I wouldn’t call myself an ardent fan of jazz music, but on the odd occasion I like to put on some John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk in the background whilst writing. However, I have always wanted to spend an evening at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Soho, I just haven’t got round to it yet. So when the opportunity arose to see the house band, Ronnie Scott’s Allstars play locally I thought it would be a good experience.
Ronnie Scott’s Gerrard Street
Ronnie Scott along with his business partner Peter King opened his first jazz club on Gerrard Street in October 1959. Both Scott and King were tenor saxophonists and along with other British musicians played nightly to a burgeoning Jazz scene. Scott regularly acted as the club’s Master of Ceremonies, and was known for his repertoire of jokes, asides and one-liners, and in that vein the Allstars keep that tradition. Their saxophonists Alex Garnett delivered a number of jokes in between numbers and also anecdotes of Scott’s career and life during his ownership of the club, one such was the following.
Peter King (L), Ronnie Scott (R)
In the early 1960s the club attracted many legendary overseas jazz musicians and was always full to bursting point, so much so that Scott and King realised that they needed to find new larger premises to make the enterprise viable. The club would stay open until the early hours and by the time that it closed it’s doors it was more convenient for Scott and King to occasionally sleep at the club than go home.
Ron & Reg
On one such occasion after only a couple of hours sleep they were awakened by a loud banging on the door which persisted as the pair argued about who would get up to answer it. The pounding became more persistent and increased in its ferocity until Scott reluctantly relinquished his bed. He must have been aghast as he opened the door to find the notorious east end gangsters Ronnie & Reggie Kray standing on his doorstep. Quickly recovering his composure he invited the pair in, but before he could offer them a cuppa they told him to get dressed as they were all “going for a ride“. Appraising King as to what was happening the pair hurriedly dressed and presented themselves in front of their visitors. In a friendly but firm manner the twins explained that they had heard that the couple were looking for new premises and that they had the very thing in their possession, so they were taking them to look at it first before signing the paperwork. It looked as if it was a fait accompli for the musicians who got into the Kray’s car and headed towards the east end. However, Scott and King knew that for the club to be successful it needed to be in the heart of Soho and it’s now fully fledged jazz scene. It goes to show how strong this feeling was as when it came to the crunch and the Krays “invited” them to sign the lease they refused. Scott did not divulge how the conversation went, but the pair were returned to Gerrard Street unharmed. Several days later, Scott received a telephone call from a member of the south London Richardson gang who were the Krays rivals, offering them the lease on a premises in nearby Frith Street. The building was ideal for the expansion, but the partners mindful of turning down the Krays offer were worried about accepting for fear of reprisals. They broached these concerns with the Richardson’s and it appears that some sort of truce was arranged with the Krays regarding the Frith Street club, which opened in 1965 and there were no further problems with the club being declared a neutral zone by both gangs.
Ronnie Scott’s on Frith Street