for their gigs. Regent Jazz now has over one hundred semi-professional musicians, most of which are very experienced but also including those who are starting out. Some of those new artists appear at the free-entry showcase concerts that are held on the second Tuesday of each month.
The 10th Anniversary of Regent Jazz will be celebrated at a special concert featuring new and recent players as well as musicians from the early days of Regent Jazz. Details of this free event are available from the Regent Jazz website.
The building, in which Regent Jazz holds its concerts, used to be the sports and social club of EMGAS. That was in 1969 when EMGAS had its offices in nearby De Montfort Street. The building itself was designed by the well-known Victorian architect Henry Goddard (1813 to 1899.) It was originally the home of Leicester-born John Flower (1793 to 1861), a landscape and architectural artist. At that time, the address was Upper Regent Street. Later, Regent Street was re-named Regent Road. In 1904, the substantial building, at 102 Regent Road, was extended and split into two properties, half becoming what is today the Regent Sports and Social Club.
In preparing this article I gratefully acknowledge the help of Steve Harris, Barry Dufour and Andrew Sime. This is the long version of the article, intended to act as the source for other, briefer, resumes of the history.