When our parents were young, and punk-rock had captured the hearts and minds of a generation, there must have existed at least one or two thoughtful individuals who would have mused at some point or other, disillusioned with the heady musical vogues of their own day; “whatever did happen to jazz anyway?”But these days, in a world where Miles Davis has been dead for over 20 years, some of us have a more fundamental question on our lips. What even is jazz, for God’s sake?
It’s an excellent question. Fortunately, we are in a good position to find out, since Oxford has exciting jazz events on offer every week of term. For starters, JazzSoc runs jam sessions every Tuesday at the Mad Hatter, which can be found along Iffley Road.
These events are always brilliant fun and well-attended by players and listeners alike, consisting of a different student group kicking off proceedings each week with an hour or so of standards or original tunes, to be followed by a free space for players of all abilities and interests to jam with the house band in a blissfully relaxed setting.
For a small venue, the Hatter sessions can surely pack a punch; in two highlight weeks last term, OUJO (the university jazz orchestra) and the Donut Kings (another hip student big band) crammed themselves into the stage area and wowed us with some of their fabulous arrangements.
But Oxford is also not to be underestimated when it comes to attracting the biggest names on the national and international jazz scenes. The Spin Jazz Club, located above The Wheatsheaf on the High Street, is set to make an emphatic restart this term with its weekly Thursday showcases, including scheduled performances from pianist Kate Williams and the ever-controversial saxophonist Gilad Atzmon.
Then there are the one-off gigs that really ought not to be missed, with two February dates to watch in particular. Big band action continues in earnest this term, with the hotly anticipated return of the Varsity Jazz-Off event between OUJO and CUJO. And Gwilym Simcock, a towering figure within contemporary UK jazz, will appear in St John the Evangelist Church with long-time bass player Yuri Goloubev.
So whether you’re looking to indulge a cultural curiosity, or you simply want to find somewhere new to drink, head out to a jazz event or two this Hilary. You’ll feel better for it.