From 1955: ‘A Girl Dances Barefoot at the Hammersmith Jazz Club’

The following article appeared in the West London Observer on 25th November 1955:

‘Pass the door and it looks like an ordinary public hall. Go through the door and walk down the long narrow corridor.

Then the music suddenly bursts your eardrums; the rhythm runs all over your body. A tingle spreads from head to feet. You feel like tapping with your hands with your feet.

You go into the hall proper and stand at the back. It’s impossible to move through the crowd of jivers.

The hall is in semi-darkness, but at the far end, on a tiny platform, a trumpet and a saxophone glimmer in the light. The pace gets faster. A drummer sweeps away all other sounds with a solo, which makes the stage shiver.

More and more people start to jive. A girl pulls her protesting boyfriend on to the swaying floor, and two minutes later he is jiving like an expert.

Another girl kicks her shoes off and dances in her bare feet. A feet-stamping, chair-tapping group crowds round the platform. One boy closes his eyes, sinks into his chair and says, “Oah, that crazy music!”

This is not a description of a Harlem “hot spot.” This is what can be seen in a hall off Hammersmith Broadway every Friday.

Here is the Hammersmith Jazz Club founded by 24-year-old Pete Webb with his “Chicagoans”, and always there is an audience of some of Hammersmith’s roughest, toughest, friendliest Teddy Boys and their girls.

Every Teddy Boy I spoke to showed an admiration and affection for Pete Webb and said that his band were comparable with the best of the West End groups.

Pete personally admires the style of the New York jazz bandleader Eddie Condon.

On Friday, over 200 jazz enthusiasts turned up to see guest stars Charlie Galbraith and Dick Powell play.

Charlie, who plays the trombone, has led his own band on BBC Jazz Club and has played with many famous groups, including Humphrey Lyttleton’s, Freddy Randall’s and Bobby Mickleburgh’s.

Dick Powell, following in the footsteps of Stephane Grappelly and Joe Venuti, plays “hot violin”. He learnt to play when he did his National Service in the RAF.

It was Dick’s job to look after the red guiding light, which was shone from a hut at the end of the runway.

He was so bored that he bought an old violin for 30s from a junk shop and practiced every night in the hut. By the end of his National Service he was an expert.

For Pete, who lives at Cricklewood, running a jazz club is not a new experience.

Already another club which Pete founded four months ago in Edgware, has a membership of nearly a thousand.

At present the total membership of the Hammersmith club is about 400, but the numbers increase every week, and Pete has some more star attractions lined up.

“We don’t care what age the members are,” he told me. “They can bring their mums and dads along if they like!”

Pete, who plays trombone, started playing only three years ago but both his jazz clubs speak for the terrific enthusiasm and energy which he shows and he is, himself, an expert on the instrument.

The group itself, with a line-up of piano, drums, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, bass and trombone, is formed of men who met through being in the same profession – advertising.

They all had a common enthusiasm for traditional jazz. So first came Edgware – and now Hammersmith.’

Apart from sending me that article, Colin Woodley informed me that the Hammersmith Jazz Club was situated at the Constitutional Hall in Hammersmith Road.

Steve Russell

(Thanks to Colin for his assistance)

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