We catch up with Nolan Regent, co-founder of south east London’s Toulouse Lautrec to discover more about this hidden gem of jazz
When was Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec established as a music and jazz venue and how did it come about?
My brother and I opened the venue on the 27th of November 2008 as Brasserie & Wine Bar Toulouse Lautrec. I was 25 years old and everything we did was on a budget. Originally, the plan was to open a restaurant and wine bar with a difference. This being to put on a live jazz piano music every night. It quickly became apparent that the live music was an asset to the community. This led to us investing in this side of the business more and putting on more elaborate performances with anything up to a six-piece band. In 2013 the demand for live music performance outgrew the capacity of the restaurant so we converted the 2nd floor into a jazz club. Today we put on live music shows every night with up to three performances a day. We have since renamed the venue as Toulouse Lautrec and refurbished the exterior to give the venue a bit more class.
How do you go about choosing the musical line-up each month?
Live music is not something you just put on. It is something that is meant to be experienced. From the early days, all of the musicians were picked from professionally led open mics, jazz jam sessions to performances in other venues. When picking bands, I look for a balance between technical brilliance, passion and originality.
Unlike some places, I like to avoid the use of a DJ. We want our guests to leave having had a unique experience so as to want to come back and tell their friends. A favourite of ours is Alina Bzhezhinska’s tribute to jazz harp with tributes to Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby. The harp is not widely recognised in jazz music even through it is one of the oldest instruments in the world. Alina’s passion for playing the harp as a leading instrument is reflected in her playing style and arrangements.
What can people expect from an evening at Toulouse Lautrec?
There are two rooms for live music. The piano bar is more for relaxing jazz music to accompany your dinner or catch up with friends. Whereas the jazz club is designed with more focus on full on live show. When selecting performers, I have to be careful to pick the right performers for the right room and the right occasion.
One of our other goals is to provide a platform and opportunity for young musicians to express their own originals and arrangements. Every Monday we give the piano bar to one of the UK’s finest music academy the Guildhall School of Music. An opportunity to get to know these exceptional up and coming young players. We will be seeing a lot of them in the future, so why wait?
Every last Sunday of the month a regular favourite is Louise Ellen the Jukebox band where diners are invited to pick their favourite jazz tune with a 4-piece jazz band to play it live for you.
Performances in our jazz club include anything from big bands, soul, swing, jazz with a little bit of cabaret. We have had young jazz musicians featured from the BBC Young Musicians of the Year to internationally recognised bands from abroad. All of which have been carefully selected for a special occasion.
What does Toulouse Lautrec bring to the south London community?
Naming the venue after the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec did not come by as an accident. We knew he lived a very colourful life in some of the classiest jazz and cabaret clubs of Paris such as the Moulin Rouge. We wanted to reflect this era in our venue. Some people have said our venue has helped shape the community. I like to think the community has helped shape us.
Our local community is very diverse, over the years we like to think we have come across more as a classy LGBTQ+ friendly spot with performances that support this community. Recently doing jazz bands as Queertet, Paulus to revolutionising our traditionally celebrated Bastille festival with up and coming French Countertenor & LGBT performer Adrien Mastrosimone.
What exciting things have you got coming up in the next few months?
This year we are looking forward to celebrating some of the biggest Multi-award-winning artists in the jazz industry and around the world from Grant Stewart to Jorge Rossy for the London Jazz Festival (16th-25th November) in collaboration with Bopfest & The Arts Council. In addition, we will be celebrating the venue’s 10th anniversary on the 27th of November. Keep an eye out.