What's On 2022

January 27th : Robert Fowler

February 24th : Tara Minton

March 31st : Terry Quinney (Tribute to Stan Getz)

April 21st : Gary Alesbrook

May 26th : Bruce Adams

June 23rd : Jean Toussaint

July 28th : Greg Abate

August 18th : Dick Pearce

September 29th : Alex Clarke

October 27th : Roger Beaujolais

November 24th : Amy Robers / Richard Exall

December 15th : Ben Cummings / Ian Bateman / Trevor Whiting


The Blue Vanguard is a monthly jazz club dedicated to bringing the finest national and international guests to our home town of Exeter.

The club has run successfully since September 2011 and has a loyal following. If you would like to subscribe to our email list we will be more than happy to keep you informed of future gigs held at the club.

Book Now

Advance booking is advisable as events are usually very busy. Please use the contact form to reserve your seats now.

All tickets are £12 (£8 students). Doors are open from 7.30 with performance times from 8.00 – 10.30.

Food and drink is available from the in house cafe or there are excellent restaurants nearby if you'd like to arrive early for something more substantial.

Events are hosted at the St Mathew's Hall, Topsham, EX3 0HF

Our Next Guest :

Jean Toussaint (Tenor Sax)

Jean Toussaint was born to an African Carribean family from Martinique (mother) and Dominica (father) on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba. A few years later the family moved to Dominica and spent the next few years travelling back and forth between Martinique and Dominica before settling in St. Thomas USVI. This move was incredibly important for Jean’s musical development for it was the beginning of his exposure to Jazz. “I remember when I was in the 5th grade my teacher, Mrs Ayalla taught the class the Gerswin classic Summer Time, and even though I didn’t realise it at the time, this was the very first jazz standard that I would learn”. 

It wasn’t until he got to the 9th grade that Jean, who at the time was exploring his early passion for drawing and painting, realised that music and learning to play an instrument was an option. 
“My best friend from elementary school, Daryl DeGraff, started to play the alto sax when we entered the 9th grade, he showed me his instrument, which I instantly fell in love with. The shiny lacquer, and the fact that there seemed to be more notes than we had fingers to play, was my first attraction to the saxophone. And then I tried it and fell in love with the sound. But I was too late, as all the available instruments had been taken, and spent my first year of high school in the choir learning to sing, which I absolutely loved”. 
The following year, in the 10th grade, Jean was able to begin learning the saxophone as well, and within 6 months had progressed to lead alto in the school band. His quick development was noticed by the director of the marching/stage band Charles Cox and the head of music John Crawford who did everything they could to nurture and encourage the talented youngster. Outside of school, Jean started spending many hour practicing and playing to recordings. “My first influences were Grover Washington Jr, Ronnie Laws, the Jazz Crusaders, Hubert Laws, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, Bob James and the funk, soul, calypso and reggae bands of my youth”. 
He also joined his first band. A popular calypso band known all over the Virgin Islands as “Mandingo Brass” and, due to his great ears, quickly became the horn section arranger. With Mandingo, Jean immersed himself in music and changed course from visual arts to music. 
With the help of John Jowers at the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts, after graduating high school with honours, Jean was given financial aid to attend Berklee College of music in Boston. 
“When I got to Berklee I had only been playing for 3 years and had a lot of holes in my instrumental and musical foundation. This meant that I was totally blown away by the technical skills and musicianship of some of my classmates who had been playing for 10 or more years”. 
This made me envious, and I became determined to gain the level of facility demonstrated on a daily basis by some of my peers. I started to practice all the available hours that I was allowed to book a room, and when that was insufficient, started the trend of getting locked in deliberately and practising through the night”.  
This intense practice coupled with regular lessons from his first jazz mentor William “Billy” Pierce saw Jean’s playing and understanding move in leaps and bonds which eventually led him, with Billy’s guidance and encouragement, to an audition for the tenor chair in the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Fortunately, with help and encouragement from the band’s alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Jean made it through the audition and joined the Messengers in August of 1982.  

“With Art I really started to learn about the music from a historically, yet highly creative, point of view. Art taught us through the music, he hardly ever verbalised what he was trying to teach. And I found this to be the most effective way to learn. We were also required to compose and arrange for the band which allowed us to hone those skills”.  

Art Blakey thrusted his young charges onto the world’s stage and throughout his long and illustrious career created more band leaders than any other band leader in the history of this music.  

Toussaint traveled the world with the Messengers. Europe east and west, Japan, Africa, Canada, USA, South America and beyond. In a short while, Jean went from total obscurity to traveling the world with one of the most popular bands in the history of the music. Due to his Caribbean background, Jean identified with many of the young African European jazz musicians, also of Caribbean background, that he met in London on his tours with the Messengers. 

“This made it incredibly easy for me to transition into the Black British way of life when I decided to explore my options”.  

Some of the musicians Jean has, and continues to work with, are fantastic award winners like composer/pianist/broadcaster Julian Joseph, composer/vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, composer/ vibraphonist Orphy Robinson, composer/saxophonist Steve Williamson, composer trombonist Dennis Rollins, composer/trumpeter Byron Wallen, composer/saxophonist Jason Yarde, composer/pianist the late Bheki Mseleku, pianist Jason Rebello and many others. Toussaint has led many award wining projects over the years and has garnered many glowing press reviews. Some of his accomplishments are as follows; 

1. BBC Jazz Awards 2001 CD of the year for Jean Toussaint’s Nazaire “The Street Above The Underground” (review here) 

2. The Guardian top 10 CD of the year 2009 for Jean Toussaint Live in Paris and London (5* review here) 

3. Release of JT4 “Tate Song” 2014 (review here)

4. Jazzwise magazine top 20 jazz CDs of the year 2018 (review here)

5. Nominated for CD of the year at the Jazz FM Awards 2019 for JT6 “Brother Raymond” (reviews here)

6. JT Won instrumentalist of the year at the Jazz FM Awards 2019

7. Release of JT6 Live at the Jazz Cafe on 11/10/19 Art Blakey’s centennial birthday remembrance (reviews here)

Jean has also had many fortunate opportunities to work with other legends, past and present masters and grandmasters that he has worked with includes the following. McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton, Horace Silver, Gil Evans, Kenny Kirkland, Mulgrew Miller, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddy Hubbard, Eddie Henderson, Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Gary Bartz, Donald Harrison, Kenny Garrett, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Jeff Tain Watts Jerry Gonzalez and many others.

