All that jazz

[Pictures by Robert Coles]

[Natallie Davis backed by the projected image of Gertrude “Ma” Rainey Mother of the Blues 1886 – 1939] 

If you are a jazz fan you may already know that Bath’s Royal Literary and Scientific Institution has been presenting a series of talks on lesser-known genres of music.

Robert Coles writes to tell me that last month Dave Merrick presented his long-awaited and Covid-postponed evening celebrating Classic Women’s Blues Singers Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith etc. 

The talk – giving the essential history of the blues – was illustrated with film, original recordings and live examples performed by Natalie Davis with Dave Merrick accompanying on guitar.

He continued:

“Despite the stormy weather, there was a remarkably large attendance at the event in the Institution – in Bath’s Queen Square – with a similar number taking part on line via Zoom. The evening concluded with many questions from the floor and on line.  

The art of Louis Armstrong will be subject of the next talk on 8th April 2022. 

By coincidence fifty years ago New Orleans Clarinettist George Lewis played in a hall not more than two hundred yards from the Institution, perhaps this could be the inspiration for another talk.’

Amongst those enjoying this article was former Bath press photographer Geoffrey Ellis – who has recently published a book which charts his professional journey from our city to Fleet Street.

He writes:

I was interested to read about New Orleans jazzman and his visit to the Percy Boys Club in Bath.  Here is the pic and piece from my new book- Bath to Fleet Street. It’s on sale at the Dorothy House Book Shop in Broad Street, and online from

Apart from hearing George Lewis in his 1957 debut concert in London, I photographed him in Bristol in 1959 and Bath in 1966.

He was a quiet, gentle, and polite man and very self-effacing considering his status in jazz. In Bath, he was playing in the unlikely venue of the Percy Boys’ Club in Monmouth Place with the Barry “Kid” Martyn band.

I went along before the show to do a few pictures, accompanied by my “shadow” Robert “Krow ” Coles (of euphonium fame) and spent half an hour with him. During the interval, I ran back to the Chron darkroom and processed the film and knocked out three quick 8×6 prints and got back in time for the second set – I did say we could do things quickly even in those non-digital days.

At the end of the evening, we spoke again to George and gave him a print. He seemed truly touched that we had gone to so much effort for him and asked if he could autograph our prints for us. It is a proud possession for both of us still.