40 tunes celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ronnie Scott's famous English jazz club. Features Count Basie, Dizzy y Gillespie, Horace Silver, Roland Kirk, Betty Carter, Stan Getz, Bill Evans/ Jim Hall, Ella Fitzgerald, Maynard Ferguson, Sonny Rollins/ Sonny Stitt/ Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal and others. Double slimline jewel case. 1999 release. The full title is 'Some Of My Best Friends... Ronnie Scott's 40th Anniversary Album'.
40 Tracks from 40 Artists that have Played In the Club Over the Last 40 Years
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
The bailiffs haven't been hovering in the vicinity of Ronnie Scott's Club in a very long while, but there was a brief period in the 1970s - when jazz was mostly out of fashion - when they were certainly within shouting distance. At that delicate time, somebody told the club's proprietors Ronnie Scott and Pete King that if they'd been better businessmen, they wouldn't be in this predicament. 'If we'd been better businessmen,' King had retorted, 'we wouldn't have been here in the first place.' King was putting his emphatic finger on exactly why Ronnie Scott's had been a nightclub with a difference from the day it first opened in October 1959 - a day that ought one day to be commemorated with a blue plaque on the original Chinatown basement at the very least, and which this double-CD celebrates along with many other 40th birthday tributes this year King's typically robust rejoinder to the businessman jibe implied the realisation that a sharp entrepreneur who wanted to get into the West End nightlife business might open a casino, or a supper-club with an expensive menu well to the foreground and a cheap singer-pianist well to the back - or any permutation of venues of a lot more dubious character. But not a jazz club. Not a place in which improvising musicians, many of them not even travelling with the popular calling-card of being a vocalist, would be paid to get up on stage and play as the mood took them. Not a place where the musicians could proudly enter by the front door instead of sidling in by the tradesman's entrance. No-one who wanted to make real money would ever open a jazz club, unless it was intended as a tax loss.
This double-album celebrates 40 successful years in the business no-club-owner in their right mind would dream of going into. Appropriately, it's forty tracks by forty ensembles led by some of the finest jazz artists ever to perform at the late Ronnie Scott's now world-famous club, and therefore some of the finest artists in the history of the music. Since Ronnie Scott's has never been owned by a leisure corporation, or run as a playboy's plaything, or as a showcase for the artists on a single record label, it has enjoyed the benefits of an independent operation run by enthusiasts, which are benefits you can't put a price-tag on. The best practitioners of the most creative musical movement of the 20th century have for the most part been delighted to play there, and in many cases delighted also to return year after year, because they knew Ronnie Scott's to be a place run by musicians with musicians and devoted listeners in mind, and where they would get respect, affection, understanding and a good few of those typically musicianly laughs that can sometimes be so perplexing to everybody else.
They knew too, that the audiences would mostly be knowledgeable, attentive and appreciative/and those who might noisily confirm their indifference to all three would quickly find themselves publically reminded that just paying their entrance fee didn't give them carte blanche. 'Not keeping you up, am I sir?' Ronnie Scott would sometimes lean off the bandstand to ask a garrulous member of the front row, or 'that's all right sir, I remember my first beer.' Or, if they would really risk everything and mock the proprietor's idea of a joke, maybe even 'well, if you want real humour, I'll have to dress up in that suit you're wearing -somewhere in London there's a Ford Prefect going around with no seat covers.'
But if Ronnie Scott (himself one of the most elegantly inventive jazz saxophonists ever to have determindedly hidden his light under a cloud of cigarette smoke) was uncomfortable with protracted serious conversation, he was truly, deeply serious about jazz. When he wasn't on the bandstand himself, playing or making his inimitable announcements, he was often seated at a side table - usually alone, save for the company of that permanently-lit cigarette - listening intently to his own guests. He loved musicians of all kinds, was fascinated by their differing approaches and techniques, and he was as open to the work of older players whose styles preceded his own as he was to younger ones with new messages. All he asked was musicianship -and wit, and passion, and character, flaws and all. What Ronnie Scott loved about jazz was its combination of quirkiness and individual expression with consummate professionalism and technical skill. It was clever music, but the fun of it was to make it sound easy, and as natural and personal as the changing expressions on a face.
The track-listing even on this extensive set could not truly represent the entire span of all the artists who have crossed the thresholds at Gerrard Street and Frith Street, the Soho sites of the successive Ronnie Scott clubs in London. But they do represent a remarkable cross-section of the influential jazz musicians the postwar world has known.
