Event review: live jazz from Infusion, weekly at Smoothbean! coffee shop

By - Thursday 8th September, 2016

Katie Rose tells how Fusion Fridays make Croydon smile

Photo by Ian Marvin, used with permission.

It was back in late June that a fluid collective of jazz musicians and a coffee shop began blending culinary and musical flavours to come up with something fresh for Croydon.

Smoothbean! recently celebrated its second birthday at 2-3 Dingwall Road, just round the corner from East Croydon station. Founders John and Pauline Hennessy were originally intending to open a juice bar but after “sampling the London weather” and inspired by the third wave coffee movement, they saw the potential of “doing something new” with coffee. Then when they saw a poster in a Croydon shop, they felt that “yes… this has possibilities”.

Smoothbean!’s John and Pauline Hennessy.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Since then, theirs has become a coffee shop that’s a little outside the box. While architects, developers and their attendant flocks of cranes have taken over Croydon town centre, Smoothbean! even features a central split level table to allow them to spread out their maps.

“I remember saying”, John tells me, “that the day that I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat is the day that I’m sitting in the corner and there’s a jazz band playing in the other corner and the shop is full of people with a smile on their face. But I never realised that it was going to happen so soon”.

We’re fusing together different styles and flavours… so our name is InFusion

Enter Rob Wilson Jnr, keyboard player and photographer who, like so many customers, was touched by John’s welcome. “He’s such a warm character who always introduces himself and makes sure that you’re all right and engages with you”, says Rob. John shared his jazz band dream with Rob, who played him a recording of a recent jam session. Contacts were exchanged and when the time was right, trial gigs were arranged, and Fusion Friday was born.

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Until a week before the first gig, John had been referring to the evening as ‘Rob’s band’. Realising that it needed a name, Rob came up with InFusion ”because we are fusing lots of different styles of music and if you come to the venue you’ll find different kind of flavours – smoothies, craft beers, coffee. We feel like the music is reflecting that with the different backgrounds of us as individual musicians… we’re all bring different flavours and every time we play it’s a different combination of emotion that’s going into the pot and it really is an infusion”.

Formed from a ‘musical family’ whose members have played in various bands and jams for years, InFusion’s regulars are Rob Wilson Jnr on keyboards, Steve Elliott on soprano and alto sax, Rowan Barrett on bass and Dan Fitzgibbon on drums. There are sometimes also guests: “occasionally you get a new featured artist and it keeps it fresh… it’s a new flavour getting thrown in”, as Rob explains. The band has played with The New Jazzmags and at Ladywell Tavern jam nights led by Steve. Bass player Rowan explains that InFusion is “a reasonably unrehearsed thing and it’s based on our own relationships that we’ve been cultivating for the last three years”.

There’s no better way to start the weekend

Weekly on Fusion Fridays, InFusion dishes up its unique blend of soul, jazz, funk and latin flavours including Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Little Sunflower‘, a bossa version of ‘Night and Day’, a funky twist on ‘Just the Two of Us‘ and improvised pieces. “I’m really feeding off energy of people in the place, so it can produce some quite interesting sounds. It’s unique”, Rob explains. The relaxed vibe creates a positive effect for the audience. “The music is just so laid back, I feel very relaxed and I wasn’t an hour ago”, as Clive tells me. “There’s no better way to start the weekend”, adds Tonie.

Amongst the audience from 5:30pm until 8:30pm are tiny babies, young children dancing, cool young things socialising, entrepreneurs on laptops, members of Croydon Eats Cheese enjoying the artisan cheese platters and retired folks relaxing. Jazz (and cheese) enthusiast Ian Marvin, who attends regularly, describes the occasion as “an enjoyable start to a Friday evening – you can gather together and then decide what you might want to do later”. And as Pauline says: “we’re honoured, humbled and delighted that people like what we do and that they keep coming back. We feel very appreciative of it and it gives us the mojo to go on”.

As the Boxpark containers stack up week by week directly opposite, InFusion would like to “create something permanent that’s woven into the fabric of Croydon”. Audience member Laura shares this sense of momentum: “wine, cheese, jazz… it’s everything you would want on a Friday night and I think that it says a lot about Croydon and where it’s going and what it has to offer and it’s actually really exciting”.

This will refresh your soul

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

John would “love Smoothbean to become known for jazz” and for passing jazz musicians to come and create something “unexpected”. Local jazz diva Gill Manly has already had a friendly scat with the band and says that “the music is incredible, the atmosphere is brilliant and it’s the place I’d rather be on a Friday night in Croydon”. After such a promising start, in John’s words: “watch this space, because expansion is coming”.

InFusion is “trying to create an experience for people that is really refreshing for their soul”, says Rob. “Music is healing, music is power, it’s a very strong force and it exists all the time and because it’s so natural, it affects everybody”.

John is now sharing his Cheshire Cat grin with the Croydon community. “You need to make people smile”, he says, “because when people smile they fix themselves. Music makes people smile and smiling is a healer in itself”.

Fusion Fridays continue from 5:30pm to 8:30pm at Smoothbean, 2-3 Dingwall Road, Croydon, CR0 2NA.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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