INTERVIEW: Chi Jazz - (Thames Jazz Nights on R.S. Hispaniola & City Cruises)

Chi Jazz  - City Cruises
Photo Credit: Chi Jazz



If you’re looking to get a jazz fix with a twist - writes Leah Williams -  then make your way down to the Thames where City Cruises provide wonderfully entertaining jazz dinner evenings that feed your eyes, ears and your appetite all at once! In addition to their regular Friday evening cruises, they are about to unveil, on the static floating restaurant - the R.S. Hispaniola - jazz nights, where a gourmet 3-course meal is on offer, together with a stunning view of Big Ben and The London Eye as well as the same sultry tones of the resident jazz quintet, Chi Jazz. City Cruises are kindly offering LondonJazz News readers 20% off all their Thames Jazz Nights.

John Clarke, drummer and one of the founders of Chi Jazz, spoke to Leah about why they love playing on the Thames Jazz Nights: 


LondonJazz News: Chi Jazz is the resident band aboard the Thames Jazz Nights - tell us a bit about how you came together.

John Clarke: We all met in Chichester, where we were studying jazz, around twenty years ago now. This is where the name comes from: the “Chi” is short for “Chichester”. We’d all been working as professional musicians for many years, across lots of different genres and projects, and all in our own way ended up realising that our main passion was for jazz so went to Chichester to study further. It was a great place because everyone there was already a very accomplished musician and so the vibe was brilliant and the jamming of a really high quality. We realised we were melding so well together as a group that it would be a shame not to take it further - Chi Jazz was born!

LJN: So everyone in Chi Jazz is from Chichester? How many of you are there?

JC: We’re quite an unusual outfit because we’re like a big musical family and there are around 15 of us now. This is what allows us to be in two (or even three!) places at the same time. The original members were all from Chichester - we even have some of the old tutors in the group - and now we’ve got a few younger members joining who are from Trinity or elsewhere as well.

LJN: So who from Chi Jazz plays on the Thames Jazz Nights with City Cruises?

JC: We’re made up of a core trio: myself on drums, Matt Tween on bass and Steve Grainger on sax. Then we add keys or guitar and normally a vocalist for a quintet line-up. We’ve got three excellent female vocalists who we work with on a regular basis and who all have their own individual styles and song books. So this, and the various instrumental line-ups, really keep every gig fresh and interesting. We also sometimes use twin horns instead of vocals, which has also proven to be really popular and gives a different edge to the sound.

LJN: What are some of your favourite pieces to play or what generally goes down well with the crowd?

JC: That’s almost impossible to answer because every evening can be so different! The most important thing for us is that the crowd are having a great, entertaining and memorable time. We play two sets during the evening and we usually start out with some jazz standards from the Great American Songbook. We have a set list of around 300 or more tunes that we can call on so we do tend to mix it up for every gig. Then it really depends on the audience; we try to gauge their reaction and decide what they might like next! We might do some more ballads or step it up and do some up-tempo contemporary jazz/pop crossover numbers if people are feeling energetic!

LJN: Do you ever try out any serious contemporary jazz numbers on them?

JC: No, we try to steer clear of any “off-the-edge” jazz. You’ve got to remember, this audience have got no escape route (laughs)! We don’t want people jumping overboard! It really is a great dinner jazz atmosphere and the main aim is that everyone has a good time. Also, we get a real mix of people coming. Some are really into their jazz but some are coming along to try something new or for the fun of an evening of music, dinner and fantastic views on the Thames. We really love jazz and want to spread the word rather than scare people off!

LJN: So will you also be playing on the R.S. Hispaniola, which is in fact a static restaurant rather than a cruise?

JC: We will indeed. We do every Friday on the Jazz Cruises and will be doing every Thursday night on the R.S. Hispaniola. It’s a really beautiful setting with a prime location looking out over the London Eye and Big Ben, which looks so stunning at night time especially. The food is set to be delicious and we’re super excited about getting started! (pp)

READER DISCOUNT: Book your tickets for any of the Thames Jazz Nights and get 20% discount by calling 0207 7400 400 and quote ‘LondonJazz News’ to redeem this offer.

LINK: City Cruises

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