The tiny Hertfordshire jazz club that has hosted world-famous musicians
A Hertfordshire pub has an interest in music history having hosted world famous jazz musicians in the 1960s and 1970s. In a small corner of Hertfordshire you will find the former site of the Bell pub in Codicote – a small village near Hitchin.
In 1969 the pub owner decided to hold regular jazz nights – and they proved hugely popular, attracting world famous names. Well-known tenor saxophonist Jimmy Skidmore moved to the village around this time and attracted many famous faces to play at the Bell. His quartet included pianist Ian Pearce and bassist Peter Blannin.
Thus was born the Herts Jazz Club, which eventually became so popular that the owner entrusted the organization of jazz at the Bell to a local musician. A committee has been set up to help introduce and manage club membership, gate admission, ticket sales, a newsletter, and produce live recordings.
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The jazz club has reached exceptional levels and Herts Jazz has made a name for itself in the music scene. It has attracted world famous names – including saxophonists Sonny Stitt, Al Cohn, James Moody, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, singer Mark Murphy and many more.
Tony May, founding member of the club, said in an article on Herts Jazz website: “It was truly amazing. They all gave us unforgettable evenings of great jazz – point-blank range. Nothing can ever match the thrill we got from being part of putting this together.”
Herts Jazz has promoted emerging talent in the jazz world, from drummer Clark Tracy to trumpeter Guy Barker, who received an MBE in 2015 for his services to jazz. Many hailed from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and have become household names.
Other clubs were opened in Hertfordshire, also named Herts Jazz, as in Watford and Hertford. When the Bell came under new ownership in the 1980s and was converted into a motel, the club moved to Welwyn Garden City.
The club operated for many years thereafter, with the Herts Jazz festival set up in 2011 – quickly becoming one of the most prestigious arts events in the county. He moved to Maltings in St Albans in 2018.
But the club said goodbye in December 2021, more than 50 years after its formation. For the first time that year they failed to secure funding from Arts Council England to stage the Herts Jazz Festival – and they suffered a loss.
Quoted in the German magazine, Jazz the Tikorganizer Stephen Hyde said: “Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we never found the target audience we needed to generate real, lasting excitement and loyalty.”
The final concert featured Alan Barnes, known as one of the greatest jazz musicians of our time. The club’s closure seemed a sign of people’s waning interest in jazz across the country – but it’s not just blues.
This small jazz club in Hertfordshire has had an incredible impact, introducing the community to some of the finest musicians of their generation. Those memories of Sunday nights filled with music and friendship will never be forgotten.
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