Soho Jazz Club Walk
This is a walk around Soho visiting the locations of famous jazz clubs, some which closed many years ago, but some which are still thriving today. The walk follows a circular route starting and finishing at Oxford Circus tube station which intersects with the Central, Victoria and Bakerloo lines. It last about an hour at a moderate pace.
After arriving at Oxford Circus station you should take Exit 2 (Oxford Street East, Regent Street South). This will bring you out on the south side of Oxford Street, you should then continue east along Oxford Street.
The Original Marquee Club
After a few hundred yards you will pass a big Marks and Spencer's store on your right, and just after this, a new building at the junction with Poland Street at 165 Oxford Street. This used to be the Academy Cinema and in the basement was the Marquee Ballroom which on 19th April 1958 hosted the first Jazz at the Marquee night. It was initiated by Harold Pendleton a jazz loving accountant who was secretary of the National Jazz Federation.
The first night saw a performance by the Michael Garrick Quartet and Kenny Baker, and early resident acts included Johnny Dankworth, Chris Barber and Alexis Corner. Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott were also regular performers. In 1962 the club began a regular R&B night and by 1963 had become more associated with that style of music, featuring artists such as Manfred Mann, Brian Auger and visiting Americans such as Muddy Waters. In 1964 the club moved to Wardour Street and went on to become one of the most important venues in British rock history.
Continue east along the south side of Oxford Street. Eventually you come to a junction with Wardour Street. Before crossing Wardour Street use the pedestrian crossing to cross to the other side of Oxford Street. Continue east long the north side of Oxford Street and you'll come to a red and white sign on the left saying '100 Club'
The 100 Club
in 1942 this venue (then a restaurant called Mack's) but was hired out by Robert Feldman to host a jazz club. The initial line-up included Frank Weir, Kenny Baker and Jimmy Skidmore, with guest artists the Feldman trio made up of Feldman's own children, including an eight year old Victor Feldman on drums. The club was popular with American GIs who introduced the jitterbug dance to the club (which was banned at many other venues). The club started out featuring Swing bands, but also booked bebop musicians such as Ronnie Scott and Johnny Dankworth, and featured visiting American artists such as Art Pepper and Benny Goodman. It also became a base for black musicians who'd moved to London from other parts of the British Empire, including Frank Holder, Coleridge Goode and Ray Ellington.
From the 1960's onward the club became more associated with the rock scene, and in the 1970's became one of the most important venues in the development of Punk rock. In 2010 the venue was threatened with closure, however a campaign was launched to save the club which was supported by many high profile musicians including Sir Paul McCartney, and a partnership with Nike subsidiary Converse enabled the club to stay open. In 2020 Westminster Council offered the club 100% Business Rates Relief, securing its future as a viable operation. It continues to present a varied program of music (although not much jazz these days!)
Continue past the club until you get to a junction with Newman Street. Here use the pedestrian crossing to cross back to the south side of Oxford Street. Continue east. The next street on the right is Dean Street and after that there is a block of buildings. In a basement here, at 79 Oxford Street was the studios of the London Dance Institute and from 1955 it was used as the location of the Johnny Dankworth Club
Johnny Dankworth Club
Dankworth was born in Woodford Essex in 1927 and went to school at the St George Monoux Grammar School in Walthamstow. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and played alto sax and clarinet in the Royal Air Force band during the war. He worked on the Queen Mary liner in 1947 which took him to New York and he even played with Charlie Parker at the Paris Jazz Festival in 1949. He was one of the small group of British musicians who were keen to experiment with the new 'bebop' style of jazz they were hearing on records and on visits to New York. In 1950 he formed a small group, the Dankworth Seven as a vehicle for his writing, and later his big band which used to perform at his club.
Continue east and take the next street on the right into Soho Street. At the end of the street turn right into Soho Square. Continue anti-clockwiswe around the square passing Carlisle Street on your right. At the corner of the square head straight on into Frith Street. Continue down the street until you see the famous sign of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club ahead.
Ronnie Scott's (New Place)
The club moved here in 1965 from smaller premises on Gerrard Street (see later in the walk) although the smaller venue continued until 1967 when the lease ran out. The club played host to both UK musicians and visiting American and European musicians, and Ronnie and his business partner Peter King (who was also a saxophonist) regulalrly booked some of the biggest names in the jazz world to play at the club including, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Jimmy Griffin, Roland Kirk, Lee Konitz and Sonny Stitt amongst many others. There was usually a house band who would perform with guest artists and over the years included musicians such as Phil Seaman and Alan Ganley on drums and Stan Tracey on piano. The club celebrated it's sixtieth birthday in 2019 and continues to host live jazz every night of the week.
Continue down Frith Street until you come to the junction with Shaftesbury Avenue. Turn right here and continue down Shaftesbury Avenue. Use the zebra crossing just after the junction with Dean Street to cross to the other side of the road. A bit further on turn left into Wardour Street. A little way down Wardour Street on your right you'll see an O'Neill's pub, this was the location of the Flamingo Club and a blue plaque on the wall gives some more information.
The Flamingo Club
The club first opened in 1952 under the ownership of Jeffrey Kruger in Coventry Street, but in 1957 moved to the basement of a former grocery store at 33-37 Wardour Street. 37 Wardour Street had also formerly been the location of the Shim Sham Club which opened in 1935. The Flamingo began as a jazz venue with Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes members of the resident band and became known for its 'all nighters' when it stayed open on Friday and Saturday nights until 6.00am.
