Wheatsheaf jazz club saved thanks to move to new Oxford home
Home to some of the most respected names in jazz, Oxford’s Spin Jazz Club is considered one of the best in the country.
The intimate gathering above the Wheatsheaf pub is so popular that it was named by the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Awards as the UK’s best jazz venue.
But after 22 years and over 800 gigs, it seemed like The Spin was finally running out of groove and had reached the end of the track.
The first came the forced lockdown of the coronavirus, but the worst was yet to come. News that the owners of The Wheatsheaf, near the High Street, were planning to turn the intimate upstairs venue into apartments has left the club facing homelessness. And even though the request was denied, it seems unlikely that live music will return to the pub anytime soon. Pushed into action, founder Pete Oxley – a professional bow maker and acclaimed guitarist who founded the club in 1999 with drummer Mark Doffman and bassist Raph Mizraki – has set out to find a new home.
It has settled in the perfect setting of the former Oxford Fire Station, which will be the club’s new home.
Although live concerts are still far away, The Spin officially relaunches at the OFS next Thursday – 22 years to the day of the club’s very first concert – with a concert streamed, recorded and filmed in the new venue.
And this is not just any show.
The film, shot by John Brown – one of David Attenborough’s star cameramen – features the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project. This global jazz collaboration includes Pete, who lives in Headington, and fellow guitarist Nicolas Meier, as well as founding member Raph Mizraki on bass, Paul Cavaciuti on drums and Keith Fairbairn on percussion.
Pete is thrilled with the new home of The Spin, which keeps the history of this great jazz club going.
He says: âI started running The Spin in 1999 with Mark and Raph with the sole intention of finding a place for us to perform regularly in Oxford. We started on May 13, 1999 above the Wheatsheaf – where The Spin’s last gig was almost 21 years later, on March 12, 2000. Although we didn’t know much at the time of the spinoffs. events caused by Covid and the hoo-ha of Wheatsheaf’s development request.
âWhat happened in the meantime took the club so far from what we had originally designed. In short, we created an award-winning venue that regularly featured top-class musicians from around the world.
He continues, âThe very first gig at The Spin set the tone for what we wanted to do. With guitar maestro John Etheridge as guest, we filled the place and put on an evening of exciting contemporary food that wowed and wowed a full cross section of the demographics.
âWith time, the reputation of the club was such that we were solicited by international groups, with supreme stars. Jazz musicians – except maybe a handful – are not “last names”, but a quick Google or YouTube search will illustrate the level of musicians who have performed for us. For example, see Wolfgang Muthspiel from Austria; Jonathan Kreisberg from the United States; Marius Neset from Norway; Dewa Budjana from Indonesia. Likewise, from the UK we have put together such brilliant masters as Gwilym Simcock (Pat Metheny), Jason Rebello (Sting) and Tim Garland (Chick Corea).
They also included a Nigel Kennedy. The virtuoso violinist is a jazz enthusiast and has visited The Spin twice to jam after playing in Oxford.
Pete recalls, âAll of the above happened in this tiny room above a pub, loaded with atmosphere – and with a five-decade history as a concert hall. We were devastated when we learned it would not reopen post-Covid restrictions, thanks to a developer’s scheduling app. ”
Fortunately, Pete met fellow music professional Stuart Miller who had his own ideas on how the club could grow and prosper.
âStuart and I immediately hit it off and started discussing ways to move the club forward and take it to the next level, in terms of what a venue could offer musicians and audiences,â says Pete.
The Spin Jazz Club – By Ryan Quarterman.
âWe quickly established our criteria which included the following essential elements: a downtown location; a larger stage which should be able to accommodate a grand piano; excellent sound and lighting; better access and general facilities – and most importantly, a continued informal club feel.
âWith what looked like some sort of divine intervention, the very day I learned that the doors of Wheatsheaf were closing, the doors of a great place, fulfilling all of the above, were opened to us. old fire station.
âStuart and I started having meetings with their team and it quickly became clear that there was a mutual desire to host The Spin there. By our first Zoom meeting, we had gone from the initial idea of ââusing the cafe as a venue to using a much more appropriate and charming theater.
Pete insists that the decor of the theater will not detract from the informal atmosphere of the club.
âOur plan is to create – almost like a ‘set’ or a play – a ‘jazz club within the theater’,â he says.
âWhenever the rules allow us to open to the public, we want the public to enter a room full of magical expectations. The lighting in the room is second to none; candlelit tables await you with waiter service. The bar will be stocked with an interesting selection of drinks designed by The Spin, and on stage, the seductively lit instruments portend a great night ahead!
He adds: “These live events are, of course, in the future, but for now things are already moving forward.”
The Spin is moving forward with a new website and a new Instagram account. And, it launches with the next Thursday screening of the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project.
Pete says, âIt was a total joy for the band to perform there, and it was superbly captured during recording and filming.
âAlthough the film is available for a limited time after Thursday, we would like to encourage anyone interested in supporting this new collaboration by ‘being there’ – albeit in the comfort of your own home – at 8:30 p.m. on May 13, hopefully we will feel a collective spirit of positivity for the future of The Spin! â
Does the rotation
Tickets for the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project virtual performance on Thursday 13 May are Â£ 5 at oldfirestation.org.uk
Visit spinjazz.com for details on future concerts