Last week saw ‘London Shoes’ make two trips out to the big bad ‘smoke’ – the first being the already covered-off visit to the famous ‘Groucho Club’ – the second, on the following evening, was spookily to the very same street in Soho, and a location that was once of the very first establishment in London to serve up ‘Pizza’ as a ‘main’ item on a menu – and the purpose of visiting there, was to catch my old drum teacher ‘Gentleman’ George Double who was performing a gig down in the basement of the establishment in question.
So – my 2nd ‘Shoes’ blog this week is all about the renowned and extremely popular “Pizza Express Jazz Club” in Dean Street-Soho-London W1.
Although Italian restaurants had existed in London since the early 1800’s, pizza itself was never an item on the menus.
As time progressed and peoples tastes changed, pizza was available as a ‘food’ but could only be found and bought as singular items from the food halls of big department stores like Harrods & Selfridges etc – but never as a ‘dish’ in a restaurant.
It wasn’t until much much later in 1965, that London’s very first ‘Pizzeria’ opened – and the man who made all that happen was one “Peter Boizot”.
Peter Boizot (1929-2018) was an Englishman who had first discovered the delights of ‘Pizza’ whilst travelling around Europe in the 1940’s – but he was continually disappointed that there were no restaurants in London that served up a pizza as a main menu choice – in the way that they did in restaurants in all the main City’s throughout Europe.
So – to solve this matter, in 1965 Boizot decided to open up his own ‘Pizzeria’ in Wardour Street-Soho – the very first one of its kind in London.
In 1969, only 4 years after opening his first Pizzeria restaurant in Wardour St, Boizot invested in a large and magnificent old 1878 Victorian building in Dean Street-Soho, that had once been occupied by the ‘Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear’ – and being a mad fan of jazz music, he began looking at ways in which he could put on ‘live’ jazz music whilst his customers munched away at their pizza’s – and his new Dean Street restaurant was the ideal venue, as it had a large basement – and as a result, the ‘Pizza Express Jazz Club’ was born.
The Jazz Club with its combined eatery soon became extremely popular with the punters – and all the top UK jazz stars of the day were queuing up to play there. By the mid 1970’s the big jazz acts from the USA began topping the bill there.
Today – every wall in this basement jazz club is adorned with photos of all the jazz performers who have played there over the years.
However – it wasn’t just pizza’s that Peter Boizot was famous for – the other big love in his life was his home town of Peterborough.
Born and raised in Peterborough he became a choirboy at Peterborough Cathedral and also Head Boy at the City’s prestigious Kings College.
Throughout his entire life he was extremely generous and charitable to his home town. He bought his beloved ‘Peterborough United Football Club’ when it was close to folding, and he immediately ploughed millions of £’s into it – He also did the very same with Peterborough’s famous ‘Broadway Theatre’, turning it into one of the top Theatre’s outside of London.
He became owner of the towns iconic 1852 built Victorian ‘Great Northern Hotel’ which stands directly opposite the entrance to Peterborough mainline railway station, and immediately financed a an expensive facelift of this historic old building.
Peter Boizot also got into politics in a big way as a Liberal Candidate – and was awarded an MBE in 1986 for his political and public services.
His 2014 biography is entitled “Mr. Pizza & all that Jazz” – but for those who knew him and who lived around the area, he will always be known as ‘Mr. Peterborough’.
So – returning to the reason as to why London Shoes made the trip to the ‘Pizza Express Jazz Club’ – my old drum tutor ‘Gentleman’ George Double, from the time when I was manager of Barclays Bank-Mare St Hackney in the mid 1990’s onwards – was thumping the tubs for the excellent and entertaining ‘Chris Ingham Quintet’ who were performing their highly acclaimed ‘Rebop’ set of music inspired by the late legendary jazz musician and composer ‘Horace Silver’ (1928-2014).
Horace Silver was one of the all time great jazz pianists throughout the 40’s-50’s-60’s and beyond, who had a major influence on jazz music throughout his and future generation.
He spent 28 years making records with the famous ‘Blue Note’ jazz record label, plus many other jazz labels.
Horace Silver passed away in 2014 at the age of 86, but left a vast legacy of work comprising of some 36 studio albums – 3 ‘live’ albums plus 7 compilation albums, containing all time jazz classics such as ‘Song for my Father’ – ‘Doodlin’ – ‘Peace’ – ‘Sister Sadie’ – ‘The Jody Grind’ – ‘Serenade to a Soul Sister’ plus many many more.
The ‘Chris Ingham Quintet’ for this Pizza Express Jazz Club gig comprised of George Double on drums – Paul Higgs on trumpet – Colin Watling on sax – Arnie Somogyi on double bass and of course Chris Ingham himself on piano.
The band banged out two 50min sets of Horace Silver classics to an extremely enthusiastic and appreciative audience down in the Pizza Express basement, and certainly did justice to old Horace Silver’s legacy of music.
The great thing about Chris Ingham is that all the way through the set he provides a detailed and interesting running commentary between numbers – giving the audience facts such as when the numbers were recorded, who played on the original recordings, any unusual circumstances or history behind the songs themselves – So you don’t necessarily need to be a big fan, or know a lot about jazz when watching the band perform – because by the time the gig is over, you will certainly know a lot more than you did before the shows started.
The atmosphere and ambience down in the Pizza Express basement creates such a fantastic vibe – which I am guessing is probably similar to that in the famous ‘jazz joints’ of New York, Chicago and New Orleans.
So what better way for London Shoes to spend an evening – than to be down in the Pizza Express Jazz Club basement – munching away on a tasty margherita pizza – necking down a few bottles of chilled Peroni beer – whilst watching the Chris Ingham Quintet (with me old mate ‘Gentleman’ George Double thumping tubs) knocking out jazz classics, and keeping the old ‘Billy Bunters’ thoroughly entertained.
Hope you enjoyed this article and are now all jazzed-up in your zoot suit and ready to go
See the full selection of photos accompanying the ‘Pizza Express Jazz Club’ blog below