Women in Jazz: Esther Bennett on the Jam Scene

LondonJazz contributor and former alto sax player turned notable jazz singer, Esther Bennett is a veteran of many of London's jazz jams. She picks out her favourite jazz jams and profiles young Latvian guitarist, Nora Bite, a regular face on the jam scene.

Born in Latvia’s capital Riga, Nora Bite took up guitar at 13. Her original interests were pop and rock but after attending a guitar week in Madona, Latvia she discovered blues and flamenco, and was very quickly introduced to jazz by a friend and teacher.

She studied Jazz Guitar and Music Management at the Riga Dom Choir School, thereafter attending summer schools in Spain and at Umbria Jazz and Berkeley. It was when Nora came to The London Jazz Festival in 2009 that she realised that to develop as a player, she had got as far as she could as a jazz musician in her own country.

The inspiration she gained from London and NY jazz musicians asserted her belief. She had been gigging and teaching from the age of 16 and was by now in a jazz quartet with some of Latvia's finest musicians not to mention the offer fame and fortune in an all girl Latvian pop band, but jazz and the desire to improve won out!

So in 2010 she arrived in London. The rest is a familiar story for any serious trainee jazz musician – travelling to all areas and edges of this city in search of the jazz jam - to play, up one's game or to simply soak up the vibe with like-minded people.

We are all familiar with the famous Ronnie Scott's jams and Nora arrived when Mike Mwenso had moved to the main stage leaving at first saxophonist Binker Golding and then trumpeter Andy Davies (with the fabulous pianist Benet McLean), to run the upstairs sessions.

There are other very longstanding and rather unsung jam leaders and venues deserving a nod. Guitarist, Alan Weekes, is heavily involved in the jam session circuit, running Uncle Sam’s at The Haggerston in Dalston and co-running nights at The Effra in Brixton with drummer Kenrick Rowe.

Saxophonist Bucky Leo and his quartet host a weekly jam every Monday at The Silver Bullet in Finsbury Park and drummer Matt Fisher runs Wednesday evenings at St Paul’s City Pipe. Not forgetting the Jazz Downstairs at The Kings' Head in Crouch End, with the Laurie Morgan Trio, including regular pianist, John China and compered by singer and LondonJazz contributor, Jeanie Barton.

These are only a few but I am sure Nora, like most musicians learning their trade, will have scoured Jazz In London and followed them all.

Nora, like most serious female musicians, agrees that the bottom line is that one is judged by one's musical ability and not by gender….but I think that we can all empathise with the advice given to her by a Latvian teacher, that, in a predominantly male world, you have be tough, independent, focused and have “bigger balls”!

If you're looking for a jazz jam in London, check out http://www.jazzinlondon.net/


  1. And not to forget London's many singers' nights, e.g. the monthly at the Vortex and so on. And where the majority of the performers are female (as is the drummer at the Vortex, Cheryl Alleyne). Celebrated by the Angela Carrington Awards annually.

  2. Very true! And the wonderful Vocal night at the Spice of Life every Wednesday. Thanks very much for your support today Oliver. Must check out that big band album! Fran

  3. We were pleased to have Nora at The Eleanor Arms Monthly Jazz Jam last Sunday.

  4. Yes I'll have the pleasure of working with Nora soon...looking forward to it.

  5. Nora Nora Nora... she's the girle!!!

  6. hey yes ofcourse the Vortex - but was tying the piece in with (instrumental) jams that Nora had attended - but sorry for not mentioning Vortex.
    I wasn't really intending to highlight singers nights (surprisingly!)as th epiece was about a female instrumentalist on the jam scene. xx

  7. Thanks for mentioning The King's long-running bebop jam Esther (20+ years and counting!) Aren't we lucky to have so many London venues to hang in and meet new friends..? All readers, musos and singers are welcome to come and have a knees up with us every Sunday afternoon! X

  8. re: The Jazz Downstairs at Kings Head
    Hi yes am planning to come down soon....and would be lovely to see John China again.