JAZZ SCENE SEEN: part 5 of inaugural S & D Joined Up Jazz Festival presented Sidetracks & Detours in association with Hot Biscuits
collated by the ´joined up jazz journalists´; Norman Warwick, Steve Bewick, Gary Heywood-Everett & Susana Fondon
A long-held dream finally came true for Ronnie Scott and Pete King, on Friday October 30th, 1959, and most jazz aficionados will know that as the day the two of them opened their jazz club in basement premises at 39 Gerrard Street, in London’s Soho (left) . The dream had begun to take shape some 12 years earlier when Ronnie, then 20, a highly promising tenor saxophonist, blew his savings on a trip to New York to see for himself what the jazz scene there was all about.
For a young jazzman from London, particularly in those early post-war years, it was like reaching Mecca. Because of Musicians’ Union restrictions, British jazz addicts in the late forties and nineteen fifties rarely had the opportunity to hear American jazzmen perform live. And to hear them, even on record, meant paying out vast sums for imported 78 rpm performances of Dizzy Gillespie, (right) Charlie Parker and the others.
For Ronnie Scott, the trip was a fantastic experience. He’d never really heard an American group as such in a proper club atmosphere. The nearest experience had been some informal London sessions featuring musicians from the Glenn Miller and Sam Donahue bands during the later war years.
Scott took in most of the New York clubs during his two-week stay and he returned to London with seeds of ambition well and truly sown within his mind. He was high on American music and basked in the tremendous impression that the Three Deuces and the other NY clubs had made on him. He made a number of return trips across the Atlantic, with the inevitable visits to the local jazz clubs. On an especially memorable night Ronnie Scott heard the great Charlie Parker Quintet with Miles Davis at the Three Deuces. Playing next door was the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and, late into the night, Davis sat in and blew with Gillespie. The atmosphere was electric and Ronnie Scott continued to dream his dreams of setting up a similar kind of club in London.
Scott hit his 32nd birthday early in 1959 and he and fellow tenor saxophonist and personal friend, Pete King, started looking round for suitable premises to establish a club and came up with 39 Gerrard Street, Soho. For a while it had been used as a kind of rest room for taxi drivers, and had occasionally, as a tea-bar, also been a haunt for local musicians. To begin with, the plan was simply to provide a place where British jazz musicians could jam. A loan of £1,000 from Ronnie’s stepfather helped Scott and King meet the immediate commitments once the lease was signed. They took out a small advertisement in Melody Maker to announce the grand opening performance:
Advertisements promised ´The Tubby Hayes Quartet; the trio with Eddie Thompson, Stan Roberts, Spike Heatley and a young alto saxophonist, Peter King, with an old tenor saxophonist, Ronnie Scott, as well as the first appearance in a jazz club since the relief of Mafeking by Jack Parnell´. The long-time Scott policy of mixing jazz ideals with light comedy relief was already showing through.
For the first couple of years they booked the best of British modern jazz musicians but encountered problems getting work permits for American instrumentalists because the Musicians’ Union attitude towards visiting jazzmen was still tough. Then, a vital development came in the Scott-King decision to fight for the right to present a top American jazzman. Pete King was the chief negotiator with the Musicians’ Union and the American Federation of Musicians. There had been a few concert exchanges (involving, for example, Stan Kenton and Louis Armstrong). But the end product of King’s long meeting with the MU and the American Federation of Musicians was the lift of the blanket ban on American musicians, provided an exchange deal was involved, so that work in the United States was provided for similar British players.
The Tubby Hayes Quartet went off to play the Half Note Club in New York – and the great Zoot Sims was booked in for a four-week residency at Ronnie Scott’s club, November 1961. Ronnie Scott’s club was the first to offer engagements to American musicians in a club setting. Zoot Sims´ trail-blazing session paved the way for guest appearances by other American tenorists, including Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson and Ben Webster.
The club calendar also included visits by Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd and Art Farmer to name just a few. Also on that list was Bill Evans after whom there is a jazz club named in his honour in South Korea ! Sidetracks & Detours ran a feature on both the musician and the club carrying his name in 2020 that remains available in our music archives.
