With contemporary jazz superstar Euge Groove in the UK and headed for Manchester there has never been a better time to spotlight The Cinnamon Club where he will be playing this coming Sunday and which is widely regarded as the country’s northern outpost of smooth jazz. Indeed located in the suburbs, on the city’s affluent southern fringe, this small and very much multi functional venue seems an unlikely place to find music that, for the most part, has its roots in the USA. Yet over what is now eight years, the Cinnamon has become the place to be for lovers of what is often seen as something of a niche genre.
When I talked to Neil Hughes, the Director of the Bowden Rooms in which the Cinnamon is located, I started out by asking him about the health and well being of smooth jazz circa 2012.
“They've been saying Jazz is dying for 40 years”, Neil told me with some passion. “But go to any city in the world and you'll find a jazz club. It is niche, and ‘smooth’ is even more niche in Britain but I find the people who follow jazz to be open, to be intelligent, to have a wide interest in world matters, to be generally liberal as opposed to conservative and to appreciate art in all of its forms, so that's not a bad endorsement. As a fellow jazz lover and friend of mine Gerry Todd says, "The Arts have the power to save the world". I agree with him. If we all believed more in the arts, gave more to the arts, took more from the arts, then the arts may in fact be our redemption. The arts belong to the people. They should form the cornerstone of the building blocks of society. They should be endemic, in schools, in prison, on the streets and in galleries too. If we spent as much on the arts as we do on making wars, we may be in a better place.”
I was interested to know more about how smooth jazz found its way to Bowden in the first place and Neil explained that had happened back in 2004.
“It was in that year that we first put on Acoustic Alchemy”, he said, “just one year after we opened, and they have returned here many times since. I was introduced to the band by Miracle Artists, and that's where it all started.”
Knowing that the club caters for a wide variety of tastes and musical persuasions I was curious to know if there is there anything different about the audiences who keep coming back, time and time again, to the smooth jazz events.
“The Smooth jazzers are the most loyal of customers” Neil explained, “really into their music and happy to travel quite a distance. We are an intimate venue with only 180 seats and due to the nature of the bands, and their international make-up, these smooth jazz nights are quite expensive to stage. Yet the fans are prepared to pay good money to see great music, they don’t really cross over to other genres, but you see them at all smooth gigs.
Being aware that over recent years the club has played host to quite an array of smooth jazz talent I wondered if any one event came particularly to mind.
“There have been so many great gigs” Neil reflected “but for me Peter White always stands out, with his amazing British backline and special guests on sax. For me, Peter always gives a nod to his influences, a few riffs of Motown and soul, a few verses from certain songs. We can see where his songs have come from, maybe Stax, Atlantic, or Stevie Wonder. He is a performer who stands out, and whose enthusiasm is infectious.”
Finally I asked Neil if, from a personal perspective, he had a favorite artist, someone for example whose music he would listen to in the car.
“I cross all genres and all artists, from vocal to instrumental” he confided. “It depends on the time of day, whether I am painting, cooking, alone or with family. In the car I am currently listening to Jeff Lynne, a really beautiful CD. I also have Ian Shaw singing Joni Mitchell and also Stevie Wonder and Simon & Garfunkel. I loved Amy Winehouse's 1st CD ‘Frank’ and I liked some early Adele. Corinne Bailey Rae is amazing. How about Beth Rowley? Just divine in concert, and Gwyneth Herbert is mesmerizing. For sheer emotion how about Crisantemi by Puccini, beautiful, beautiful music, and I still haven't mentioned any smooth jazz artists. That'll be ‘Playin' Favorites’ by Peter White then!”
Throughout 2013 the Cinnamon Club will again be scheduling a number of smooth jazz shows. Check back here often for more.