The Residency: The Snowdrop Inn, Lewes

The Residency: Terry Seabrook on The Snowdrop Inn, Lewes

    At the edge of a small Sussex town at the bottom of the cliff by a tunnel lies a small pub named after an 1836 snow avalanche, the worst in British history, which killed 15 people. The Snowdrop Inn is now a much safer place but is a very unusual pub with a quirky bohemian vibe. And nearly every Monday night for the past four years I have organised the jazz there. Jazz used to run a decade ago but lapsed under the previous owners. It was a bit run down and had a slightly dodgy reputation but the current owners Dom and Tony have turned things around and it is regarded as one of the best places in Lewes for beer, food and good music. When they took over they wanted to re-establish the night Jazz and so I was invited to set up  the Monday sessions which  started on February 1st 2010. Over the years I have hosted the sessions and we have had pretty much the whole range of players and singers from Brighton and around.

     The gig normally features three players and so in the early days I featured my piano trio with Spike Wells (drums) and Paul Whitten on bass, my organ trio (The Org) with Luke Rattenbury on guitar and Tristan Banks on drums and my Latin Trio Quinto with Raul D’Olivera (tp vocals and perc) and Tristan again on drums. Later on I started using the organ with drums to feature a lot more front line players. These have included just about all the great players on the local scene:

     Brass players Mark Bassey, Jack Kendon, Kjell Berglund, Sue Richardson and Rob Heaseman, Rupert Cobb.

    Saxophone players Pete Burden, Julian Nicholas Ian Price,Lawrence Jones, Paul Greenwood, Dave Black, Sam Miles, Charlotte Glasson, Andy Macintosh, Geoff Simkins, John Altman, Geoff Hearn, Bobby Wellins, Simon D’souza, Dave Quincy, Will Gardner.

    Guitarists Andy Williams, Jason Henson, Matt Wall, Diego Parada.

    Bass players Dan Sheppard, Danny Moss Jnr., Steve Thompson, Terry Pack, Adrian Kendon, Nigel Thomas.

    Singers Sylvia McKewan, Imogen Ryall, Sara Oschlag, Rachel Bundy, Alice Coulam, Ela Southgate, Cathy Garcia (USA), Sue McCreath, Heather Cairncross.

    Violinist Mike Piggott and harpist Magdalena Reising.

    Drummers Alex Eberhard, Malcolm Mortimer, Pat Levett, Milo Fell, Dave Trigwell, Sam Glasson, Pete Hill.

    The above is a testimony to the great wealth of jazz talent down here in the Brighton area. I reckon it’s probably the biggest hub of jazz activity outside of London.

     Last year the owners started to fund players from further afield too (London), once a month, and we have subsequently featured Nigel Price (gtr), Simon Spillett (sax), Jim Mullen (gtr), Alan Barnes (sax), Terry Smith (gtr), Roger Beaujolais (vibes), Dick Pearce (tp).

     This has all given me the opportunity to play with all these musicians and to have the audacity to imagine they all want to play with me, especially as I’ve been allowing the gig to act as an opportunity to hone my Hammond organ skills.

     Playing the organ is something I’ve been working at for the past three years and it’s slowly coming together although I have been concerned that I risk sparking off a boycott from the bass playing community. The Musicians’ Union actually banned Hammond organs back in the 50s as it was seen to be putting bass players out of work. Well, times have changed and now even DJs are welcome to the Union.

     You may not appreciate it but the organ in jazz (as in most music except rock) involves the organ player providing the bass part as well as harmony and melody parts. The bass part can be played on bass pedals but in jazz it is more commonly played in the left hand on the lower keyboard due to the hands being more appropriate than feet for fast-moving swinging bass lines. Even Hammond supremo Jimmy Smith played the bass part mainly in his left hand and used the pedals for backup and tapping the beat percussively on one note. I’m nowhere near as sophisticated as the bass players I work with so I’m aware that there is more work to do. But in jazz that is always the case with everything because you can always search for change and progress; the work is never finished. Last year while in the USA I had a lesson with the great Larry Goldings and he was very quick to spot the things I needed to be working on.

     The Snowdrop as a venue is a great quirky kind of place which attracts a variety of people. Paul, the incredible dancing man (IDM on YouTube) is something of a Lewes legend and often gets up to do his very original dance takes on a song.

     The future guests include Jim Mullen, Graeme Flowers (the great trumpet player in my latin band Cubana Bop), Quinto, Frank Griffiths, Sam Miles and of course Ian Price. We are also talking about a jazz weekend for later in the summer.

     There is a great range of real ale and the food is really very good. Audiences have varied but have been getting much better of late. Ironically this has been through the bad weather. A cold and wet Monday night isn’t an inviting prospect for going out but with such great and varied line-ups it is understandable that we are getting a regular crowd. As long as there are no more avalanches I’m confident jazz will be there for another four years and more.