The appearance of such jazz giants really put the Ronnie Scott´s Jazz Club on the map and the fortunes of the enterprise improved to such an extent that King and Scott had to go in search of bigger premises. They found an ideal site, in the summer of 1965, at 47 Frith Street, only a short walk from the “old place”. Where £1,000 had covered the bulk of the expense of setting up the original premises, where the last American to play was tenor saxophonist, Benny Golson, they were now faced with having to find around £35.000 to convert and decorate the new hall. Financial aid was forthcoming from top promoter Harold Davison, a friend and keen jazz fan.
However, even in the euphoria of being able to present in person some of the legendary names in jazz Scott and King never lost their determination to also provide a good working environment for British jazz musicians. They kept the “old place” in operation (running at a loss) until the lease expired in 1967 so that the younger British jazzmen could continue to have an opportunity to play and develop until, in the spring of 1968, it became possible to extend the Frith Street premises by acquiring the building next door. This enabled Scott and King to add an upstairs room where pop-type acts could be showcased and also the addition of a downstairs bar. The new enlarged club opened in October 1968 with the Buddy Rich Band and an augmented seating capacity of 250.
The booking schedule always has ensured there was space left for artists such as Tom Waits, (featured many times on our pages), Linda Lewis, Elkie Brooks, Eric Burdon, Paul Rodgers, Jack Bruce and even The Notting Hillbillies, featuring Mark Knopfler. These acts might not fit exactly within the jazz field but nevertheless added to unique “atmosphere” of the club that had become an important feature on the jazz scene.
Perhaps inevitably, because of its reputation, the club has also been the location for many music videos, feature films, T.V. shows and national radio programmes. And in recognition, in 1981, Scott received the OBE for ‘services to jazz’. There was also the setting up of an Agency, B.P.R. Ltd., once situated above the club, now located in Romford, booking acts out and a 32 track in-house studio and in-house record label called Jazz House Records, the catalogue of which is now available on the club’s own Web site.
Scott and King were also responsible for making it possible for Cuban musicians to perform in the U.K., starting in the early eighties with the likes of Irakere and Arturo Sandoval (right) and in fact, the two also co-hosted Cuba’s jazz festival in Havana in 1993.
Sadly, though, only three years later one of the brightest lights of British Jazz was extinguished on December 23rd 1996, when Ronnie Scott, at age 69, unexpectedly died. he had, however, been a long-time heavy smoker, and suffered from considerable ill health during his last two years. He had a thrombosis and two operations on his legs, whilst also suffering severe dental problems and, for a saxophone player, teeth troubles can, of course, be a disaster.
He was advised to have teeth implants, a painful and time-consuming course of treatment, which if successful can be very effective. Scott expected to be out of action for about a year but there were unforeseen complications, which extended the time he was unable to blow and practice. He started to drink Brandy coupled with the ultra strong sleeping tablets prescribed by his dentist, although most of his life he had been teetotal, and this dangerous combination was eventually to cause his untimely death. Despite the speculation in the press at the time, due to the fact that Ronnie did sometimes suffer from depression, the coroner’s verdict was Death by misadventure.
After his friend´s death Pete King ran the club successfully for another 9 years, seeing the club reach its landmark 45th anniversary. However it was never the same for Pete without Ronnie and in June 2005 Pete sold the club to theatre impresario Sally Greene.
Introduced to Ronnie Scott’s by her father when she was in her teens Sally Greene has been a regular in the club for many years. It was her reputation of restoring and maintaining the tradition of some of London’s oldest theatres that persuaded Pete she was the right person to take the reins. Sally’s first move was to appoint Pete as the club honorary lifetime president and Leo Green as the artistic director. In June 2006 the club reopening after a three month refurbishment under the direction of renowned Parisian designer Jacques Garcia. Since the reopening the club has hosted some of the biggest names on the world jazz scene including Wynton Marsalis, (a huge favourite of sidetracks & detours contributor, Steve Cooke), Chick Corea, David Sanborn, Kenny Garrett, Billy Cobham and many more have also graced the stage there in the twenty first century. Sally Greene’s aim is to ensure the survival of this great institution for another 46 years.
