On a dark side street in Chelsea, way off the brightness of King's Road, next door to a boys' reformatory and across the street from a darkened power plant there's a Jazz club.
You wouldn't know it from the outside; there are no signs, just a brick arch in a stone wall lit by a single bare bulb. Press the buzzer button; it's just beyond the metal grating.
"Psst, Al and Carole sent me."
"We're not open yet. There's a pub on Uverdale Road. Go wait there."
Maniacally difficult to find (street numbers don't run sequentially and even a London cabbie, who presumably has passed "The Knowledge," a licensing test requiring a detailed knowledge of all London's streets didn't know it), the 606 Club is worth the search.
Once you have been admitted through the grille, you descend down metal steps and enter a basement club that is warm, intimate, crowded, and very serious about Jazz. The Steinway and the management request for silence during the performance tip you off that this is no ordinary Jazz joint.
I was the guest of drummer and Jazz Now London Editor Al Merritt and his wife Carole on my recent trip to London for a brilliant night of Jazz.
The first set was a trio consisting of the father-son team of pianist Stan Tracey and drummer Clark Tracey. Andy Cleinderg on bass. A very tight, intuitive group, playing mainly standards ("Just Friends," "Here Comes that Rainy Day," and "My Old Flame" Monk-style. Young Tracey is a drummer's drummer who manages to propel the group without overwhelming the small, closely packed room.
Set two, the Gwilym Simcock's group was a bit more hard-edged. Pianist Simcock, bassist Phil Donkin, drummer John Blees, and tenor saxophonist Stan Sulzmann played mostly originals by Simcock. "Music for the head, not the heart," Al remarked. He has a point. Still, I enjoyed the contrast, and these are young musicians to watch.
I remain puzzled by the capacity crowd despite deliberate obscurity of the location. Perhaps Jazz promoters in the U.S., who struggle upstream to make their venues known, could follow the example of this club on the Thames and save gallons of money on publicity, advertising, and street sinage, not to mention electricity, by adopting this formula.
In the meantime, if you are in London and need some first class Jazz, check out the 606 Club (90 Lotts, Road, Chelsea, SW10; 020 7352 5953; www.606club.co.uk), but email me first at Jazz Now. I'll give you directions. You'll need them.
By Nina J. Hodgson