15 Years of Jazz on the Foyer at Symphony Hall

This Friday, 12th July at 5pm, Jazzlines celebrates 15 years of the Foyer Jazzlines Programme at Symphony Hall.  As it is a special occasion, the session will feature steve ajaoSteve Ajao and the Blues Giants, one of the favourite bands with the audience, and it will take place in the Main Hall rather than on the foyer.  Symphony Hall’s Chief Executive, Nick Reed, will be there to outline the plans for the development of the foyer, which will be closing this month as part of the Making An Entrance project.  The entrance and the foyers will be refurbished so that there will be a new foyer space specially designed for live music.

The new foyers are due to open in September 2020 and in the meantime the Friday evening jazz sessions and other events such as The Notebenders Saturday afternoon session will take place in other halls in the ICC (International Convention Centre).

The Friday early evening sessions, which run from 5pm to 6.30 every Friday apart from mid July to early September, have become a major part of the Birmingham scene and very popular with audiences with up 350 people attending each week.  They are well known on the jazz circuit and, while the priority is given to Birmingham and West Midlands musicians, many national and even international musicians contact Jazzlines because they have heard that it is such a fantastic session.

bryan corbettIt all began 15 years ago when Birmingham Jazz of which I was then Chair  agreed with Symphony Hall to run a series on  the foyer. The first gig featured the  Bryan Corbett Quartet and we were delighted that a large crowd turned up for this first gig and even more delighted that they have continued to come regularly over the 15 years.  I well remember that first gig: Bryan Corbett is a brilliant player and his group got us off to a tremendous start playing top class jazz that was accessible to an audience many of whom were just tipping their toes in the water with jazz.  That night, A R Rahman, the well-known composer of music for Indian films, was in town conducting the CBSO, and it was very pleasing that many South Asians came early to that concert, either deliberately to hear the jazz, or catching it just by chance, but seemingly enjoying it.

We initially called the session Commuter Jazz as we assumed that most people attending would be calling in after work for a listen and a drink.  However, we soon realised that a lot of people were coming especially for the session, and arriving early to grab a seat.  So we renamed it Rush Hour Blues and that name stuck for some time and is still often used, though not officially.  These days the name has become just Jazz in The Foyer, or Jazz in the Café Bar.

The sessions have always been very popular and it is fascinating to observe how the audience has become more open to different styles of jazz.  It is a listening audience that really concentrates on the music, has its favourites, but is always prepared to check out new bands.  It is a very good example of the phenomenon that the more one listens to different types of music, the more open one becomes.  Moreover it is free entry gig and this has the advantage that many people who want to give jazz a try and find out whether they like it can come and, if it is not to their taste, leave.  The sessions also attract many who somehow do not see themselves going to what they see as a more formal concert starting at 8 or 8.30pm and finishing after 10pm.  They enjoy the hassle free aspect of the foyer events.

In this way the Friday foyer sessions have built up a significant knowledgeable audience who would probably not otherwise be attending jazz or indeed any music events.  Of course, Jazzlines would love some at least to be moving on to its ticketed events at the CBSO Centre, or in the main Symphony or Town Hall; we do encourage the audience to try other events, and there have been notable successes there.

In the meantime, we celebrate the success of the last 15 years, and look forward to the future this Friday (12th July) with Steve Ajao and the Blues Giants in the main Symphony Hall.  It’s completely free and there will be a photographic exhibition with photos taken over the 15 years by Russ Escritt, Garry Corbett and Bill Shakespeare.   And a raffle with excellent prizes.

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