Music

'The Jazz Bar is too important to fail' says the couple who saved an Edinburgh institution

Having raised the funds to put them on a strong footing, the Jazz Bar will reopen this month in time for the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival and August’s Fringe festival

The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh

The Edinburgh music community reacted with shock in April when the much-loved Jazz Bar suddenly shut its doors. A stalwart of the city’s live music scene since 2005, it had fallen victim to the ongoing crisis in grassroots venues. 

But the vibrant basement bar wouldn’t stay down. Now – thanks to a passionate community of music-
lovers and, in particular, the dedication of two former staff members – the venue is set to reopen as a social enterprise within weeks. 

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“The Jazz Bar is too important to fail,” says Nick Mushlin, who, along with his wife Justyna, has put everything on the line to save the Edinburgh cultural institution. 

“There’s a strong community around it, and the bar is vital to that community. Without it, there are a lot of gigs that just wouldn’t happen. There’s a lot of money going to local musicians that just wouldn’t be there. It just had to carry on somehow. And I felt that I had to do it. There’s just nobody else that could. Or would. I had to give it a chance, at least.”

At least two grassroots music venues are closing every week in the UK, according to campaigning charity Music Venue Trust (MVT). As reported in Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign, they face threats on multiple fronts amid the cost of living crisis as rent and energy bills rise and customers spend less.

The challenges are familiar to Nick, who worked at the Jazz Bar from 2007, and as bar manager from 2010. Justyna worked there on and off since 2010. Even their two young children loved to go during the day. “It is our second home,” Justyna says. 

To give the new Jazz Bar the best chance of success, the couple have set up a Community Interest Company (CIC), with help and support from MVT. This form of nonprofit social enterprise channels all profits back into the venue, with all assets locked into and owned by the CIC. It allows them to apply for grants and to benefit from business rate reductions, and VAT exemption on ticket sales.

The next hurdle was raising enough money to buy the assets, name and licence for the Jazz Bar. Former staff, sound engineers and musicians put in “everything they have”. Nick and Justyna maxed out their credit cards. It was a leap of faith – but that belief in their community was soon repaid. 

At the end of May, Nick and Justyna launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £35,000 to pay back the short-term loans and allow the Jazz Bar to reopen. It quickly smashed that target.

“We hoped the love for the Jazz Bar was strong enough for us to make it happen. But we did not expect it the way it happened. I mean, we hit the target in under a week,” says Justyna. “After the stress and anxiety we’ve had the past couple of months, I am kind of still speechless. It is amazing.” 

Having raised the essential funds to put them on a strong footing, the Jazz Bar will reopen this month, in time for the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival and August’s Fringe festival. Gigs lined up for the first few weeks include  The Jazz Bar Big Band, Prime Trio and Dick Lee’s Swing Scoundrels. 

A new stretch target of £50,000 was implemented on the crowdfunder, which would allow them to invest in essential sound and lighting equipment and to fund youth development projects, including music workshops and afternoon shows for children and young people to help nurture the next generation
of musicians. 

By the time it closed the total raised was £43,619. 

“The Jazz Bar smashing their initial crowdfunding target shows that the appetite for grassroots jazz in Scotland is alive and well and that the community around the Jazz Bar was ready to support wherever they could,” says Oliver Melling, MVT’s Scotland coordinator. 

“This is much-needed good news for Scottish grassroots music venues and shows the power of the music community and how well loved venues like the Jazz Bar are.” 

See July’s line-up and book your tickets. Sign up to be part of The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign and get regular updates

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