This week’s ‘London Shoes’ topic was a bit special for me, as the visit in question enabled me to tick-off one of the “must do” activities on my personal ‘bucket-list’.
Also – it just so happened that I visited the subject matter in question at a special time in its history…its 60th anniversary year – and, to make this outing even more special, I was extremely fortunate to find myself on the ‘guest list’, thus enabling me to go behind the scenes and tread where legends have trodden before.
So – the “London Shoes” topic this week is all about my memorable visit to one of the most famous clubs in the world – the “Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club” …..in Frith Street, Soho, London W1.
Those that follow the ‘London Shoes’ blogs, may recall a piece I did just before Christmas, where I visited the Albert Hall, for the specific purpose of attending a jazz gig being performed its Elgar Room, by a band that included my good friend ‘Gentleman’ George Double, my drum teacher from way back in the late 1990’s, when I was manager of Barclays Mare St-Hackney – and, a then young George, was a customer.
George Double is now a leading ‘face’ on the British jazz scene, and regularly appears at top jazz venues all across London, and he is also curator of the Hadleigh and Southwold Jazz Clubs.
Anyway, following that Albert Hall gig, ‘Gentleman’ George informed me that he would be playing at ‘Ronnie Scotts’ in February – and having mentioned to him in passing, that I had never ever visited “Ronnie Scott’s”, he asked me if I would be interested in coming along as a ‘guest’ of the band!!!!…….(I couldn’t believe my luck)
The history of how the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club came about is an interesting story in itself – and it starts back in 1959 when 2 young London jazz musicians Ronnie Scott and Pete King opened up a club down in a tiny basement of a property in Gerrard Street in the Soho district of London.
The purpose of the club at that time, was simply for it to be a place where local jazz musicians could congregate and ‘jam’ together , trading ‘licks’, ‘styles’ and ‘vibes’ (d’yer see my use of muso terms there ).
The Gerrard Street club soon became extremely popular with jazz lovers, and it was obvious that a larger venue was needed.
So, in 1965, the club moved to larger premises just a couple of streets away at 47 Frith Street-Soho – where it remains situated today.
Initially, the artists performing there were mainly up and coming British jazz musicians – as the club couldn’t attract the more globally popular American jazz stars – however, as the clubs reputation grew, it naturally started to attract attention from overseas, particularly the USA.
The very first ‘big’ American jazz star to appear at ‘Ronnie Scotts’ was the saxophonist “Zoot Sims”, who performed to an excited full-house – and this gig paved the way for other American jazz stars to follow suit.
Interestingly, during my research, I found out that ‘Zoot Sims’ was actually the influence for “Zoot” the sax playing muppet from the ‘Muppet Show’ – (it’s funny the useless info one collates when doing this stuff).
By the mid to late 1960’s Ronnie Scott’s was the ‘go-to’ place for celebs, musicians, ‘faces’ and even gangsters from London’s underworld, and its reputation continued to grow, attracting musicians and punters from all over the planet.
The list of jazz greats that have played ‘Ronnie Scotts’ is endless – and includes the likes of the following – to name just a few:-
Ella Fitzgerald – (singer)
Chet Baker – (trumpet)
Sarah Vaughan – (singer)
Buddy Rich – (drummer)
Billy Cobham – (drummer)
Nona Simone – (songwriter & pianist)
David Sanborn – (saxophonist)
Chic Corea – (keyboards)
George Benson – (singer & guitarist)
Stan Getz – (saxophonist)
Jamie Cullum – (piano)
Not only have the legends of world jazz played ‘Ronnie Scotts’ – there have been loads of ‘Live’ albums recorded there over the years – and I’ve listed just a few below:-
1962 – Zoot Sims – “Zoot at Ronnie Scotts”
1971 – Stan Getz – “Dynasty Live at Ronnie Scotts”
1974 – Ella Fitzgerald – “Ella in London”
1977 – Sarah Vaughan – “Sarah Vaughan Live”
1980 – Buddy Rich – “The Man from Planet Jazz”
1984 – Nina Simone – “Live at Ronnie Scotts”
2004 – Charlie Watts – “Watts at Scotts”
2006 – Jamie Cullum – “Live at Ronnie Scotts”
Ronnie Scott’s club also has a significant place in ‘Rock’ history – as it is the venue where, in 1970, rock legend ‘Jimi Hendrix’ made his last public appearance.
In 1996 Ronnie Scott sadly and unexpectedly died at the age of 69 – however, his long-time business partner Pete King continued to run the club for a further 9 years, right up to its 45th anniversary – but he found that it just wasn’t the same without his old pal Ronnie – so – in 2005 Ronnie Scott’s was sold to London theatre impresario Sally Greene, with a ‘strict’ proviso that it would remain a jazz club – for the people.
2019 sees the now world famous “Ronnie Scott’s” Club celebrate its 60th anniversary, and the club is as popular today as it’s ever been, with most of its shows sold out well in advance – as it is a place where music lovers can eat, drink and listen to all different styles of jazz music in cosy comfortable surrounding – right through to 3am.
So – parking my bum on my specially designated ‘guest-list’ seat up at the bar – I sat back to watch one of the most accomplished singers on the UK jazz scene – London based “Sara Dowling”, backed by the Chris Ingham Trio that included my old drum tutor ‘Gentleman’ George Double –– bassist Dario Di Lecce – and obviously pianist Chris Ingham.
Performing to a full-house, Sara Dowling & the band delivered an excellent set entitled “The Jazz of Judy Garland” – which was thoroughly enjoyed, by me, and all the other ‘Billy Bunters’ that were there.
So – for me, this once-in-a-life time opportunity of being ‘with the band’ behind the scenes at the world famous “Ronnie Scott’s”, means that I can now say that I have ‘trodden the boards’ on the same stage where all those jazz legends have stood over the years – which is a memory I will never forget.😊
Hope the accompanying photos bring this little story to life.