Where it all came from…
The Jazz Bar was created by Edinburgh-based drummer and jazz organiser Bill Kyle, opening its doors on 1 July 2005. Originally from Dunfermline, Bill was heavily involved, both playing and organising, on the Scottish jazz scene for many years, as well as some years living (and playing) in Glasgow, New York and London, and is listed in the ‘Who’s Who in British Jazz’ reference publication. In 2002 he formed what has now grown into one of Scotland’s most active non-profit jazz promotion organisations – Bridge Music (see www.bridgejazz.co.uk). Sadly Bill passed away suddenly on the 31st of October 2016, leaving the bar’s management duties to be carried on by his daughter Edith Kyle. Edith is determined to continue and build upon her father’s legacy to support music throughout Scotland.
Bill put his heart and soul into The Jazz Bar and into the live music community without which the bar could never have existed. It was a long struggle to build up The Jazz Bar into what it is today and without Bill’s tireless self-sacrifice and enthusiasm for the arts, it never would have made it this far. From all of us at The Jazz Bar, working, supporting and gigging here, we would like to say an enormous thank you to Bill for his incredible generosity and his unwavering integrity. He created not just a bar or a live music venue, but a home and a haven for a vast community that he brought together from all walks of life and from all over the world.
Here’s a piece of Bill’s amazing story, in his own words:
People often ask, “So, is this a lifetime dream, owning your own Jazz Club?” Answer – “No Way!” There was never any intention of getting involved in licensed property, until an interesting chain of events started in the late 90s, running through to 2005. In the 90s this very room was the popular Bistro and jazz spot known as ‘Cellar No 1′. It was a lot smaller then, lower ceilings, less floor space – and no ventilation! Very Bohemian, crammed every night – a great place for live jazz, and Bill played there a lot. But then in late 2001 the property was acquired by a pub operator, who promptly closed it for a few months to refurb and upgrade the internals. When it eventually reopened in early 2002, it was as the ‘Beat Basement’, with no jazz policy, just DJs and rock bands.
So Bill lost his regular Cellar No 1 jazz gigs. Damn! However, he was convinced that there was audience support for good quality jazz, and scoured the area looking for a suitable bar to start up a new gig. Amazingly, he found one – just around the corner on South Bridge. A dingy, Irish-themed bar ‘Limericks’ had just come on the market in early 2002. At that time Bill was running a successful Hi-Tech IT business, and had no intention of becoming a pub owner, but here was an interesting and somewhat challenging opportunity. If he could acquire the lease, maybe, just maybe, he could create a “Jazz Bar” with live jazz as its focus – something never before done in Scotland (and in fact not that prevalent anywhere else …). Hmmm …
He got the lease! (and the first reaction was ‘Oh, sh*t – what now?’) The bar was very run down and needed a complete refurb, so the first focus had to be on borrowing loads of money to finance this, and eventually, after lots of (rather expensive!) works, Scotland’s first dedicated full-time jazz venue ‘The Bridge Jazz Bar’ opened up in April 2002. The place looked great, and the opening event was a 3-night run of New York vibes star Joe Locke’s quartet, with US drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts.The Bridge went on to become a huge success in its short lifetime, created a lot of work for local musicians, and staged some memorable performances from top jazz names, eg sax legend Lee Konitz, LA sax player Bob Sheppard, London/LA sax Benn Clatworthy, Swedish singer Viktoria Tolstoy, US bassist Buster Williams, and top jazz/funk drummer Lenny White.
However … all was not to be. The Bridge Jazz Bar was tragically totally destroyed after just seven months of existence in the massive Cowgate Fire of 7/8 December 2002. Here’s some great ‘before/after’ video footage with a tour of The Bridge Jazz Bar, with entertaining ‘Jazz Club’ commentary by then Bar Manager Kyles Dignall.
The demise of The Bridge was (and still is!) a severely hard personal financial blow for Bill, who lost a huge amount of personal savings, and was now faced with repaying the massive amounts borrowed. These were of course to have been repaid as the bar business grew – but now there was no business, just personal liabilities. And worse, the Insurance payout was negligible, due to the miniscule 7-month trading period. Oh well. Better just get on with something else then.
Although The Bridge Jazz Bar had only existed for seven short months, the incredibly strong level of audience support that was there gave Bill the confidence, motivation and sheer determination to do it all over again. It then took him over three long years of searching (2003-2005), during which he programmed the successful ’80 Queen Street’ music venue, before he found a suitable property. THIS ONE!
And the amazing thing is – it’s Full Circle! This very room is the previous ‘Cellar No 1’ where Bill used to play in the 90s, that reopened in 2002 as the ‘Beat Basement’. The pub operators struggled to make it work, and tried several changes of name and format over the years, but the room was not a success for them. So now the Lease was on the market, and Bill acquired it in early 2005. However, the place was pretty bad shape, having gone downhill over the past 3 years, so it needed another (expensive) refurb. Now there was a problem – no money!
After the fire disaster Bill suffered a financial nightmare, with large personal losses, and substantial loan repayments due over long terms – and it was no help that the insurance payout was so pitifully small. The determination that this kind of venue could work again kept him going though, and when the prospect of starting up in this venue suddenly came up, it began to look promising.
Start-up Funding – A Nice Wee Story!
Here’s where some amazing Angels stepped in! A small number of individuals who knew and had loved the previous Bridge Jazz Bar offered to loan some personal funds to provide the vital startup funding. No shares, no equity, just a personal loan to the Company, on trust, to be repaid as and when the venue became financially successful. This wonderful Jazz Bar would simply not be here, but for the generosity of that small group of individuals who have lent their hard-earned cash to enable the start-up. These people have realised that their money will work better for them supporting an active music venue, rather than just sitting in a Bank, making dosh for the Corporates.
Heartfelt thanks go to those seven individuals without whom we would not be here! Now isn’t that a nice wee story?
Thanks to them, the Jazz Bar opened in July 2005, and here we are!
Now, the business is run on a split-management plan, with Bill’s daughter, Edith, and wife Mary Ann taking care of all formal business-related matters as well as all event programming, stage facilities and promotion, while long-term Bar Manager Nick Mushlin and his great team handle all aspects of bar management, service, staff, stock and premises.