INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Nick Costley-White (Finale of Jazz Nursery, 22 February, Iklectik Arts Lab)

"The atmosphere of playing in the belly of this beautiful wooden boat was incredible"
Olie Brice, Tim Giles, Alec Harper and Tim Giles at the Golden Hinde

Musician-led monthly gigs under the Jazz Nursery banner have been a feature of the London scene since 2012, but will most likely come to an end next Thursday 22 February. Guitarist Nick Costley-White has been involved since the start. Here he looks back at the past six years, explains the background to the decision to stop, and comments on the state of musician-led gigs in London as Jazz Nursery departs the scene. Interview by Sebastian:   

LondonJazz News: How did Jazz Nursery get started?

Nick Costley-White: Soon after leaving music college I had the ambition to start up a regular gig, very much inspired by nights like the Con Cellar Bar in Camden. Some actor friends, who'd studied at the Guildhall where I’d studied jazz, had the lease on a new venue underneath a railway arch behind the Tate Modern which they were running as a theatre space called the Nursery Theatre. Clarinettist Dom James was in touch with them so we teamed together and started the Jazz Nursery once a month.

LJN: And why was it started ?

N C-W: Having just left college I was still learning the ropes of performing and working on playing my own and other people’s music. We wanted to create an environment for people to try new things out in an interesting space.

LJN: Who was in the original team?

N C-W: Soon after Dom and I conceived the idea trumpeter Will Rixon was joined us to help out and since then has always designed our distinctive gig posters.

LJN:  There was - I believe - a Guildhall connection when you started...?

Will and I had studied together at the Guildhall and a lot of the musicians who initially performed at the venue had a background at the school. The first gig was led by two Guildhall alumni; Rick Simpson Quartet and Tom Challenger's Brass Mask.

LJN:  Who else played a part - were there people who got actively involved later? 

N C-W: The team has expanded over the years and we've had tremendous help from Sam Braysher who took on the somewhat thankless task of filling in the 80 page Arts Council application, who we were very grateful to receive funding from two years running.

Helena Kay, Miguel Gorodi and David Benyahia have also provided invaluable help over the years

Dom James' input into facilitating the night throughout it’s tenure was totally vital. He sourced all three of the venues and gave all of us lazy jazz musicians a good kick up the arse to aim much higher than most of us would have thought possible. Characters like Dom and the much missed Richard Turner who set up jazz at the Con Cellar are so important to the grass routes scene. I think there’s a space now for the next generation to do something new!

LJN:  Is it really ending or is there is a chance it might continue

N C-W: It's come to quite a natural conclusion for me and the team, and sadly the venue Iklectik who've hosted us for almost two years are no longer able to accommodate us. I'd love to see another team of people take the reigns in running a new night and we'd love to help support them in whichever way we can! We've amassed a significant mailing list over the years which would be a powerful tool for a new promoter to inherit.....

Nick Costley-White
Photo credit: Dave Hamblett

LJN:  You have presumably got too busy doing other stuff  - what are your main gigs at the moment?

N C-W: This is a really exciting year for me as I'll be releasing my quartet's debut album this Summer with the fantastic new label Ubuntu Music. The launch is at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho on the 31st July. I'll be promoting the album with an extensive UK tour in the Autumn. I'm also touring a lot in Europe with several other groups including Snowpoet, Anthony Strong and The Dixie Ticklers. I have the great pleasure of playing with my standards trio featuring Steve Brown and Dario Di Lecce every Thursday at Dishoom in Kensington

American Saxophonist Chris Cheek played Jazz Nursery

LJN:  There must have been some highlights among the Jazz Nursery gigs?

N C-W: We spent over a year doing the Jazz Nursery gigs on the replica of Sir Francis Drake's boat the Golden Hinde next to London Bridge. The atmosphere of playing in the belly of this beautiful wooden boat was incredible and it attracted a whole new, and very sizeable audience to the gig.

One specific memory which comes to mind was a gig with James Maddren's trio, featuring Calum Gourlay and Julian Siegel. Halfway through their exhilarating set the boat's electricity short circuited and the whole venue was plunged into complete darkness. Luckily the band was performing totally acoustically so they were able to carry on regardless, lit only by the phones of audience members filming this bizarre yet uniquely atmospheric gig! (James Maddren previewed this gig for LJN).

With the Arts Council grant we were able to commission composer John Warren to write a suite of music for the jazz nursery. It was performed by a nonet put together especially for the gig featuring trumpeter Steve Fishwick and saxophonist James Allsopp. This band has continued to gig since, including a performance at last years London Jazz Festival. (preview of the premiere).

We've also been lucky enough to feature some international artists including saxophonist Chris Cheek, as well as Jeff Williams' group featuring American alto player John O'Gallagher.

LJN: What have you learnt from the experience of putting on the night?

N C-W: I've learned that a huge range of people can enjoy jazz, especially when it’s performed by the dynamic and exciting musicians we're lucky to have on the London jazz scene. One of the best ways we found to reach these broader audiences was to present it in a slightly different way but without compromising the music. There are plenty of excellent gigs which happen in the back room of a pub, but we always wanted to do something unique so that the situation and surroundings of the performance were apart of the appeal; playing underneath a railway arch with the rumbling of trains going overhead, in the belly of a wooden boat where people's legs hang down from gun deck, crammed in against cannons and ropes. I'd like to continue that philosophy in the way I present any future musical endeavours.

LJN: Where and when is the finale?

N C-W: The finale is on Thursday 22 February at the Iklectik Arts Lab, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, SE1 7LG

It's free entry along with a free glass of champagne!

- Mike Chillingworth leads his quartet featuring myself on guitar, Conor Chaplin on double bass and James Maddren on drums.

- We also have Dave Manington's Riff Raff featuring Tom Challenger on sax, Brigitte Beraha on vocals, Ivo Neame on Piano, Rob Updegraff on guitar and Tim Giles on drums.

- Altoist Sam Braysher will also be leading an informal jam session at the end. A pretty astounding collection of musicians I'm sure you'll agree (one which I'm humbled and a little bit terrified to be amongst!).

Musicians of this caliber have always been regular fixtures at the Jazz Nursery and it’s a testament to the London scene that they’re all willing to play in these weird spots for the sheer enjoyment of playing this music!

LJN: Are you optimistic or pessimistic for musician-run gigs in London ?

N C-W: I love the London scene and I think it's continually evolving. At the moment there seem to be less of the kind of nights like Jazz Nursery happening, but there are some fantastic things happening, in particular the Kansas Smitty's jazz club on Broadway Market and the Good Evening Arts nights run in South London by Tom Sankey. It's a shame that in the last year or so several of the other staple grass routes gigs including Jazz at the Oxford and Hannes Riepler's Sunday Jam Session at the Vortex have sadly come to an end, at least for now. I think there's a big space to fill so I'd love to see some other (perhaps younger!) musicians pick up the baton!

LINKS: Jazz Nursery Facebook Page
Nick Costley-White

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