The club was bought by ex-boxer Rik Gunnell in 1959 and the music policy gradually changed to include more R&B and blues bands, although jazz was still featured at the club. It became an important venue in the development of sixties rock and R&B music, and famous patrons included The Rolling Stones, members of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Guitarist John McLaughlin said "The Flamingo was the real meeting place, more than the 100 Club and the Marquee. Everybody came down there and we had some really good jam sessions'"
From 1962 to 1965 the resident band was Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. The club also sometimes featured visiting American artists including Stevie Wonder and Jerry Lee Lewis. Dizzy Gillespie, Otis Redding and Carmen McRae also appeared there in the sixties. The club was later renamed the "Pink Flamingo", but closed in May 1969. It briefly became "The Temple" which featured prog rock bands such as Genesis and Queen but closed for good in 1972.
Continue on down Wardour Street and turn left into Gerrard Street. Towards the end of the short street on the right is a small Taiwanese Restaurant with a wrought iron fence and steps leading down into a basement. This is was the location of the original Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club.
Ronnie Scott's (The Old Place)
Ronnie Scott's first club opened on 30th October 1959 in this basement. It was set up and managed by Scott and his business partner Peter King.
Scott was born Ronald Schatt on the 28th January 1927 in Aldgate, London and began playing in small jazz clubs at the age of sixteen. He went on to tour with many of the significant big bands of the day including those run by Johnny Claes and Ted Heath. He was one of a small group of musicians who worked on the Queen Mary Cunard liner which would sail to New York, and it was here that he first heard bebop played, and was inspired to recreate the music with like-minded musicians back in London.
He was one of the ten musicians who founded the Club Eleven venue in Great Windmill Street which became the centre of the bebop movement in London (see later in the walk). In 1965 the club moved to the larger premises on Frith street, but Scott continued putting on music at the 'Old Place' until the lease ran out, and he used this opportunity to book young up and coming British musicians such as Michael Garrick and Chris McGregor.
In October 2019 Ronnie Scott's celebrated its sixtieth birthday and to mark the occasion a blue plaque was put up by English Heritage to commemorate the original location of the club.
Retrace your steps back down Gerrard Street and right into Wardour Street until you reach Shaftesbury Avenue again. Turn left down Shaftesbury Avenue. Just before the junction with Rupert Street cross to the other side of the road, and continue until you come to Great Windmill Street. Turn right here. A little way up on the right you'll see a doorway with the numbers 41 - 44 on the wall next to it. This was the original location of the Club Eleven.
This was a nightclub which ran between 1948 and 1950 and played a significant role in the emergence of the bebop jazz movement in the UK.
It was called Club Eleven because it had eleven founders - business manager Harry Morris along with ten musicians, among them Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth, Tony Crombie and Lennie Bush. The club grew out of informal jam sessions held at a place called Mac's Rehearsal Room which occupied a basement on this site previously. The club was near to Archer Street where musicians would congregate to find work and get paid for jobs, so the location was perfect.
Many of the musicians involved had worked on the Queen Mary liner which used to sail between Southampton and New York, and had heard the young bebop musicians who were revolutionising the music.
John Dankworth said: "Club 11 was an indirect result of Ronnie and me and all the rest of us coming off the 'boats' full of this music and wanting to try it out"
Drummer Tony Crombie remembers: "There was music going on all day from two in the afternoon, guys would start showing up...it was all rehearsal even the sessions."
Ronnie Scott: "Odd faces used to come down to Mac's to listen or jam...so we thought we'd do it one night a week and charge people to come in...it ended up six nights a week"
In 1950 the club moved to 50 Carnaby Street (see later in the walk)
Continue up Great Windmill Street and you'll come to a junction with Archer Street to the right and Ham Yard to the left. Archer Street used to be the location of the Musicians Union, however in those days the Union only catered for classical musicians so jazz and dance band musicians would congregate in the cafe's and bars in the surrounding streets. Archer Street became a kind of unofficial labour exchange where people would go if they wanted to hire a band or individual musicians. Musicians would also sometimes be paid for work completed there. It also provided a space for musicians to socialise and network. The location was important because it ran behind a number of theatres, and was in the heart of the West End theatre scene where many musicians worked.
In the above photo, on the left, you can see a sign for the Harmony Inn which was a big 'greasy spoon' cafe in the middle of Archer Street frequented mostly by musicians and which was open all night to cater for those finishing work late in the bars and theatres of the West End.
Continue on up Great Windmill Street and when you come to a crossroads, continue on into Lexington Street. A little way up Lexington Street turn left into Beak Street. Continue down Beak Street, past a turning to Marshall Street on your right and continue until you come to Carnaby Street and turn right there.
50 Carnaby Street
A little way up on the left you'll see the small entrance into Kingly Court. The basement of the building just before this used to house a number of important London clubs.
In 1950 Club Eleven moved here from its original location in Great Windmill Street. However on the 15th April that year police raided the premises and arrested a number of people for possession of drugs. Amongst them were a number of musicians including Ronnie Scott himself. The resulting trial was given quite a lot of press coverage as a number of those arrested were white, demonstrating that illegal drug use was not just confined to the black community (which was the popular belief at the time). The club folded soon after although the venue later became the Sunset Club, one of the most famous calypso clubs in London and from 1961 the Roaring Twenties nightclub. Today the basement premises are the location of the Carnaby Street branch of the Nightjar cocktail bars, which still feature regular live music!
Obviously Carnaby Street itself became an important street in the 'Swinging London' fashion and music scene of the 1960's
Continue to the end of Carnaby Street and turn left into Great Malborough Street by the famous Liberty's Department Store. Turn almost immediately right into Argyll Street which will take you back to Oxford Street and Oxfrod Circus station.