Liverpool - When did the music die?

Feature article for a news agency (uni assignment)

The door is knocked open. The round sounds of a contrabass, a deep, rasping saxophone and the muted sound of brushes against a snare drum suddenly fill the November air. It is Jazz, and virtually nonexistent in Liverpool. It has not always been that way…

When Jazz came marching in
From the second half of the 18th century, Liverpool prospered as one of the major players in the slave trade of that time. Liverpool, being one of the busiest ports of England, was the first point of entry for goods and habits from the new continent.

As such, Liverpool seaport became the gate for Jazz to Europe as early as the 1920s. Sailors on leave in American ports would pick up records of new artists. From the early days of Jazz the sailors would buy albums by old heroes like James P Johnson, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, introducing the genre to Liverpool.

Some of the sailors started selling albums to the record stores in Liverpool. Musicians would buy the albums and imitate the style - A new form of music was born.

The big war - The Big Jazz
When the Second World War broke out, Liverpool was very badly bombed. A large part of the city lay in ruins. While the war was going on, music only became a more important part of Liverpool life. Around the same time, big new stars like Dizzy Gillespie and Cab Calloway joined the old-timers, and Jazz got a new boost.

In the beginning of the 1940s, some of the most prominent Jazz places in Liverpool opened for business. The Exchange Hotel, The Kinkajou Club, the Majorca Coffee Bar and The Jacaranda Coffee Bar - the latter is actually still open in its original location - were all jazz-themed, thriving bars. Most of these places would serve coffee, soft drinks and have live acts.

A few years later, The opening of Mardi Gras Jazz Club illustrated how big Jazz had become in Liverpool. The place could hold more than 1500 people - a big thing in its time, as most of the other clubs and bars held 200 people at the most.

The Cavern - The beginning of the end of Jazz in Liverpool
In 1957, Alan Sytner opened his third club in Liverpool. After having received a positive response to his two previous clubs - the 21 Jazz club and the West Coast Jazz Club - he wanted to do something else, and The Cavern was born.

The Cavern Club aimed to be the prime Jazz act in the city of Liverpool, and they very much succeeded. In the next four years, the Cavern club increased in popularity and drew some really large and famous acts indeed. At one point in time, Jazz in Liverpool equaled The Cavern.

In march of 1961s, a little band called The Beatles, just returned from Hamburg, started performing at The Cavern. They played a new music style called Rock and Roll. In the beginning, The Beatles were looked upon as more of a nuisance than anything else - They played as supporting bands for Jazz and Skiffle acts, and did not really seem to fit in anywhere.

By 1963, things had changed seriously. The Skiffle movement had taken over the whole music scene, and Jazz had been phased out completely in The Cavern.

While the Beat, Merseybeat and Skiffle movements were raging in Liverpool - and most of the rest of Europe as well - Jazz was not forgotten, but it was definitely in its decline. There were still a few Jazz-only clubs left, and quite some clubs had Jazz nights. However, new waves of popular music shaved away more and more of the Jazz music's popularity, and many Jazz clubs had to throw in the towel.

Originally from Liverpool, Norway's most famous Jazz DJ David Fishel says that the town used to be great for jazz: "My fondest jazz memories in Liverpool are the times I attended concerts at the Blue Coat (just off Church Street). Fantastic gigs, featuring England's best....Stan Tracey, Don Rendell, Michael Garrick, Tony Coe... It was an education! "

After the late 50s, Jazz has had its minor jolts of interest. Most notably, The Funk and Soul movements of the 60s, the Motown and Free Jazz styles of the 70s, the Dixieland revival and the Blues Brothers movie of the 1980s helped raise new awareness of the jazz genre. In spite of this, it has been fighting an uphill battle it was doomed to lose:

In the mid-1990s, the Heebiejebees Jazz Club was the only jazz-only club left in Liverpool. The club drew some great contemporary jazz bands, but it was forced to close in 1999 due to economical problems.

The only thing that is left of the once-thriving Jazz community in Liverpool are jazz-nights at a local club, where students studying at Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts can play their music twice a week.

The world's biggest graveyard
In the centre of Liverpool, a church was hit by a bomb in the Second World War. Its roof is gone. One of the outer walls has collapsed. The fence around it is rusted. The chain locking the cemetery gate is gleaming new. It is possible that is where Liverpool's Jazz lies buried. May it rest in peace, and reincarnate soon.

updated october 16, 2002

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.