The Jazz Cafe: Two decades of London’s favourite intimate music venue

In 1991, the owner of a small jazz bar moved into a vacated bank in Camden Town.

Two decades later, the Jazz Caf�, in Parkway, is an internationally renowned venue, the birthplace of a host of household names and arguably London’s favourite intimate gig spot.

Its capacity is only 350, with a restaurant upstairs where some the audience sit. In an era of huge, stadium concerts, the Jazz Caf� is a throwback to a different era.

“I’m 5ft 7in,” says general manager Lisa Auger. “But I can see the band members at every gig.

“That’s one of the things people love about the Jazz Caf� - it’s such an intimate venue that no matter where you stand, you can not only see the musicians, but talk to them, and see them coming on and off stage.”

It has also been somewhere people launch careers.

Last Wednesday (September 19) a plaque was awarded commemorating the Jazz Cafe as the spot where electronic dance outfit Faithless played their first live gig in 1996, with band members Maxi Jazz and Sister Bliss arriving to unveil the accolade.

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Within 12 months of the show, their hit Insomnia was number one in five countries, and the band were on their way to global success.

During her 15 years working at the venue, Ms Auger has seen the start of many huge artists.

“I remember watching Amy Winehouse, the Black Eyed Peas, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, before they were well known,” says the 44-year-old.

“We knew Amy well. She was such a sweetheart, and she spent a lot of time here. It was no secret she was going onto big things, she was so talented and her songs were so original.”

The venue built its name when acid jazz - a genre of live music which combines jazz, soul and funk - was the big sound in London.

“It was a place where people felt like they were part of something, like they belonged,” says Ms Auger. “It got very popular very quickly.”

From these beginnings, it has become a venue that embraces a variety of genres, with rock and hip-hop acts often topping the bill.

“There was a time an American band came in, and when they got off stage, they were almost in tears, saying I’ve finally played at the Jazz Caf�,” says Ms Auger. “I think that was the moment when we realised how well we were doing.”