The Blue Vanguard Trio :

Craig Milverton - Keys

Pianist Craig Milverton's main influences are Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans and his jazz interest was spawned by his fathers record collection, initially the Boogie Woogie pianists and then Oscar and Ella. Craig began performing in public as young as 10 years of age. He moved to Devon in 1985 and began gigging with local rock 'n' roll and jazz funk groups.

Since then Craig has toured extensively with a wide variety of groups including Junkyard Angels, Roger Mark's Quintet, the Pete Allen Jazz Band, Pizza Express International Band, the Kings of Jazz, Clarinet Maestros (with Julian Stringle & Ken Peplowski) across the UK, Europe and beyond.

In 1997, he joined Digby Fairweather's Half Dozen (releasing a CD '12 Feet off the Ground' in 1999) and from 2002-2007 was the backing unit for the late George Melly, recording 3 acclaimed CD's and including 4 month long residencies at Ronnie Scotts.

The year 2003 saw him on the front cover of Jazz Journal International with a feature article and his CD, 'It's a Jazz Life', was CD of the month in The Observer.

In 2005 his trio CD 'Three Flow' was reviewed by Richard Palmer (Biographer for Oscar Peterson's 'A Jazz Odessey') and was his choice for CD of the year for Jazz Journal International. For 4 years from 2003-2007 he put on his own 'Hayne Barton Jazz Festival', where he featured the cream of British Jazz Talent from across the entire jazz spectrum including support for artistes from the Southwest.

As well as being involved with Digby Fairweather's projects, he has many of his own groups. His latest show 'A Tribute To Oscar Peterson' with his Quartet paying homage to Craig's greatest inspiration (CD' Live At The Lights'). 'ZZ Bop', a more contemporary Quartet featuring American Bassist Tom Hill (CD 'Josies Bosie'). 'Organsolar' a Hammond based Quartet featuring Top Tenor man, Ian Ellis (CD 'Live At Hayne Barton'), and the Dale/Milverton Quartet with Plymouth based Tough Tenor man, Martin Dale (CD 'From Hand To Mouth').

Visit Craig's website for more

Al Swainger - Bass

Al Double Bass

Bassist Al Swainger relocated to Bristol in 2016 but continues to support the Blue Vanguard club as part of the house trio's monthly gigs. He is also a composer, improviser, producer, digital artist and FX enthusiast. His eclectic tastes have led to making music in a wide variety of genres over the years with literally hundreds of musicians. Covering ground from traditional to modern jazz, pop to progressive rock and world music to fully improvised soundsculpture, Al is always keen to explore new musical territory.

Notable recording projects as a band leader include The Art Trip : the Music of Art Pepper (featuring Alan Barnes), Biophosmos : The Music of Chick Corea and several albums (including After & Before and Outer Planets I & II) with Al Swainger's Pointless Beauty featuring his own compositions, covering a wider range of styles from latin to ambient to prog rock. A new album 'Hearts Full of Grace' is currently in production for release early 2022 featuring Gary Alesbook, Ant Law, George Cooper & Jon Clark.

As well as his own projects Al continues to perform live regularly with the Michele Drees Tap Project, WhailTale, Digby Fairweather's Half Dozen, Kick Ass Brass and The Blue Vanguard House Trio.

Visit alswainger.com for more info

Coach York - Drums

House drummer Coach York started playing at school in various prog rock bands, moving on to Art College and discovering funk and jazz. The Northampton scene where he grew up was heavy with R'n'B and trad jazz bands which was a useful training ground. He then served a long apprenticeship grinding up and down the country with some reasonably well-known soul bands. The late seventies and early eighties saw the explosion of the 2-Tone scene in Coventry where he joined the Ska/Reggae band The Army, later The Resistance, sharing studios and promotion with the Specials, Selecter and Bad Manners, with modest success, and recorded a critically-acclaimed album with former members of the Goth band Bauhaus.

Modern jazz has always been a passion, and over the years he has worked extensively with most of the top names on the British Jazz scene, accompanying people like Peter King, Jim Mullen, Bill Le Sage, Don Rendell, Alan Barnes, Iain Ballamy, Mike Outram, Simon Spillett, Roger Beaujolais, Jean Toussaint and many others, along with visiting US musicians like Jimmy Witherspoon, Slim Gaillard and more recently Greg Abate and Benn Clatworthy.

He works regularly with the Craig Milverton Trio, the hard-grooving Organology, and can often be found backing the well-known vocalists Louise Parker, Maggie Reeday and Annika Skoogh, or accompanying the fine sax player Martin Dale.  Also found with Steve Buckley, sax player and penny whistler from Loose Tubes, playing his compositions, and with whom he's had some great moments of free improvisation with Sam Richards and Pat Butterly. He's also the regular drummer in the Mike Westbrook Big Band, which has spawned the Very Small Brass Band featuring Dave Holdsworth on sousaphone.

He has also recently started playing with Jelly Roll - a dynamic blues trio featuring the legendary Julian Piper on guitar and vocals and Craig Milverton on the Viscount organ.

Visit Coach's website for more