JAZZ AT THE DUKE
Pete Harrison's Duke Ellington Sign
Graeme Robbin's Duke Ellington Sign
Posh restaurants, seedy clubs, dancing academies, even a Y.M.C.A. summer-house, all have been the setting for jazz in Bristol. For years, musicians and band managers searched in vain for the ideal venue. Upstairs rooms in pubs were tried; some were successful, some not, but in the end something always went wrong. Until one day in 1967.
The wife of the then Landlord of the Duke, acquainted with Mike and Sheila Edkins and knowing they managed a jazz band, invited them to inspect the upstairs clubroom. Peeling wallpaper not withstanding, it was decided to have a go, for one night only and see what happened.
So it was that Gerry Bath's Okeh Rhythm Kings set up their instruments to play their first ever jazz gig at the Duke. It was Saturday, 1st April, 1967- All Fools Day! But it was a success from the first number.
Saturday sessions became regular events, then the Severn Jazzmen tried and made a success of Wednesdays (as they do to this day).1
In the summer of the following year was born the idea of trying the bands in the downstairs bar, a rather daring idea then because most were aware of the bye-laws limiting performances in public bars to two musicians only.
All went smoothly for a while: other nights and other bands were used, and jazz pub was in the making. The blow fell on a Thursday night, stopping Henry's Bootblacks (now defunct)2 in mid-chorus. A posse of policeman surrounded the Duke in numbers more fitted to controlling the Cup Final. An inspector announced that the law was being broken, and there was to be no more of that. "Why" he said to the Landlord, "you don't apply for a music license is beyond me". And it was as simple as that: a door re-hung to conform with Fire Regulations, and a few minutes at the Magistrates Court where, no objections being lodged, a license was granted instantly. There was a subsequent hiccup over a Sunday license but this was overcome and so, for the first time, the jazz musicians had a roof under which to play seven days a week.
The present Landlord, John Stone, took over in 1978.3 Every other person behind the bar seems to be family- wife Maureen, daughters Kristine and Beverly, son Nigel and wife Joan and various in-laws and relations. John was a band master in the Royal Marines (though you won't believe it when you hear his contribution to the finale on Side 2!)
The sign hanging outside the Duke was painted by musician and artist Pete Harrison and unmistakeably depicts Duke Ellington.4 All of us connected with the pub like to think the "Duke" would approve.
1 The Severn Jazzmen now play every other Monday night.