The bustling city of Oxford is the place to find undergraduates, grand university buildings, rushing cyclists, and tourists from every corner of the globe. It also has a wide selection of live music to satisfy every musical taste; this is especially the case for the lovers of jazz. If the compositions of Scott Joplin are your cup of tea or the velvety tones of Nina Simone, as a jazz aficionado you are spoilt for choice in Oxford. The city’s daily information website advertises a wide range of music genres, including varieties of jazz performed in lovely atmospheric surroundings.
In the north of Oxford is the Rose and Crown public house, which was built in 1863. The Rose is in one of the narrowest shopping streets in the city – North Parade Avenue – found off the Banbury Road. This flower-adorned pub, run by the owners for over 30 years, is a magnet for jazz lovers every Sunday evening. Try to arrive early to secure a seat in the bunting- and light-covered courtyard which will fill to bursting point by 7 o’clock. During a visit, enjoy the Rose’s simple, but celebrated fare, especially the steak-and-ale pie – a culinary delight cooked to perfection with delicious blue cheese. After savouring a meal, enjoy the intimate atmosphere of the courtyard, and experience the always present chemistry between members of the jazz band.
Moving south-east across the city and crossing the Magdalen bridge, we arrive at The Plain and St Clement’s Street. Here, the Half Moon public house, dating back to 1890, is occupying very little floor space. To have any chance of experiencing stunning jazz at this pub requires a table reservation – this ensures rubbing shoulders with professional-standard musicians for the price of a beer. Try to coincide a visit to the Half Moon when the guitarist Pete Oxley and the saxophonist Olly Weston are playing their spell-binding jazz numbers.
Leaving the Half Moon and heading west along The High into the centre of Oxford, the next jazz port of call is situated on the first floor of The Wheatsheaf public house. Accessed via the Wheatsheaf Yard alleyway, and sandwiched among mediaeval buildings, this venue is a Mecca for jazz buffs.
Every Thursday, the first-floor lighting is dimmed on red chequered tablecloths and battery-powered candles, creating the mood of a jazz cafe which is always appreciated by the audience. The Spin is the setting for many of the most talented jazz newcomers, who display exceptional virtuosity with their instruments.
The Spin has an entry fee, but it is worth every penny.
To finish an Oxford jazz tour, listen to brilliant musicians at St Giles church, situated on the triangle of land between the Banbury and Woodstock Roads. Add to the itinerary The Mad Hatter and the Butchers Arms at Headington, and an Oxford jazz experience is guaranteed to be memorable.
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