• Andrew Dennison

A Tribute to Ronnie Scott and his Jazz Club

Ronnie Scott was born Ronnie Schatt on the 28th of January 1927 in Aldgate London into a Jewish family of Russian extraction.

Ronnie learned to play the saxophone at an early age, and by the age of 16 was playing small jazz clubs in the London area. His father had been a saxophonist and band leader and the young Ronnie began taking saxophone lessons from Jack Lewis and Harry Gold, Ronnie said later " Harry was very helpful, but the best tip he gave me was never to wear brown shoes with a blue suit ".

Ronnie Scott went on to to become an outstanding tenor saxophone player with an inventive style of his own, who cited the American jazz players Hank Mobley, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, amongst his influences.

After working with several band leaders, he joined the band led by trumpeter Johnny Cleas in October 1944. After World War Two he played with Denis Rose's band and Sid Millwards swing circus. He joined the Ted Heath ( not the former PM ) band in 1946, stayed for a year then left to take several jobs playing in bands on transatlantic liners. By 1957 Ronnie was established enough to take his own band to America.

Back in London in 1959 Ronnie, along with the help of fellow saxophonist Pete King opened the Ronnie Scott jazz club in Soho's Gerrard Street, Pete was the business manager and Ronnie was the usual resident with his quartet.

The club went on to become a platform for American jazz giants like Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz and the Buddy Rich big band. Ronnie himself experimented with freeform jazz, when criticised for this he said " I don't play free, I play very cheaply, but I don't play free ".

Ronnie Scotts jazz club went from strength to strength, moving to larger premises around the corner in Frith Street in 1965, although the original venue continued for a while as " the old place " until the lease ran out in 1967.

Ronnie regularly acted as the clubs master of ceremonies and a typical introduction might go something like this, " our next guest is one of the finest musicians in the country, but in the city he's crap ", ill heath had caused Ronnie to take rests from playing in recent years, " all the great jazzmen are going " he said in 1991 when he heard of the death of Stan Getz, " I don't feel so good myself ".

Ronnie had two children but never married, he was awarded the OBE in 1981. Sadly he died in 1996, Pete King continued to run the club for a further nine years before selling to Sally Greene in 2005. In 2013 when the club was being redecorated after the smoking ban came into force, a twelve metre square hoarding was put up outside with a giant photograph of Ronnie alongside one of his legendary one liners, " I love this place, its just like home, filthy and full of strangers ".

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