I organised a record launch at Ronnie Scott´s Club during the nineteen nineties and I can still remember the preliminary meetings we held there when the premises was empty. It held such a powerful sense of musical history and I remember how proud my American client was that the release of his first album in the UK was to be announced at this sacred venue. The name of the club remains synonymous with the best jazz music from both sides of the Atlantic and deserves to re be included with the best American clubs whenever great jazz venues are discussed.
Of course, for a lengthy period, there was a profusion of jazz clubs in cities and towns all across the UK.
We invited our jazz correspondent, Steve Bewick, who presents features on two important jazz artists for our joined up jazz festival, to offer his thoughts on which have been the great places for live jazz.
¨Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933,´ Steve says, ´52nd Street replaced 133rd street as “Swing Street” of the city. The blocks of 52nd Street between Fifth Avenue and Seventh Avenue became renowned for the abundance of jazz clubs and lively street life. The street was convenient to musicians playing on Broadway and the ‘legitimate’ nightclubs and was also the site of a CBS studio. Musicians who played for others in the early evening played for themselves on 52nd Street.
In its heyday from 1930 through the early 1950s, 52nd Street clubs hosted such jazz legends as Miles Davis, Harry Gibson, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Nat Jaffe, Marian McPartland, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Louis Prima, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Trummy Young, and many more. Although musicians from all schools performed there, after Minton’s Playhouse in uptown Harlem, 52nd Street was the second most important place for the dissemination of bebop;. In fact, a tune called “52nd Street Theme” by Thelonious Monk became a bebop anthem and jazz standard.
By the late 1940’s the jazz scene began moving elsewhere around the city and urban renewal began to take hold of the street. By the 1960’s, most of the legendary clubs were razed or fell into disrepair. The last club there closed its doors in 1968. Today, the street is full of banks, shops, and department stores and shows little trace of its jazz history. The block from 5th to 6th Avenues is formally co-named “Swing Street” and one block west is called “W. C. Handys Place”
The 21 Club is the sole surviving club on 52nd Street that also existed during the 1940’s. The venue for the original Birdland at 1674 Broadway (between 52nd & 53rd), which came into existence in 1949, is now a “gentlemen’s club.” The current Birdland is on 44th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues´.
Just before the pandemic began in 2019 Steve managed to fly to Tel Aviv to find out for himself why the city is becoming known as a great place for jazz, with one club in particular building a world-wide reputation.
´Originally a neighbourhood café, Beit Haamudim is now an internationally acclaimed jazz club with a longstanding tradition. Just by looking at the dedicated program which offers live jazz seven nights a week, it’s clear that music is the central focus of all operations here.
The club is located in one of the most beautiful areas of Tel Aviv, Nahalat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall, in a charming old building from the eclectic era.
The story of the club begins in 2011. The café was empty and struggling. A jazz lover named Yael Hadany, with a background in the restaurant business, suggested to Eran Kol, the café’s owner and a musician himself, to take a chance and invest in weekly jazz performances.
Crowd enthusiasm was immediate, and more and more shows were added to the program.
Over the years, some of the biggest names in jazz have performed at Beit Haamudim on multiple occasions – Avishai Cohen, Yonathan Avishai, Joel Frahm, Omer Avital, Eli Degibri, Aaron Goldberg, Yuval Cohen, Barak Mori, Ofer Ganor, Amit Friedman and many more. Over 3000 live jazz concerts have been held at Beit Haamudim so far.
Beit Haamudim continues to be recognized as one of the most significant cultural institutions in Israel. The club was listed as one of the 11 Best Jazz Clubs in the world by Business Insider, and has received a quality mark from DownBeat Magazine for several years in a row.´
There are clubs closer to home of course, so Steve also reported last year on his trip down to London to the legendary 606 Club in Chelsea.
´We attended a Sunday lunch time performance to mark the debut of the 606 Gospel Choir, affiliated to the jazz club that takes its name from its original site, opened forty five years ago at 606 Kings. Now situated on Lotts Road (right) the club is closed for live performances but keep your eyes open on-line and in the print media for announcements of re-opening the very minute circumstances allow.´
Gary Heywood-Everett also talks fondly of his favourite venues.
