Dan Biggane in The Somerset Standard, Thursday 13 January 2005
The sky's the limit with jazz
EASYGOING ENVIRONMENT: The exciting, varied, and informal nature of the Nunney Jazz Cafe caused Miles Kington, of The Independent, to write that it is "the way jazz was meant to be"
THE EXUBERANT, high-spirited, smoke-filled metropolitan clubs where jazz musicians jam until the early hours are a far removed image from the genteel French Guinguettes visions immortalised by Renoir. But it is this more relaxed atmosphere which Keith Harrison-Broninski and his wife Ann, of the Nunney Jazz Cafe, are trying to create.
"I like the idea of a more traditional late night jazz session," said Keith.
"But there is more than one way to skin a cat. We started the Jazz Cafe in October 1998 because we had recently had a baby and we couldn't really go out to experience live music.
"We thought there must be a lot of people like us, so we decided to create somewhere parents could go with their children.
"The idea encourages youngsters to participate and get involved. The atmosphere is one where no one has to be quiet and hopefully the children will grow up to appreciate good music too.
"We also hoped that Nunney Jazz would be a focal point for all the different styles of artists and creative people who perform to collaborate in an interesting way.
"There are a lot of different art scenes in the region and we look to incorporate them all within the cafe meets.
"We have incorporated poetry, music, theatrical performance, painting and sculpture, indeed we have an artist in residence, Mel Day.
"My wife deals with the artistic side of things like the children's workshops and themes, while I take care of the administration and music. It is a real team effort."
Last summer, after an 18-month break, the cafe returned to the first Sunday of every month.
Core to the cafe's purpose was the ability to evolve, but as Keith said: "Jazz is always part of it. The music has an incredible energy to it.
"As a player I love the complexity of the music and the way you can improvise. The sky's the limit with jazz.
"It has a quality which lends itself to any number of styles: from funk to hip-hop, bebop to flamenco, African chant to Caribbean.
"It is thrilling and fulfilling to incorporate these different styles and get inside the music.
"When we returned after the break we performed waltzes inspired by French Bal Musettes and the Latin dance halls.
"We then looked to include tangos: classic Argentinqan tangos from the golden age (1880-1910 in Buenos Aires), Nuevo Tangos by such luminaries as Astor Piazolla and Saul Cosentino.
"It is all about trying to broaden the cafe's appeal.
"We have an exciting house band, which features accordion, sax, violin, vocals and rhythm section, which does its best to keep people on their feet.
"People can take a break for a sit-down lunch, which is optional, before continuing with the music and an afternoon of dancing.
"We also offer free dance tuition for people who would like it.
"But if people do not want to dance they don't have to. We want to keep things informal and laid back.
"People who don't even like jazz meet up because there is a relaxed atmosphere where they can sit down and read the papers."
This easygoing environment has attracted support and favourable reviews.
Keith said: "New York funk legend Pee Wee Ellis has supported us from the beginning which has helped us to raise our profile.
"Indeed the musicians we have had play love having the children around and the interaction.
"Miles Kington, of The Independent, wrote of the Nunney Jazz Cafe in his article last November, that it is 'the way jazz was meant to be.'
"I'd like to think that is how a lot of people feel."
The next Nunney Jazz Cafe takes place on Sunday February 6; admission is £5 and is free for children.
Doors open at noon and the music starts at 12.30pm.
Great live jazz music has an unpredictable element of risk.
I feel Keith Harrison-Brqninski also took a risk by transporting the jazz cafe from those late night smoke-filled clubs to a fun-filled village hall on Sunday afternoon.
But the fact this unique venture has proved to be such an unassuming success story speaks volumes for all those involved.
For further details visit www.nunneyjazzcafe.org.