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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians and others an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.


Steve Rubie (Flute, Saxophone, 606 Club) - October 2018


Steve Rubie



Flautist and saxophonist Steve Rubie runs the famous 606 Club in Chelsea. The story has been told many times of how as a teenage schoolboy in London, Steve discovered a basement club where jazz musicians hung out at 606 Kings Road, Chelsea. The '6', as it was known, had been in existence since the 1950s but in 1969 it was taken over by ex-actor Steve Cartwright. When he heard that the club was in need of a cook, Steve Rubie, now at Trinity College of Music, stepped into the breach and for eighteen months found it a useful way to supplement his student income as well as getting involved in the music.

By 1976, Steve Rubie was a working musician and returning to the UK after a tour in Italy, found that Steve Cartwright was planning to move to France. Steve was persuaded to take over running the club. The Kings Road basement was small, seating just 30 606 Clubpeople, but the audience grew under Steve's management until one day the owners of the building said that they were going to redevelop the site. After one or two alternative locations, a friend told Steve about a derelict basement in nearby Lots Road that had once been a rehearsal room and recording studio. It took nine months to make the venue habitable, including major work to the drains and power supply, but carrying over its former name, the '6' reopened as a 70 seat venue in May 1988.

Since then the 606 Club has extended to take an audience of 135. Running a club in London is an expensive business - just the electricity bill for the club has increased by 17% this year. The club is open seven nights a week and has been a profitable venue since 2001. The basement has a distinct informal, intimate and relaxed atmosphere; visitors are able to book a table and order a meal; an additional sum is added that goes direct to the band. After three visits, visitors can apply for club membership that offers additional benefits (details are on the Club website).

Although the '6' is a key jazz venue, Steve emphasises that the club hosts a wider programme of music. There is a long-standing policy of booking and promoting UK-based musicians, including an ongoing relationship with the Royal Academy of Music, although there are times when musicians from elsewhere play - for example, the exchange project that has been set up with the Budapest Jazz Club in Hungary. As well as running the club, Steve also leads the Latin-jazz band, Samara.



A video introduction to the 606 Club:





As you can imagine, Steve Rubie is a busy man. I managed to catch him for a tea break at the club one afternoon in September as preparations were being made for an evening performance by vocalist Rachael Calladine, sound systems were being checked, beer being delivered ........


Hi Steve, thank you for the coffee - what will you have?

I don't usually have tea or coffee, I'll have a glass of water, thanks.


I see Rachael Calladine is singing tonight. Didn't she used to sung with you in Samara?

Yes, some time ago now. She originally comes from Derby and she played at the club with another band in the late 1990s - we needed a singer and I was impressed by how versatile she was, so she joined us. She is a great soul / groove and Latin singer and has just returned after being away for ten years, it should be a good gig with Rachael and her band.


'Samara' is an interesting name for a band - how did that come about?

Samara is actually a town in Russia, but we simply used the initials from the musicians in the band when it was originally set up in the 1980s. Bass player Andres Lafone had a band at the old club and invited me to play with them - it was Latin / Brazilian jazz and my interest started then. Today's band usually features Neil Angilley (piano); myself on alto sax and flute; Dill Katz (bass); Nic France (drums) and Liliana Chachian is our vocalist. We have deps, of course, as the musicians can be tied up with other engagements, Steve Lodder will sometimes dep. for Neil, and we usually play once a month at the club.



Samara filmed at the 606 Club in 2010 with singer Jandara Silva:







If you could bring back a past musician to play with Samara for a gig, who would you invite?

That's difficult. I guess it would have to be the great flute player Harold McNair.


What would you ask him about during the band's tea break?

I'd ask about his approach and practice routine - and any advice he could give on playing the flute!



Listen to Harold McNair playing Herb Green in 1970 from the album Flute And Nut:





You have always tried to promote UK-based musicians at the Club - have you noticed any changes over the years?

I think today's musicians are probably more technically accomplished. Students coming out of the colleges particularly so, although that will vary year to year depending on the student and the teaching. There are some excellent musicians around and I have noticed how the talents of some students actually go on to emerge after leaving college. For some years now we have worked with the Royal Academy of Music to give their students a platform. Gerard Presencer, who originally ran the Jazz course approached me, and now we work closely with Nick Smart, not just to host their students' final recitals but for the students to play regularly at the club where they get paid for gigs just like any other musicians. It gives them the chance to experience playing to a usual club audience. Of course there are more and more jazz course students coming out of college each year and there are not enough paying venues to support and pay them. It seems sad that bands have to 'pass a hat round' at a gig, and commercial sponsorship of venues, tours or gigs can be hard to get hold of.

Younger musicians also appreciate the use of social media in promoting their gigs. We do a lot of publicity, online or through our printed programmes, but younger players intuitively understand social media and contact with people who know or who follow them. Like many organisations, the recent General Data Protection Regulation has affected our mailing list so it is helpful that musicians can reach out in that way to their followers.

I also try to ensure that I have at least one musician each month who has not played at the club before. A little while back someone recommended the pianist David Rees-Williams, for instance, who has been around since the late '80s but never played at the Club. So I asked him to perform here just recently - his music is classically influenced and can sound something like a mixture of Jacques Loussier and Herbie Hancock - and the gig was really good. 


The David Rees-Williams Trio playing Greig's Arietta:





You have also developed a relationship with Budapest Jazz Club - how does that work?

Yes, they approached me about setting up an exchange scheme over ten years ago now and it has been working successfully for some years. Three times a year we fund a musician to travel to Hungary to play at the club there and vice versa. They are lucky in that their government subsidises the air fare, but I think it is a really valuable project. Hungary is not that far away - 2 hours travel - musicians can easily travel in either direction to play a gig at the club and then come home. I'm surprised that more musicians don't take advantage of playing in Europe generally, travelling to some gigs in this country can actually take longer, and there are plenty of opportunities to play all around the continent.


A short video clip from a jam session at Budapest Jazz Club and a reconstruction of John Coltrane's Sweet Sioux by János Ávéd.






The 606 Club seems to be developing initiatives all the time - what have you got coming up ahead? And I notice that there is a massive 'Chelsea Waterfront' development taking place across the road - is that going to affect you?

I don't think the Chelsea Waterfront development will affect us a lot, we are mainly a 'destination' venue that people travel to. Right now, we are getting things together for the London Jazz Festival in November. Taking the Club 'outside' has been proving a good event. This year the Fulham Palace Festival in July celebrated its 10th birthday and had an audience of something like 1400 people over 2 days. It would be good to extend that event further, perhaps taking it to somewhere like Italy. I also want to look at developing recording and live streaming facilities at the Club. I also think it is good to promote a varied music programme here - we have Jeremy Stacey's 'Steely Dan Project' taking place this month and a great band 'All Fired Up' as well as our Jazz programme including gigs with the likes of Alex Garnett; Alice Zawadzki; Tim Garland; Gilad Atzmon - and of course Samara.


Here are All Fired Up celebrating the music of Earth Wind and Fire:





...... at which point, Steve Rubie's phone rings, he finishes his glass of water, I drink the last of my coffee and the piano tuner continues to make sure things are ready for the evening performance.


The 606 Club is at 90 Lots Road, London, SW10 OQD

For more information visit their website at


Steve Rubie

Steve Rubie



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