With the first 275 digitized videos of the collection catalogued, I now have the chance to take a breath, step back from the spreadsheet, and actually use it to explore the wealth of information contained in this fraction of the archive. Having recently seen Ambrose Akinmusire perform at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London, I realized I knew little about the actual tenor saxophone player for which the venue is named, and decided I might as well familiarize myself. A quick search pulled up three entries: one of a performance at the eponymous club, and two others of Ronnie himself. The first, tape 211, was a solid, high-quality video of George Adams; he and his group are ripping it up in the otherwise cool, cozy jazz club, and you get to see up close what all the players are doing during their solos, but clips of the performance are already on YouTube, so I didn’t linger long. The next video, number 215, was likewise available on the internet, although it was older and featured Ronnie playing with Ronnie (Stephenson) and Wes Montgomery for a workshop on NDR (Nordeutscher Rundfunk, a historic radio station in Hamburg, Germany).
The last video, however, caught my eye and my ear. Ronnie is a lot older in this one, and not only can I not find a version of it on YouTube, but I can’t seem to find any mention of it anywhere on the internet. Which is strange, because the recording is excellent in quality; clearly, it was meant to air on TV and had been directed and produced by Liam Miller. In any case, tape number 269 shows something about Ronnie that he is famous for but doesn’t come across in his audio recordings: his brilliant raconteuring, propelled by an unstoppable barrage of jokes. In fact, one of his jokes in the video actually popped up on his obituary: “…A chap came by and asked if we played requests. Ted told him we would try and asked him what he would like to hear. `Oh, anything at all,’ said the Irishman”. The guy clearly indulged in being a showman. That being said, he didn’t hog the stage and often featured other members of his quintet. At one point he introduces the trumpet player, Dick Pearce, to lead the next song, and then actually walks offstage. Keep in mind, the group is called The Ronnie Scott Quintet. After the song’s over, he comes back and introduces Martin Drew, the drummer, with more of his infamous jokes (something about Japanese herpes…?). Then the group lights into the coolest arrangement of “What Is This Thing Called Love” I’ve ever heard (starting at 2:43:44). It’s fast, bebop-y, and Ronnie and Dick split the head by having the former take the A section and the latter the B section. Compared to the Cole Porter original, it sounds as if the musicians chugged a pot of coffee each before picking up their instruments. Ronnie and Dick are great, but the drummer really is the star here – his solo, starting at 2:47:25, goes on for more than 4 minutes, never letting up.
Ronnie worked with the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, and even The Beatles (he plays the solo on “Lady Madonna”), and opened his club with fellow tenor saxophonist Pete King in 1959. He was deeply inspired by New York’s jazz scene, which he made a point of visiting frequently. He loved the club culture that dominated there, and wanted to bring it back to London with him. He was definitely successful; the place has the same casual yet classy atmosphere as Yoshi’s in Oakland, except instead of specializing in sushi, they dish out high-end hamburgers and espresso martinis.