I don’t know much about Jazz. The church is monumental from this angle, there’s a queue already and the doors aren’t open yet. A chilly breeze tosses daffodil heads and flicks my neighbour’s scarf across my cheek along with a scent of washing powder and perfume. A sketch board is tucked self-consciously under my arm; glasses, pencils, booklight, paper, it’s all there. I hope they have my name down.
Light spills from the small arched doorway to the right of the church entrance and there’s respite from the chill and noise of traffic as we file in, checked off at the foot of the stairs by a man with a generous smile and a long list; folded into a corner, he issues us with thin paper tickets and we pass from that tight corridor through swinging doors to the crypt itself, where nightlights add splashes of red to the black and white walls. I’m grateful to be among the crowd; the place will warm up throughout the evening. There’s the normal jostle for a table but I know where I’m going, one of the huge brick piers that bear the weight of the church above has a table tucked behind it with a good view of the tiny stage without being so close you find yourself leaning back for the trombone solos.
I stake my claim on the seat with my coat, join the queue for a bowl of spicy clear soup and noodles, bearing it back to my table with extreme care as people continue to rearrange the furniture to suit their social groupings. Art students crowd round the circular tables with no view and easy access to the bar, regulars favour a table under an arched roof that offers a surround sound effect, old musicians seat themselves to observe the skill of the musicians as they make complicated music look easy, jazz nuts sit anywhere they can feel part of the action, nod their heads, interject enthusiastically, applaud at the right points and hush anyone foolish enough to converse during the bass solo.
Each band has their own way of occupying a stage that elevates them by less that half a metre. The drummer is usually jammed into one of the corners with all his kit and the piano is dragged in or out but rarely leaves the stage, guitarists often sit on their speakers - as Alan probably will tonight- and saxophone players are normally out front, crouching or leaning against the wall when not required. I have seen 7 people on that stage, a petite vocalist ducking during brass solos to avoid entanglement with a trombonist. However, from the moment the drummer sets the tempo we all get what we came for, audience and performers alike; listening, playing, talking and appreciating, each of us doing our own jazz micro jiggle to express our enjoyment as best we can in the small but important space that we have all made for live music in our lives.