On October 30, 1959, in Gerrard Street, Soho, London, saxophonists Pete King and Ronnie Scott opened the modest basement jazz club which was to become a major influence on British music and survive for over half century as a mecca for jazz musicians and fans from all over the world. 2030
When the club opened Ronnie Scott was already a jazz legend on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the earliest British musicians to adopt the bebop style of Charlie Parker, he had played for over a decade alongside such greats as Johnny Claes, Ted Heath, Cab Kaye, Tito Burns, John Dankworth, Jack Parnell, Victor Feldman, Hank Shaw, Phil Seaman and Tubby Hayes. He had won the approval of great jazzmen like Charles Mingus who said: “Of the white boys, Ronnie Scott gets closer to the negro blues feeling, the way Zoot Sims does”
From the start, the impact of Scott and King’s new club on the British music scene was enormous. Not only did it expose the local musicians and fans to Trans-Atlantic influences such as Zoot Sims and Sonny Rollins, but it also promoted domestic artists like Tubby Hayes, Dick Morissey, Ernest Ranglin and Stan Tracy. Ronnie Scott’s rapidly became legendary. When the lease ran out on the Gerrard Street basement in 1965 and Ronnie Scott’s moved to its present location it continued until 1967, under the name of “The Old Place”, as a venue for emerging local talents, among them Eric Clapton.
Meanwhile, the reputation and success of Ronnie Scott’s, Frith Steet grew. Duke Ellington played here. The Who’s Tommy premiered here and tragically, it was at Ronnie Scott’s that Jimmy Hendrix gave his last public performance. Music videos, films, TV shows and radio programmes were recorded at Ronnie’s , earning Scott his 1981 OBE “for services to jazz”. In May 1995, Van Morrison and Georgie Fame, both frequent performers at the club, recorded the album “How Long Has This Been Going On” here, with Pee Wee Ellis on the saxophone.
Throughout this period, Ronnie Scott played on in various groups, most of which included keyboards player John Critchinson. As the clubs Master of Ceremonies, he was famous for his repertoire of jokes. At this time he also did session work, including the solo on The Beatles Lady Madonna.
Ronnie Scott died in 1996 and Pete King continued to run the club until, finally, in 2005, it was sold to theatre impresario Sally Green.
The club’s reputation and popularity continue. It attracts music lovers and jazz aficionados of all ages from all corners of the world. It is still a popular haunt of many old patrons from its early years including big names of music and show business. Ronnie Scott’s has recently re-opened after extensive renovations and re-organisation, to accommodate the hundreds of patrons who cram into it every night. It now offers 2 sessions, from 6 to 10.30 p.m and from 11p.m. 3.a.m. There are mutterings out there among the old guard that the ambience, spontaneity and spirit of Ronnie’s have been lost in renovation. Is it true, I wonder?
Find out in Travelstripe’s next post – A Night at Ronnie Scott’s.