Sitting at a table in the Exeter Phoenix’s ‘Voodoo Lounge’, listening to Pete Canter’s quartet produce a remarkable rendition of Juke Jordan’s Jordu, I cannot help but think that the Bridge Jazz Club is the best kept musical secret amongst Exeter students. I am one of only six students here, the rest of the audience are local musicians or music fans.
The Bridge Jazz Club is a monthly jazz club, including a jam session, that is open to all, musicians and non-musicians alike. It has a very simple format. In the first set, Pete Canter and his house band play some classic songs. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a recital of over-complicated jazz tunes that jazz sceptics (rightly or wrongly) attribute to the being the reason why they don’t listen to jazz. No. Pete Canter’s set was full of classic swing songs, that as one member of the audience very enthusiastically told me, “make me want to dance!” The quality of music is astonishingly high.
After a short break, the stage opens up to people who would like to jam. Musicians come prepared with a song, or even just sight-read music in some cases, and get the chance to play alongside Pete’s house band. Having played at numerous jam sessions in London, what is most striking about the Bridge Jazz Club is how welcoming the atmosphere is. It can be incredibly daunting standing on stage, playing with some very good musicians in front of a crowd of people that you don’t know, but as one regular put it, “people feel very comfortable here.” Indeed, I felt very happy playing despite not being on the same level as many of the musicians there.
“The quality of the music is astonishingly high”
The club is now in its 5th year and is run by Devon-based Tenor Saxophonist Pete Canter, who is well known on the UK Jazz Scene having recorded numerous acclaimed albums and also plays the Double Bass in the EMG Symphony Orchestra. ‘Jammers’ sign up at the beginning of the session, saying what instrument they play and what songs they would like to play. Pete then orchestrates the evening, ensuring that everybody gets to play and that nobody dominates the stage.
This evening is the only one of its kind to my knowledge in Exeter and if you are interested in playing some jazz, blues, soul or just want to listen to some great music I really highly recommend it. Exeter University Music Societies are beginning to take notice of it as well. The President of the Exeter University Jazz Orchestra, one of the audience members that night, told me that EUJO and Exeter University Big Band are encouraging their players to head down to get some great music experience in a friendly environment.
This evening should not just be limited to music societies, though. It is a hidden gem of the Exeter music scene and really one that many should experience. All instruments, including singers, are welcome. It happens on the first Wednesday of every month at the Exeter Phoenix; £4 for “jammers” and £6 for audience members. Swing by the jam and see for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Did I mention there is also a jazz raffle that gives you the chance to win (very nice) wine???