This history is a slightly updated version of one written by our Founder and President, the late Michael Garrick. We are proud and privileged to have worked with Mike, whose passing was mourned by the world of British jazz. A commemorative concert was held at the Civic Centre in December 2011 and dozens of musicians took part, including Cleo Laine, Nigel Kennedy, Norma Winstone, Julian Joseph, and Mike’s sons Chris, Gabriel, and Matthias.
BJazz began because Roger Watkins (also founder of the Graham Greene Society) moved here to find he was a close neighbour of Michael Garrick whom he’d seen in the 60’s at Bristol University in a poetry and jazz concert with Joe Harriott and Shake Keane.
“Why was there no jazz club here?” he asked. So a first trial run was made at the Court House, Water Lane, featuring the duo of Norma Winstone and Michael Garrick with interval guitar music from Tony Male, also from Berko.
Encouraged by the response, BJazz moved to the Civic Centre in 1982 where acoustics are excellent, so much so that the BBC made a number of outside broadcasts of the Michael Garrick Big Band from there in the 80’s and 90’s.
By skilfully gauging audience preferences George Franks (for over twenty years secretary and main organiser) built the clientele so that for a long while numbers have rarely fallen below a hundred. Full recovery from the pandemic period saw BJazz achieve 100 Memberships for 156 people by December 2023 and at least 1 sell-out concert each Season.
The Club is run by an elected committee of about nine to twelve members. There are normally a dozen gigs per year, spread over all months except for July and August. The experience of the Committee members and the standing of BJazz in the music community typically enable it to book a full annual season well in advance.
The first Jazz Festival took place in 2007 to celebrate the club’s 25th anniversary – and five years on, we celebrated the 30th anniversary in a similar fashion.
BJazz has also used Centenary Hall, St Peter’s Church, and Berkhamsted School Chapel for Garrick’s jazz-choral works and the Old School for the Royal Academy of Music Big Band. In 2020/21 BJ adapted to Covid constraints by collaboration with Guildford Jazz to stream live concerts from the Boileroom Guildford.
The 2021/22 Season saw BJazz begin to promote younger and local performers in the main Programme but also via introducing occasional ‘Support Acts’, enabling student and local bands to perform to an appreciative audience and be on the same slate as leading professionals.
Concerts are normally held at the Civic Centre. There’s a fine Yamaha grand piano, well maintained and tuned before each concert, the purchase of which BJazz helped fund. There is also an excellent sound system. The room itself was a magistrate’s court, with wooden panels providing the good acoustic. It seems BJ has run its history in court houses! So come along and be our jury!