SINCE being invited by The Oxford Times to write reviews for Oxford jazz club The Spin’s Thursday night gigs, I have been privileged to hear some of the greatest musicians from the UK and abroad, writes Bettina Chakarov.

I have also been drawn into a vibrant community of bonhomie; a thriving throng of enthusiasm. What has been created here, in a room above The Wheatsheaf pub, off Oxford High Street, is a proper jazz club environment where the informal layout and atmosphere is matched by the gripping performances of the world-class musicians on the stage.

I was asked in my reviews, to score the gigs out of five stars; I felt churlish to award (as my lowest rating) four stars, as every concert that I attended was truly engaging and excellent. I think that from what I saw of the audience’s responses, I was far from being alone in these assessments!

The spring season opened with the great tenor saxophonist Tim Whitehead and his quartet. This band very much set the tone for the programme ahead. Firstly, it should be noted that while none of the artists could be deemed as ‘household names’, without exception, all of the musicians who perform at The Spin have huge CVs which tell of important work – often behind the scenes – supporting, directing, collaborating or writing and arranging for major international stars.

In Whitehead’s case, he was a founding member of the ground-breaking group Loose Tubes, was the first musician as Artist in Residence at Tate Britain (where he was commissioned to write music in response to the work of JMW Turner) and has collaborated with such diverse artists as Gwilym Simcock and poet Michael Rosen.

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Whitehead’s quartet were in town as part of a lengthy national tour, and it was entirely evident that they had already notched up many concerts together. They were able to play with a beautifully relaxed looseness on romantic ballads and then with a crisp tightness on such tunes as Whitehead’s tricksy You Wish!

The Spin’s organiser Pete Oxley told me that Tim was one of his favourite saxophonists on the planet, and I could hear why he held this opinion.

Tim possesses the full range of what a saxophone player can offer: he can deliver with full-bore gutsiness when required through to the most delicate lyricism where appropriate. His playing on this gig was always utterly fluent and imbued with just the right amount of ‘the blues’ – an element that I find essential, and sometimes lacking in other contemporary saxophonists. Equally compelling was pianist Jonathan Gee – another long-time favourite of The Spin’s audiences. Gee played with an inventiveness that communicated to the listeners, as the responses to some of his solos from the packed house were quite astounding.

The bar has already been set high for the programme, which runs up to Easter. Last week featured trumpeter Steve Waterman, a musician who is massively influential behind the scenes in many areas of music and even has a signature Waterman trumpet named after him.

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Tonight features Robin Aspland – a keyboard player that has worked with everybody from Clio Lane to Ronnie Scott. Again, Robin had a role of ‘unsung hero’ by way of being Van Morrison’s musical director for six years, and arranging and leading the band during Van’s more recent glory days. He is a brilliant pianist, and the gig really should not be missed.

Then it is saxophonist Julian Nicholas next Thursday, Mark Armstrong on February 27, and Art Themen on March 5. Art, to put it succinctly, is a living legend. As saxophonist with Stan Tracey’s band, he toured the world and has accompanied many of the American greats. In a remarkable double life, he was a leading orthopaedic surgeon by day, while at night, was performing with the house band at Ronnie Scott’s. He dropped the doctoring in the 1990s to concentrate on jazz.

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Art began his gigging life with such blues heroes as Jack Bruce of Cream, Alexis Korner and Dick Heckstall-Smith, before becoming a much in-demand jazzer in his own right, accompanying such American ‘greats’ as Nat Adderly and George Coleman.

He is followed by Alex Hutton on March 12, Lianne Carroll on March 19, and the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project on March 26. This is an astonishing quartet, featuring The Spin’s house guitarist Pete Oxley and virtuoso Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier – who directed rocker Jeff Beck’s band for three years. They are joined by Raph Mizraki on bass and Paul Cavaciuti on drums.

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The two guitarists use a vast range of differing guitars – usually about 10 on any given gig – to produce soundscapes that take the listener on aural journeys around the world.

The season ends with a show by great tenor saxophonist Dave O’Higgins on April 2.

These, and any of the other gigs this season are a gift to us in Oxford. It’s up to us to make sure we use it – and not miss out on this feast of talent.

The Spin at The Wheatsheaf, High Street, Oxford

Thursdays. Doors 8.30pm, band on at 9pm. Book at