The vocalists include the majestic, operatic Sarah Vaughan, the agile and perpetually youthful-sounding Ella Fitzgerald, the fearless, instrument-like Betty Carter, the fearsomely soulful Nina Simone - plus, and by no means least, the hard-grooving and perenially popular partnership of Van The Man' Morrison and Georgie Fame on the jazz/blues classic Sack o' Woe. And as if to confirm that forty years of Ronnie Scott's Club has seen many batons handed on from pioneering giants to creative descendants, the Memphis-born singer Dee Dee Bridgewater (profoundly influenced by Fitzgerald, and Simone) and the popular and charismatic young Canadian singer-pianist Diana Krall (a disciple of the methods of Nat 'King' Cole) are here too, proving that jazz is not only a music with a spectacular past but a dynamic present and future.
Big bands have always represented a dazzling piece of theatre as well as music in Ronnie Scott's Club, packed on to that small stage as if jammed into an elevator, and so close that the crackle of the brass sections threatens to break the glassware. One of the greatest of them all, the legendary Count Basie band, is represented here on Disc One's rousing opener, April In Paris. Woody Herman (the ranks of whose musicians Ronnie Scott only avoided joining by his own modesty in the Fifties) also performed at the club several times and our selection is a timeless classic of his orchestra's repertoire. The Good Earth. Then there's the exciting American/European Clarke-Boland big band, which Ronnie Scott did become a staple member of in the 1960s - led by American bebop drum pioneer Kenny Clarke and Belgian pianist Francy Boland.
Great as those orchestras were, the abiding big band memory for many visitors to Ronnie Scott's during the 1960s and 1970s might well be the periodic visits of the explosive New York drummer Buddy Rich. Rich's drum intros were as irrefutable as a sergeant-major's commands and a lot more musical, and his solos defied belief, even among the fellow-drummers who watched his shows with awe. His sardonic sense of humour wasn't running far behind. This is the first time we've played a construction site,' Rich told the audience on the first night the half-finished Frith Street premises opened for business in 1965.
Drummers are rarely leaders in other musics, but in jazz they are the heartbeat of the music and often lead from the front. Art Blakey, whose snare-drum rolls sounded like erupting oil-strikes, and Elvin Jones (the sonorous, dramatic drummer who underpinned so many John Coltrane performances and is sometimes feted as the nearest individual parallel to an African drum choir) confirmed that truth many times in annual visits to Ronnie Scott's, their fans returning year after year, incredulous that Father Time was continuing to have such a fruitful relationship with their playing but so little apparent impact on their energies and enthusiasm.
In the early years of the club in Gerrard Street, Ronnie Scott and Pete King mostly hired saxophonists - they were saxophonists themselves, and having spent a good many years putting up with the whims of other nightclub owners, didn't see any reason why they should deprive themselves of a personal pleasure once they had a jazz club of their own. The other reason for this was that the guests brought their own saxophones - but with pianists, it was a different story. Scott and King put off hiring guest pianists for a long time because the Gerrard Street house piano had a mind of its own and only the resourceful resident accompanist Stan Tracey could read it.
But in 1965, they had to concede that jazz piano history - one of the richest seams in the entire development of the music - couldn't be ignored any longer. Their first choice was the great Bill Evans, the shy and studious man who was called the 'Chopin of jazz piano' for his delicacy, subtlety and romantic touch. Evans appears on this set twice, in partnership with musicians on his wavelength of understatement and intelligence - the 'guitarist's guitarist' Jim Hall, and the great romantic saxophonist Stan Getz. Horace Silver, the keyboard godfather of a funky style of jazz piano playing with links to gospel music and blues is here too, the equally funky but more fluid and beboppish West Coaster Hampton Hawes, and the urbane and elegant sometime Ella Fitzgerald accompanist Tommy Flanagan. And in Ahmad Jamal, Monty Alexander and Oscar Peterson, Ronnie Scott's Club played host to three remarkable keyboard virtuosi who refused to remain bound by conventional categories and remain living embodiments of how diverse jazz is.
Jamal, a man whose concept was one of the few ever to be publically quoted by the great Miles Davis as an influence on him, has Bill Evans' delicacy and classical resources of technique mingled with bursts of a triumphant, explosive energy and showmanship. Monty Alexander is another technical master, but his music is as much influenced by the calypsos of his Caribbean homeland as it is by America; and Oscar Peterson is the awesome and tireless firebrand of the piano whose flying runs and thunderous left-hand recall the legendary Art Tatum.
