Earlier this week Ronnie Scott’s jazz club was awarded an English Heritage blue plaque marking the site in Chinatown of the first Ronnie's. Next week, on Wednesday, in the climax to months of activity, the club, now in Soho since 1965 where it moved to take up residence at 47 Frith Street, Ronnie's will celebrate its 60th anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall with a long since sold out all-star line-up who include some of the biggest names in jazz: Kurt Elling, Courtney Pine, Madeline Bell, Imelda May, Nigel Kennedy, Guy Barker, Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw, Natalie Williams, Judi Jackson, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Van Morrison and Pee Wee Ellis.
Ronnie Scott’s managing director Simon Cooke (pictured) speaking to marlbank on the phone this afternoon, says that asked about the concert he ‘‘thought about doing it ages ago’’. Keen to do a concert to chime with the exact original opening date of 30 October he reckoned: ‘‘I had better ring up and put a pencil on it, as we say in the business, or someone like U2 would have the date.'' He just knew that the Albert Hall, was ‘‘the right place.’’
As for the bookings they came later, back at the beginning of this year. ‘‘Ancient history,’’ as he puts it. ‘‘Funnily enough I rang Van Morrison’s office to see if he’d play the club and the response came back: 'Why not do a big place and I’ll bring in Georgie Fame, Pee Wee and the lads?'’’
In actual fact, he adds, Georgie Fame was the first to commit to the concert. Nigel Kennedy, Simon says, was next.
Back at Ronnie’s the jazz continues. Tonight. The Mingus Big Band are in residence.
The secret of their success? Simon says they are all ‘‘terrific players.’’
‘‘They play exclusively the music of Charles Mingus and they are in residence in New York, when not on tour, every Monday at the Jazz Standard. They are a cast of characters. The band is slightly different every time. They goof about and ask for the microphone and tell a story. It’s a social affair. The sound of New York. It’s my favourite week of the year. Everyone knows.’’
Jazz, says Simon is ‘‘at its best in a club. I occasionally find myself in some theatre, the Festival Hall or Barbican. But it doesn’t seem right. Jazz is a small room experience.’’
While in Ronnie’s in the evenings he does not, he explains have ‘‘a function’’ and therefore leaves proceedings to the night managers. But if he is there, ‘‘half on duty and sort-of in and out,’’ he has a bar stool in an L-shaped corner by the entrance that he likes. Alternatively if he wants to fully watch a show he will sit in what he calls the ‘‘pit’’ at the front of the stage on the lower level. ‘‘You can’t see the rest of the club so easily and can’t get distracted''. When he is inducting a new floor manager starting at the club he says what’s important beyond the food and drink, which he takes as read that they will know about, is the music. He asks them to imagine that they’re bringing, and hoping to impress, a date. Let's, he encourages, ‘‘Get the lights right, the right temperature and the right sound volume.’’
Ronnie’s get that so right in a lovely looking room to hear top jazz week in week out. Perhaps that is part of why the place remains our home for jazz and heaven to true fans of the music. So, to the next 60 years. The best is yet to come. SG