Dynamic jazz singer Lauren Dalrymple has hosted her SoFF Music Jam for nearly two decades at The Effra Hall Tavern (aka The Effra), a cosy Victorian pub in Brixton, South London. One of the longest running jazz jams in London, she's retained a loyal following as well as nurtured new talent by offering them a way into the sometimes intimidating London jazz scene. Over the years the house band has included many top level players such as drummer Robert Fordjour (Courtney Pine), bassists Karl Rasheed-Abel (Laura Mvula) and Neville Malcolm (Billy Cobham, Gabrielle, Tom Jones etc) as well as pianists Robert Mitchell, Chris Jerome and Alex Hutton among many others. The jam often features hard-swinging bop, soulful jazz-funk and vocal jazz performed in a uniquely eclectic atmosphere of diverse local listeners and hard-core jazz fans, aspiring amateur players and worldly-wise professionals – all uniting around the chance to play and listen to the music they love in an accommodating space. Ahead of the jam's 18th birthday night on 9 April, Dalrymple spoke to Mike Flynn about the history and staying-power of this eternally swinging night
How did the SoFF music jam start?
I was running jam sessions and performing by the time I brought my jam session to Brixton in 1999. I found The Effra because I sat in on a gig after being taken by another singer. After that performance the owner asked me what I could do for the venue. I explained that a jam would encourage a steady flow of talent and audiences. We kicked it off in the April of that year. At that time, I had a small (miniscule) organisation called SEG: Sistah Entertainment Group with a newsletter, but the name allowed people to think it was just for women or even just black women. I changed the name to represent me and the thing that I was told would keep me from singing successfully. Sistahs of the Fuller Figure Music: SoFF Music. I named it with a couple of other big girls who since enjoy a smaller frame. I'm keeping my sound and the jam as BIG as a Fuller Figured Sistah!
What are the key ingredients to a good jazz jam night?
The house band and host must be able to keep the entertainment flowing because with a jam you don't who will turn up or indeed if anyone will at all. You've got to be able to keep the audience happy and there must be an "ego-less" enthusiasm to share your talent with both audience and whomever is ready to perform. (Lemon-infused water between songs helps too)
What advice would you give to young musicians, or those taking their first steps into jazz, any dos and don'ts?
Again a willingness to share your talent without ego; "give and take" is mega important. You will learn from others but in turn you will also teach as they have the opportunity to listen to you. Long selfish solos are nobody's friend and you can't hear anyone else if you are the only one "showboating " and making "noise" rather than making music.
As things progressed did the word spread about the jam – and did it help attract more high-calibre musicians?
Well as I had mentioned before when SoFF was still SEG, I had a newsletter that advertised in the initial stages of the jam being in Brixton. I got the word out by word of mouth and inviting patrons to spread the word and join a mailing list, which admittedly was a weak one. We were still in the days of no social media. The community gave me, the band and the gig major props and continued to support us. We help them (the community) with their out of town guests, birthdays, Mother's Day, even Christmas!
When I first visited the jam back in 2006 Robert Mitchell was playing piano in the house band – who are some of the people who've come through the Effra who've gone on to great things since?
I believe at least three members of the jazz-funk band, J-Sonics met at the SoFF Music Jazz Jam Session in Brixton. Trumpeter Jay Phelps was a regular and Empirical members Nathaniel Facey and drummer Shane Forbes (from age17). Shane paid me a compliment when I told him how proud I was of them, (Jay, Nathaniel & Shane) saying: "Auntie (my nickname) back in the day we didn't have gigs, your gig was our gig". In fact, they are the reason I got my nickname. In West Indian/African culture an older woman would get that respect... standard! I was 27, they were 17. Passers through have included 'bone master Dennis Rollins, saxophonist Tony Kofi, guitarists Robin Banerjee and Cameron Pierre and MOBO award winners such as pianist Zoe Rahman and saxophonist and hip-hop stylist Soweto Kinch.
For me the greatest thing about the nights at the jam at The Effra over the years is how it draws together the local community and how supportive the atmosphere is. Is this local focus an important part of the jam's success?
The local community is the audience. SoFF Music prides itself on treating them with the utmost respect and serving them with different 'special occasion gigs', like the jam's 18th birthday party on 9th April 2017. We always celebrated ourselves and the success of the gig but that means we celebrate the support of the community audience and treat them to top quality entertainment (and the odd prize giveaway and audience participation). The great thing is we have a global community too. I touched upon the fact that the local community bring their friends, family and out of town guests to see us, so we have audience members from France, Germany, Australia, China, Canada, Argentina and beyond. These people have all revisited and continue to email me to find out if the jam is on. They never let us down so we, SoFF Music and me will continue to raise them up! Love, peace and hair grease! The SoFF a.k.a. Lauren Dalrymple.
The SoFF Music Jam's 18th birthday night is on 9 April 2017 – for more info visit www.facebook.com/Soffmusic/