NEWS AND REVIEWS
ParrJazz and the Liverpool jazz scene: a tour around the best on offer
Getintothis’ Matthew Wood delves into the Liverpool jazz scene introducing influential jazz host, ParrJazz, and revealing the best jazz nights across the city.
My introduction to ParrJazz came late, far too late and prior to that I’d been twiddling my thumbs most Tuesday nights, missing out on a host of fantastic shows week-in-week-out, and best of all… free of charge.
Scanning photographs of previous events, I realised how much I’d already missed. Let’s face it, everyone needs a little something to brighten up their Tuesday and ParrJazz just does that.
The face behind ParrJazz belongs to John McCormick; a brilliant double-bass player with an unfailing ear for jazz talent. His consistency when booking gigs is second to none and I can guarantee his choice of acts cater for just about everyone.
Whether you’re looking for classic jazz pieces rewritten and reworked, cutting edge jazz fusion acts, or a blast from the past with a real-life legend, ParrJazz really does encompass it all.
The mood on a Tuesday is enticing, Parrjazz pulls a diverse crowd of all ages, from the hip, jazz lovers in their flat caps who sit patiently over their drink, taking it all in, to the wild eccentrics who pull in late to exhibit their talents at the open jazz jam (I’ll come back to this). What is inspiring is that there is always a great turnout, Johnand ParrJazz host something special, and once you’ve visited once, you’ll sack off Tuesday night telly to witness the buzz of the Liverpool jazz scene.
It really is a buzz, too, Parrjazz is seeing host to more and more iconic figures whose musical repertoires are a little tattered around the edges, but their content will make your jaw hit the floor. Take for instance, Victor Brox, a kooky blues legend with a plaited white beard who once played a Leonardo da Vinci lookalike. He frequents the club when he’s in town to sing numbers about swigging mead in the morning and alternating between his old faithful acoustic and some vintage keys.
His voice has been praised globally, particularly by a couple of figures that may ring some bells; Jimi Hendrixand Tina Turner. Both are said to have held Brox’s vocal as the best white blues singer of their time… a true legend among us. It must be all that mead in the early hours…
Showcasing another facet of the jazz world, ParrJazz pulls in young and gifted acts such as Artephis; a quintet in their early twenties storming a range of jazz festivals across the country with their original compositions. It’s always astounding to see such fresh faces harnessing such raw talent and these lads are just getting started.
The Manchester band call upon the likes of Miles Davis and Grammy nominated trumpet player, Christian Scott when conjuring up their progressive numbers. The band released their debut album All Change No Changeearlier this year so you can sink your teeth into that on their Bandcamp; it’s a smooth, flowing album that already sounds like a classic.
While there’s always time for a night with a serious, enriching edge, Studio2 can offer a real party atmosphere, too. Top wedding acts and stalwart entertainers fill the venue on the reg, all with their unique talents that you’d otherwise have to pay for the privilege.
Take recent performers Grumpah! A whacky trio with multiple personas, switching between classic Louis Armstrong numbers (Bob Ludlam does a cracking vocal impression), 1920’s movie scores and contemporary anthems bursting with trumpet and sousaphone (see below). We could go on to mention every act we’ve seen, but where’s the fun in reading that? You’ll just have have to witness them for yourselves…
If we take a macrocosmic view of the jazz scene, and given today’s musical climate, it’s only a handful of bands and artists who can ever breakthrough to the mainstream. In pop music these acts abide by the big handbook of success and this can put a stopper in their progression as true musicians.
What you’ll witness with ParrJazz is understated talent that perhaps isn’t realised by some; while those on big bucks are hitting play on a laptop in front of 20,000 people, many jazz artists are weaving melodies you didn’t know could be physically played to a much smaller crowd.
However, there’s a glowing sense of pride in the fact that they’re considered jazz musicians and to commit so much for so little reward (in comparison) is an attitude rarely seen these days.
When you bear in mind some of these musicians may not have even played together before, they’ll have a quick chat half an hour before their set over a cup of coffee and read over some sheet music, but it rarely goes beyond that. Yet their versatility and ability allows them to provide seamless performances that utilise expressive improvisation and true musical instinct to guide themselves through the most complex of pieces.
