Jazz: Blues skies over Soho

Today sees Soho's yearly jazz festival kick off with a midday `jazz in the street fest' in Soho Square. With a line up that spans big- band to acid-jazz, sidewalk cafe punters will be playing musical chairs all week

Languishing late around Soho's streets is usually for tourists, post- theatre grazers and drunken lads. But you can add jazz buffs to that list this week, as Soho's yearly jazz festival begins today.

"Jazz becomes more accessible to people in an environment they like, and in an informal format that is fresh, inspirational and above all exciting," says former Pizza Express boss Peter Boizot, who founded the festival twelve years ago. It was Boizot who also first introduced regular jazz spots in most of the Pizza Express restaurants.

While these streets are always busy, this week you can expect mayhem as the festival manages to squeeze in five hundred events into eighty- five venues. Some of these, as one would imagine, take place in "alternative" locations - like the Sunset Strip Club in Dean Street. "We like to support the festival," says owner Freddy Bass. "A lot of our girls are professional dancers, so they like something challenging."

Other events include midnight jam sessions at the Pizza Express jazz club in Dean Street, free performances every lunch time at the 100 Club on Oxford Street and live music on the streets every day.

One of the main reasons for the festival's success is that the organisers manage to offer a wide definition of jazz, ranging from the traditional to modern, featuring bop, blues, jazz-funk and world-music.

Headline names this year include the James Taylor Quartet, responsible for "organ-ised" versions of classic themes such as "Starsky and Hutch". Post-bop drummer Elvin Jones, ex-member of the John Coltrane quartet, will be appearing, supported by Bridget Metcalf and the Julian Arguelles quartet. There will also be a chance to see Glaswegian jazz-rock guitarist Jim Mullen.

For big-band lovers, Humphrey Lyttleton and his band will be performing tunes from Ellington, Basie and other giants of the Swing era. And, last but not least, the Grand Poobah of family favourite jazz, Acker Bilk, will be playing that much loved old conker "Stranger On The Shore" down at the Palace Theatre on Sunday night in a special one-off. Definitely mention this one to your Mum.

The festival runs from 25 Sept to 5 Oct. Telephone 0891 77775 for programme information


Ronnie Scotts, Frith St, W1 (0171-439 0747)

The Rhythmic, 89-91 Chapel Market, N1 (0171-713 5859)

606 Club, 90 Lotts Rd, SW10 (0171-352 5953)

Jazz Cafe, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, NW1 (0171-344 0044)

The Vortex, 139-141 Stoke Newington Church St, N16. (0171 254 6516).

The Space, 269 Westferry Road, E14 (0171 515 7799).