Back in 2010, a jazz hub emerged in the centre of Bury St Edmunds, brought together by three men with a passion for the genre.
Now the Hunter Club is celebrating its fifth anniversary, with its billings growing in calibre and its audience numbers still swelling.
Created as a collaboration between Andrew Hunter, owner of the building in St Andrew’s Street South, Chris Ingham, renowned jazz pianist, and Chris’ former student Paul Schofield, a prominent musical director, the club has hosted some big names in the business at its monthly gatherings.
Derek Nash, Alan Barnes, Sara Mitra, Trudy Kerr and Peter King are just a few of those to have graced the stage, performing to up to 140 people crowded around candlelit tables.
In celebration of its anniversary, on Friday, October 16, the club will be welcoming back saxophonist Nash to perform alongside the house trio.
Of the club’s beginnings, Chris Ingham said Andrew had taken over the old British Legion club with the aim of turning it into a bar and venue, and employed Paul to help realise the vision.
“Paul’s idea was to start a jazz club, with me running the house trio,” he said. “I’m a performing jazz musician and I know a lot of jazz musicians on the scene.
“Paul got me involved and gradually over the last five years he has stepped away and I have taken it over.
“I now run the club on a monthly basis. It’s largely jazz and jazz related music, but we are considering stepping out into acoustic music and cabaret.”
Chris has worked as a professional musician since graduating from university around 30 years ago, ‘gradually increasing’ his skills and profile.
Although based around Bury St Edmunds the jazz aficionado has performed in clubs around the country including Ronnie Scott’s, in London. His own quartet, Flanagan Ingham, has performed at the Hunter Club on numerous occasions.
The quartet’s bassist, Rev Andrew Brown, a Unitarian minister from Cambridge, forms part of Chris’ house trio along with Hadleigh based drummer George Double.
Every month the club invites a guest to perform with the trio, from saxophonists to guitarists to vocalists. These guests tend to arrive just a few hours before their performance, meaning there’s no rehearsal time.
“The nature of jazz is we have a short repertoire and we play through a few things, but the rest of it is quite literally made up that night in front of the audience,” Chris explained.
“I get the impression the audience are sort of sucked into the spontaneity and the uniqueness of it. It is a real ‘living in the moment’ experience and it is not only the musicians but the audience who see that.
“Because we are of a certain level of skill, over the weeks and months there has been genuine magic created in that room. We have all felt it and it is wonderful.”
With clubs of its ilk declining in number, Chris attributes the Hunter Club’s success to this spontaneity and its ‘inclusivity’.
“I’m not convinced our audience are all jazz nuts. I think they are jazz-curious and want to have something interesting to do on a Friday night, and this hits the spot,” he said.
“Jazz suffers from an exclusivity problem. A lot of modern jazz especially has a bit of an image problem, and sometimes the musicians are their own worst enemy.
“They can be a little too cool for school and the audiences can feel excluded from the music. It’s thought of as cold and over-intelligent.
“We try to create a very friendly, inclusive atmosphere. While it is an intelligent music, we try to make people feel very comfortable so they enjoy it along with us.
“You don’t have to engage your head, it is about the heart - all this music comes from the heart.”
In booking acts, Chris said he gravitates towards those who can ‘connect on a personal level with the audience’ and help them to feel at ease.
“The musicians I tend to book are very engaged and engaging, and that makes a massive difference,” he said. “If you allow the audience to relax and trust you, they will accept whatever you play for them. It is quite easy to open doors in people’s listening.”
Chris’ wife Tracy manages the front of house on club nights, offering the ‘meeting and greeting’ which he believes is crucial to helping listeners settle in.
In the past five years the club’s audience base has widened considerably, meaning the 140-capacity club regularly seats around 90 listeners. On a couple of ‘extraordinary’ nights, the normal setup of tables and chairs was abandoned to accommodate the crowds.
“People are coming to trust the brand and the quality,” said Chris. “They are more willing to take a risk because they have not been let down so far. We keep the standards as high as we can and I think that is showing now.”
Visitors are able to book tables in advance by telephoning 07799 650009, emailing email@example.com or by visiting www.headhunterslive.org.
Derek Nash’s performance on October 16 will start at 8pm, with doors opening at 7.30pm.