Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Ronnie Scott's and the London Scene

Nick Catalano By

Sign in to view read count
Historically, the London jazz scene has played an important part in the growth of the music and its appreciation although most of that importance has to do with English performers and writers and less with jazz venues. For decades, when you went to London, you thought of only one club—Ronnie Scott's. And even though there are several new boites about the city, a recent visit revealed that, despite the new establishments, very few Londoners and visitors out for a jazz evening will venture beyond the traditional haunt—Ronnie Scott's is still the place.

My sense of the jazz consciousness in the U.K. was immeasurably deepened a few years back when I received enormous journalistic response to a book I wrote on Clifford Brown. Not only were London newspapers comprehensive in their coverage, but I received incisive commentary from all over Britain (my favorite review came from the Yorkshire Post). The reviews were not all totally favorable, but the writers seemed to be more understanding of what I tried to do in the book than many writers in the U.S. (even those who raved unequivocally). During that book tour I met countless scribes, archivists, discographers, photographers and scholars together with scores of intense jazz fans whose knowledge of the music was extraordinary. I have recently begun touring with my latest tome New York Nights and decided to drop down to Soho and revisit London's legendary jazz nitery.

My most memorable night at Ronnie Scott's had occurred decades ago when I arrived with the Buddy Rich Band. I had been producing several concerts with Buddy and the band in New York at the time and we were shooting substantial footage at the shows in preparation for some public TV specials. Ronnie Scott's had been the scene of well-publicized success for Buddy and we were anxious to see what would happen. The club in those days (late 70's) with its thick cigarette smoke, raucous crowds, and funky ambiance represented a welcome throwback for us Americans who had been enduring new jazz rooms back home that had taken on the atmosphere of yuppie perfumeries. I, for one, had mourned for years over the demise of Gotham's Birdland and Basin Street and so Ronnie Scott's quickly supplied the hip feeling of yore.

Not so on this visit last month. As soon as I entered from outside where a long line of patrons resembling tourist first-nighters were gathered, my jaws dropped. The present incarnation of the venerable room immediately brought to mind the aforementioned New York yuppie hangouts. My guest and I were dutifully escorted to a bar above the jazz room where I could conduct interviews. Large coteries of heavy drinking college-age kids abounded and, when I inquired, said they were certainly not there for the jazz downstairs but for the cachet and booze upstairs. "So," I muttered to myself. "The Wall Street version of jazz clubs has made its way across the Atlantic."

The jazz room of the club is festooned with V.I.P. special seating, velvety sashes, souvenir kiosks, tiny tiered tables and other vestiges of the new capitalism. The upscale environment was stifling and I found myself half-wishing that I could inhale some of the old cigarette smoke. The subsequent performances didn't do much to elevate my mood. After the opening act of a group dubbed "Ronnie Scott's All-Stars" entertained with the subtlety of a Vegas lounge band, the headliner appeared. Ola Onabule, a soul/funk/gosspelist, with considerable talent and his "international" group from such disparate places as Dakar, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia (all seemingly discovered by their leader in Australia) performed. The set contained spirited exchanges, primal lyricism, and witty, digitized sound impressions.

Ronnie Scott's features such groups as "Funk Affair" and "Soul Family Sunday" for their weekend fare... I exhaled joyfully when I gazed at the playbill upon leaving the club and discovered that Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes would finish off the month.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Club Inégales: Where Everybody Knows Your Name... London Calling Club Inégales: Where Everybody Knows Your Name...
by Duncan Heining
Published: March 13, 2016
Read The People Band: Back and playing again London Calling The People Band: Back and playing again
by Sammy Stein
Published: December 27, 2015
Read Ornette Coleman's Meltdown is the Best Ever London Calling Ornette Coleman's Meltdown is the Best Ever
by John Eyles
Published: July 16, 2009
Read Ronnie Scott's and the London Scene London Calling Ronnie Scott's and the London Scene
by Nick Catalano
Published: October 8, 2008
Read Freedom of the City 2007 London Calling Freedom of the City 2007
by John Eyles
Published: April 22, 2007
Read London Jazz Festival Preview: November 10th to 19th London Calling London Jazz Festival Preview: November 10th to 19th
by John Eyles
Published: November 3, 2006
Read "The Art of Conduction" Book Reviews The Art of Conduction
by Riccardo Brazzale
Published: June 30, 2017
Read "Paul Kelly: Life is Fine...Really!" Interview Paul Kelly: Life is Fine...Really!
by Doug Collette
Published: September 3, 2017
Read "Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk & Najwa" Multiple Reviews Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk & Najwa
by Doug Collette
Published: December 23, 2017
Read "Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café" Live Reviews Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 2, 2018
Read "Forget Old Europe: 15 European Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About" Building a Jazz Library Forget Old Europe: 15 European Jazz Musicians You Need To...
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: August 16, 2017