As the century draws to a close, there are few instruments that have not been touched by jazz, from harps to penny whistles and even bagpipes. But of all the great musicians who have performed on the stages of the Ronnie Scott clubs, perhaps the ones who have most closely resembled the classic image of a jazz musician have been the trumpeters and saxophonists.
Maynard Ferguson, the Canadian bandleader and high-note trumpet star features among these forty tracks, as does one of the club's best-loved and most influential regulars, the great Dizzy Gillespie -whose trademark upturned trumpet-bell celebrated a jazz-brass tradition that went back to Louis Armstrong, and whose originality and imagination helped found the bebop movement of the postwar years. Gillespie, a huge personality as well as a hugely influential musician and bandleader, grew particularly close to the club's proprietors. Low-light photographs of the unmistakeable profiles of both Dizzy Gillespie and Ronnie Scott absorbed in late-night chess games provide some of the most atmospheric images of the club's backstage life.
When the first club opened in 1959, and for at least five years thereafter, Ronnie Scott and Pete King let the jazz world know that it was a haven for the world's best saxophone players. And therefore this double-CD fittingly celebrates that early house-style, but with a choice of saxophone players that runs from the music of the 1950s all the way through to the turning point of the century.
Maybe it's a measure of how short jazz history has been - its movement from primitive folk form to sophisticated art maturing in a few decades - that the founding father of the tenor saxophone's use in jazz could still have been alive and playing by the time Ronnie Scott's club was able to extend an awed invitation to him. Coleman Hawkins worked at the club in the last years of his life, his powerful sound and sweeping imagination more reserved but still imperious and unbowed. His best-known musical descendent, Ben Webster, a barn-door of a man whose very exhalations of sighs through the saxophone were more melodic than many musicians' notes, was also a much loved regular. So was the airy, lyrical and elegant work of the veteran alto saxophonist, arranger and bandleader Benny Carter, a man whose style bridges many variations of jazz.
For some occasional visitors to Ronnie Scott's in the 1970s, the kind who don't otherwise listen to jazz, the experience of hearing Rahsaan Roland Kirk in full cry has usually been unforgettable - Kirk was the dazzling saxophone showman who could play counter-melodies with three instruments at once, as well as trenchantly explore the improvising complexities of the art he called 'black classical music'. And then there was one of Ronnie Scott's own personal favourites - Stan Getz, the delicate romantic who could make the tenor sax sound as yielding and tender as a flute, or even a cello.
The other saxophone giants featured here include the furiously energetic, popular and technically dazzling tenor performer Johnny 'Little Giant' Griffin, a Chicago-born pocket battleship of a player unfazed by the fastest tempo. Just as commanding as Griffin and fearsomely competitive into the bargain was the Charlie Parkeresque altoist and tenorist Sonny Stitt, a man who once tried to throw Ronnie Scott by constant unplanned key-changes in an improvised duet, and was for once surprised to find that his partner understood his game. And if the club has celebrated the art of saxophonists now consigned to mythology, the history books, and the Olympian heights of the departed jazz giants, it also celebrates the present. Michael Brecker is here too, the most imitated and respected saxophonist of the post-Coltrane era.
If you still had the chance to ask the elusive and influential Ronnie Scott for his assessment of his remarkable career, he would probably say, as he often did, 'it's made a happy man very old'. Probe a little deeper and you would have found that though the club and its guests have been mostly important to him, it was the saxophone that remained his first love, just as it was when his stepfather Sol and his mother Cissie bought him his first gleaming Pennsylvania tenor when the bombs still rained on London. Yet he also sensed, as does Pete King, that by a mixture of happenstance and devotion to a long-marginalised idiom, he had performed an inestimable service for music in this country -resisting a powerful high-cultural pressure to maintain that jazz is neither serious like straight music or fun like pop, and proving over and over again on their own stage that it's both. They have, as John Dankworth said on a 1989 BBC film, shown that a Soho night spot can also be a 'recital hall, a concert hall, a place of learning'. And they have helped make the British more aware of one of the great musical forms of the century. The music on these discs is all the proof you need of that.
- John Fordham (Jazz Correspondent for The Guardian, and author of Ronnie Scott's biography Jazz Man - The Amazing Story of Ronnie Scott and His Club'. July 1999)