Pop music and jazz don’t have to exist at opposite ends of the spectrum, they can coexist and even compliment each other, but it’s certainly true that inspirational musical talent can go unnoticed because of its label ‘jazz’.
It’s the artist’s musical intuition that separates jazz performances from most others, and you only have to stick around past 11:00pm at Studio2 to witness a unique conglomeration of jazz lovers of all ages and all abilities in the open jazz jam. Encouraging everyone and anyone to take part, whether they’re tapping along on percussion or leading their newfound band members with a ballsy sax solo, it’s a great chance to push your abilities and develop your onstage antics.
Studio2 isn’t the only jazz night to host an open jam either, and these steps to make jazz more inclusive are crucial in the progression of jazz that we’ve seen in the mainstream of late.
Jazz has always had a influential, nourishing role to play in music history, and it’s still does. With acts such as Kamasi Washington, Snarky Puppy, Go Go Penguin and Thundercat among some of the most successful at the time of writing, it’s true that some talents are not left without mention and more and more are revelling in the wonders of jazz; which is why we’re seeing such young and prolific talents break onto the scene.
Jazz has its origins in the dim lit bars of New Orleans and it still owes as much to these small, intimate mid-week performances as it always has done so come on down and support your local jazz scene, you won’t regret it.
Alongside ParrJazz and Studio2, Liverpool, of course, boasts a bundle of venues that lay home to some top jazz nights. Pretty much every night of the week you can treat yourself to a dose of jazz ,whether it be laid-back atmosphere to take the edge off or a fully immersive gig alongside a few ales; you’re bound to find something.
Ma Boyle’s Alehouse & Eatery – Water St, Liverpool L3 1LG
Also working alongside ParrJazz and featuring John McCormick and co. is Ma Boyle’s Alehouse & Eatery, hosting jazz every Saturday. Another cosy setting with a royal host of acts including ones you may have missed the Tuesday before at Frederiks. Get onto parrjazz.co.uk for the full listings.
Forq: Studio 2, Liverpool
Sophisticated boom boom
Going back to their roots in Studio 2, ParrJazz welcomed Forq to Liverpool’s finest Tuesday night entertainment. Mikey Fell was there to check it out.
As always the crowd for ParrJazz is an eclectic mix, evident from the pot of tea rubbing shoulders with a pint of Stella on the table next to ours. Ideal then for the headline group whose genre can’t quite be put into one box, but nicely comes under the umbrella of tight and groovy.
Forq are a four-piece instrumental group, and spent Tuesday night playing a mixture of songs from three of their albums, and with each song lasting roughly ten minutes, time was racing away.
Keyboardist Henry Hey leads the group, who are something of an all-star band. Snarky Puppy’s Chris McQueen is on guitar, Jason ‘JT’ Thomas, who is best known for playing with Marcus Miller and D’Angelo, is on drums, and Kevin Scott is on bass by way of Wayne Krantz and Jimmy Herring.
The quartet are in the middle of a European tour promoting their album, Thrēq (pronounced ‘threek’), so they are currently a well-honed machine. Their energy is incredible. Thomas particularly impressed. He opened the final number of the first set with a drum solo lasting over six minutes, spurred on by the whooping in the crowd.
Some personal highlights were Taizo (the opening track from Thrēq) and a song which featured accompaniment from an outside car alarm from Chris McQueen on slide guitar. The songs titles were difficult to catch, and somebody must have mentioned it at the break, as McQueen returned to the stage exclaiming “The song titles don’t really matter, do they?”. I guess not if your first set ends in a standing ovation.
The second set was even greater than the first, bringing in some incredibly diverse moments that silenced the crowd. It made this writer wish I’d bagged a seat at the very front so I could get a close-up view of the musicians perfecting their craft.
And that is the crux of it; their musicianship was amazing. To catch them in such an intimate venue for FREE makes the experience even sweeter.
Hey thanked the crowd for supporting live music, but on a grander scale, it’s good to see more musicians making Liverpool a point on their touring map, and we owe a debt of gratitude to both ParrJazz and Studio 2 for making it happen.
ParrJazz takes place every Tuesday at Studio 2. Entry is free.
Lead Image: Artist’s website