There’s nothing more electric than live music and it feels there’s never been a better time to enjoy it in East London. A couple of weeks ago I sat in a cellar bar packed with people listening to nothing but the sweet sounds of a piano and a double bass picking out tunes like ‘Pitter Patter Panther’ and ‘Lady Be Good’ with just the chinking of glasses being picked up and put down on tables.
It was Basement Tapes night at Kansas Smitty’s, one of the area’s newest jazz hangouts, where each week one member of the self-titled house band invites other musicians in to play music to a ticket-only crowd. That week it was band member Joe Webb on piano and Conor Chaplin on double bass and both were excellent.
It’s ticket-only, presumably, because otherwise there’d be a scrum on the door. Open since May, the venue already has a loyal following of regular customers, with one saying he and his friends got there several hours early to make sure they got a spot.
The Kansas Smitty’s house band regularly play the likes of Ronnie Scott’s, the Vaults and the Vortex. They’re led by Giacomo Smith on clarinet, who hails from upstate New York. The bar is their permanent base in the city, with a film night on Tuesdays, jazz throughout the week and plans to put on more live events as autumn draws in.
The model of bringing in musicians from the wider jazz community to play there means there’s always fresh music coming through and creative collaboration really is at the heart of what they’re trying to promote with the venue.
“The clearest goal we had from the outset was that we had to one day have our own bar,” says Kansas Smitty’s manager Jack Abrahams. “We’ve always felt that there was this whole group of people we’d met along the way and were yet to meet who just needed a home to come together in – we are now in the what-happens-next phase.”
With the Jackdaw jazz café just opening in Clapton, is this something of a ‘golden era’ in terms of the jazz talent in in the city right now?
“Absolutely,” says Abrahams. “As London’s land value goes up the larger venues are proving unsustainable and closing down so lots of smaller ones spring up. So much so that the independent arts, music, drink and food scene in London is bordering on frenzied. Plenty of shows means plenty of musicians which means everyone’s bringing their A-game no matter how small the show.
One thing you’ll notice, is that it’s not a pretentious place. It feels more like a big living room, except with a kickass drinks menu and some of London’s brightest musical talent performing each week.
This wouldn’t be a bar review without mentioning the drinks and here it’s all about the juleps. There’s a beautiful ‘Scarborough Fair’ with bourbon, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, toasted almond, salted heather honey and mint. The Allotment is also good, this time with gin, nettle, elderflower, carrot, coriander seed, apple, pear and mint.
All the alcohols are infused over night with herbs and flavours. Served in crushed ice out of a metal cup, the idea is that as the ice slowly melts different flavours are unlocked – so don’t knock them back to fast. With ingredients ranging from Tonka bean, nutmeg and pimento to cloves and chamomile there’s plenty to try, as well a fridge-full of cool beers and ales as the music heats up.
Great music, great atmosphere and exemplary juleps. Don’t miss out.
Kansas Smitty’s House Band will be playing at the bar on 23 September to celebrate the launch of their debut album.
63-65 Broadway Market, E8 4PH