Every venue likes to bill itself as unique, but Ronnie Scott’s is truly one of a kind. As a part of my black British music course, my peers and I got to tour Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Soho.
Having visited New York City in the late 1940s, saxophonist Ronnie Scott returned to London to create Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. Scott ran the club from 1959 until his death in 1996. The impact of the club was threefold. In the early days, the club cemented its reputation as a venue inviting American artists into London. Second, as its stature grew to be the best jazz club in London, playing the club became a mark of accomplishment. And lastly, in a time where jazz was reviled, Scott created a haven for the musicians and fans who nurtured the genre.
Not only did jazz have a reputation for being the harvest of African and Caribbean heritage, but it also became apart of the British Jewish cultural fabric. Jazz critic John Fordham, who has written about this intersection semi-recently, called it the “instrument of Jewish social life.” Fordham also described how the music seemed to fit right in with Jewish dances.
As time wore on, the club became the site for many a milestone in Western music history. The soundtrack for the film “Alfie” famously had its humble beginnings in the club’s off hours. Nina Simone performed there and so did Diane Reeves. Winton Marsalis and Madeleine Peyroux. Cassandra Wilson and Prince and Amy Winehouse.
Paul McCartney mingled with Miles Davis’ drummer. The story goes that Ella Fitzgerald wouldn’t play without a bathroom in her dressing room, so the club installed one just for her.
As early as 1963, artists were laying down tracks for live albums in the club. Sarah Vaughan, Anita Day, Curtis Mayfield, Dream Theater, Van Morrison and Jeff Beck all have live records from Ronnie Scott’s performances.
Open seven days a week, the club hosts multiple acts each night.
I quite enjoyed being able to visit Ronnie Scott’s for class. The juxtaposition of decades of legendary history with the drive to preserve jazz in the modern era really put what we’ve been learning in class in perspective.