Fringe music, innit? A minority interest. A spectrum with suburbanites pretending to be from New Orleans at one end and maniacs playing the same note for nine hours on the other.
It certainly hasn’t filtered through to the great musicians who play for them – a rotating roster of well over 200 which includes some of the most respected talent in the world.
“It’s something that touches the soul, really,” said promoter Dave Knight of the music he has loved for more than 60 years.
Most of the jazz roads in and around Swindon lead back to the Bishopstone bedroom that’s his home office.
“You feel it,” added the 77-year-old, who has travelled the world in pursuit of great jazz and once partied with the Rolling Stones. “It’s difficult to understand. It’s not something you can teach a person – it’s something you feel. “You’ve got to feel it within you.”
Several major figures actually live in the town. There’s trombonist Ian Bateman, for example, whose CV includes work with Acker Bilk and helping out a young Jamie Cullum. There’s Richie Bryant, acclaimed as one of the best drummers in jazz or any other field. There’s guitarist Chris Cobson, who plays with Courtney Pine and lately toured Japan.
Dave Knight himself plays saxophone, but readily admits that his real skill lies in promoting the work of other musicians.
“I’d listen to that and batter the arms of the settee or chair with a couple of spoons. “Around that time I took a paperboy job. I used to get 12 shillings and sixpence a week, and with that I’d go to WG Stores in Shepherd’s Bush Market and buy two 78s one week and three the next.”
Those fragile 78rpm records, obsolete by about the turn of the 1960s, contained only three minutes or so of music to a side, but that was enough to make the young Dave a lifelong devotee of Bebop.
This fast, improvisation-heavy style of jazz was then being pioneered by the likes of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto sax great Charlie Parker. Why Bebop and not, say, the traditional jazz played by musicians such as Kenny Ball?
“Mr father was a builder. He employed a couple of chaps in London and one was a plasterer whose brother was Colin Kingwell, the jazz trombonist. Colin was an avid collector of trad jazz and would get every issue of the jazz magazine, Down-beat. He would cut out all the traditional jazz articles in there, thus leaving me, when he passed on the Downbeats, with what was left – and it was at that time Bebop arrived.”
Dave went on to work as a chef and in various catering roles while at the same time having a parallel career in promoting jazz. Some of his earlier roles included promoting rock and pop, as well.
There was a stint at Butlins in Clacton during which be booked and looked after people, including Manfred Mann, Georgie Fame, Julie ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ Driscoll and future jazz-rock cross-over star Brian Auger.
A family connection to an airline allowed him to fly with steep discounts, and he travelled the world to see his jazz heroes.
Later, living in Windsor, Dave was a neighbour of Donovan’s drummer, whose invitation to a house party led to a meeting with the Stones.
His memories of the occasion? “We ate our fruitcake,” was the cryptic reply. Dave’s involvement with the Swindon scene began in the early 1980s when he came to run Bishopstone’s True Heart pub.
The shows he arranges in and around Swindon are attended by people of all ages, but more and more young people are coming.
There’s something else, something which makes Dave happy for the future. “Younger people are playing, as well.”