A BRIEF HISTORY
As the pandemic has brutally curtailed live music, I turn to the past for inspiration and a sense of continuity. Jazz music took off in the late 19th/early 20th century in the US, originating from African-American communities and the 1920s became known as the ‘Jazz Age’. As jazz rapidly spread around the world new styles and sub-genres of the new music started to gain popularity but it wasn’t until the mid-40’s when jazz began to appear in Portsmouth.
The first recorded appearance of a jazz band in Portsmouth was on April 27th 1944 when the New Orleans Jazz band played at St Mary’s Institute. Jazz in Portsmouth didn’t really take off until 1949 apart from the occasional jazz bands playing at the Savoy Ballroom opposite South Parade Pier. In 1949 the ‘New Hot Club’ based in Portsmouth met regularly to listen to jazz records and then moved on to having lectures from different jazz musicians. Also there was a Jazz club at The Conservative Hall on Fratton Road which tried to promote itself and gain new members, this particular jazz club inspired more jazz clubs to start up, for example The Dockyard School’s Jazz Club which opened with a recital of New Orleans Jazz. In the 1950s many more jazz bands began playing at the Savoy Ballroom such as the ‘Hugh Curley Stompers’, and the Summa Cum Laude Club had many jazz bands played there more frequently.
During the early 1960’s various jazz bands played at venues such as the Savoy Ballroom and even the Guildhall. Modern jazz clubs were also emerging in Portsmouth and playing newer types of jazz and experimenting with the genre. As the mid 60’s came along there weren’t many traditional jazz bands left and modern jazz was gaining popularity. One of the only traditional jazz bands left in Portsmouth were the ‘San Jacinto Jazzband’ who played regularly at different venues.
In 1966 there was little action at the Savoy Ballroom or the South Parade Pier and jazz seemed almost non-existent except for Woody Herman at the Guildhall. But fortunately there was a boost for local jazz fans when Jerry Allen returned to promoting with the Jazz Appreciation Society (JAS) combining modern and traditional jazz at Southsea’s Cambridge Hotel. In 1967 there was a new jazz band who were called the ‘Tia Juana Jazz Band’ (with Cuff Billett) who appeared regularly at the Oasis which was and still is located in central Portsmouth. But by mid-May, jazz at the Oasis had ‘dried up’, and in the first column of a local newspaper it read ‘jazz dies at the Oasis, but pop stronger than ever’. But as Humphrey Lyttleton once observed about jazz – it never goes away, it just waits for a gap in the traffic. Around Pompey, lots of us are still ‘on the road’.
Since then many jazz bars and clubs have popped up in Portsmouth such as the La Havana jazz club which hosts many jazz artists and promotes the jazz scene in Portsmouth and another notable place which has jazz bands playing at is Rosie’s Vineyard, a wine bar bistro where you can listen to live jazz.