Ronnie Scott stares out at you from the cover shot on Birth of a Legend with a confident glare, as if to dare you to suggest that the Brits couldn't play as well as their American counterparts overseas. This two-disc set of the saxophonist's various musical exploits indeed proves that across the pond in the forties and fifties were a small group of musicians who could play just as well, and sometimes better on a good night, than their idols.
Scott eventually became more famous for the club that bore his name and the recordings made there, but as a young man he was present at some of the best jazz recordings in England. You won't know many of the names, but you'll find top-notch swing and bebop from all involved.
Birth of a Legend does not focus exclusively on Scott, but instead covers all the various outfits he gigged with over the span of a couple decades. As a small cadre of eager musicians, this set thus serves as an effective overview of the jazz scene in London. Scott was a talented musician who frequently won Melody Maker polls year after year. In addition to wearing out the grooves on records available from overseas, Scott had plenty of opportunities to visit the US and experience jazz firsthand due to a stint on the Queen Mary house band.
Just like the other musicians in the various bands he occupied, they weren't innovators, but certainly weren't imitators either; while some musicians clearly can't hang with the others, frequently the music contained here is just as good as much of what came out of the States. The record has the feel of an underdog team playing in a championship game, knowing that they may lack talent but making up for it in passion and enthusiasm.
Scott made some interesting choices in his careerfronting a big band in the '50s, for one, long after everyone had turned their attention elsewherebut he has a confident, yet unassuming style that owes much to the playing of Stan Getz. While frequently sharing the spotlight with his colleagues, Scott always manages to make good use of the brief time available to him, and was able to navigate the demands of the changes in musical styles from the '40s to '50s without much trouble.
It's always interesting to see how non-Americans have treated jazz, and Ronnie Scott deserves to be more renowned than he is. Not simply because he was a Brit who played jazz, but because this collection can stand up with the best of the era.
Track Listing: CD1: Them That Has, Gets; Ad Lib Frolic; Scrubber Time; Sunny Side Of The Street; Lady Be
Personnel: &CD1: Ted Heath & His Music (1,2); Jack Parnell & His Quartet (3,4); The Esquire Five (5,6);
Jazz At The Town Hall Ensemble (7,8); The Ronnie Scott Club XI Boptet (9-13); Alan Dean
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