We used to go to The Free Trade Hall in Manchester we bought tickets. There we saw B B King, Duke Ellington (twice), Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Jazz at the Philharmonic tour (Dizzy Gillespie etc) as well as our favourites at the time, the Modern Jazz Quartet. To our knowledge Manchester had two jazz clubs in the late 1960’s, the Manchester Sports Guild (MSG) which we were thrown out from trying to get in for free, and Club 43 on Amber Street. As soon as we were 18 years of age we became members of Club 43 and felt incredibly grown-up going to a real night spot !
But Manchester’s Band On The Wall remains and – one hopes – with other small clubs in the North West region will thrive through the energetic participation of a new generation of jazz lovers who might similarly appreciate the art in all jazz styles and schools.
Although we might like to think of all these venues as a home for jazz, the truth is sometimes more prosaic, in that the places would open their doors to performances of any musical genre. Manchester´s Free Trade Hall was, of course, the venue scene of the famous Judas call on the night Dylan plugged-in and his audience tuned out. It was also where I have great memories of Tom Paxton, The Incredible String Band and Lindisfarne, and I´m not sure that in those days I had ever heard of the word ´jazz´. The Manchester Sports Guild also held some pretty good folk nights throughout the sixties at which emerging performers like Paul Simon would perform. The Band On The Wall has housed hundreds of wonderful performances in all kinds of genres although I´m not sure my only performance there would qualify as ´wonderful´ in any idiom !
Of course, so many clubs on both sides of the ocean stand silenced by covid at the moment, including the excellent from all over the UK and across Europe that is Jazz On A Sunday in Rochdale.
Another club in the region also tried to open in time for the new year of 2021. Matt & Phreds had high hopes but whatever optimism there might have been, because Manchester at the time was in tier 3, was undermined on 4th January when the Prime Minister placed the whole country in tier 4 and counting for the foreseeable future.
The club management posted on social media they had tried to open but once again it was not meant to be and, like the rest of England, Manchester is now in lockdown. Nevertheless, over Christmas the venue managed to broadcast plenty of their archived Friday Night ´Almost´ Live, made available by an Access All Areas ticket. This meant that even though Matt and Phred couldn´t actually invite us into the club they could at least deliver top-notch performances directly into our homes.
This had some advantages as those who tuned in could, if they preferred, simply play them as ´radio´ music in the background and do other things as we listened to an exclusive M & P playlist.
It was interesting and heart-warming to read in that missive that all ticket fees from such broadcasts go to the musicians, as Matt and Phred think it’s the least they can do for players who have endured such a dreadful year.
For similar reasons, we at Sidetracks & Detours salute Matt & Phreds, not only for that example of generosity and innovation but also for still seeking to firm up their bookings for later in 2021and doing whatever they can to ensure the survival of their ´little back street jazz club.´
We feel sure any readers not yet familiar with this atmospheric venue will be looking to visit 64, Tib Street, Manchester, as soon as it can re-open, but in the meantime we urge you to lend them your support by checking in at www.mattandphreds.com
Susana Fondon reminds us, too, that there is a thriving jazz scene on Lanzarote too, and has kindly joined our joined up jazz journalists by allowing us to publish her recent interview with ska, rat-pack and jazz player, Tony Cummins.
photo a ´I first saw Tony Cummins playing as a solo act last year a few times in the Rooftop of the Biosfera Shopping Centre when live music was still on. It was very nice to relax and enjoy the music while sipping a cold drink and enjoying the views from up there. I was saddened when that kind of entertainment was suspended as it had become a bit of a Sunday ritual for me. However, I traced him on social media and got in touch with him recently to see if he would be interested in being interviewed for our readers. Here is the result, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed meeting this true gentleman.
Hi Tony, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. First of all, do you have a stage name?
On my own I just go by Anthony. I also am one half of The Ska Duo, alongside Julie Helliwell and I am the sax player with The Skatoons.
Where are you from originally?
I am originally from London but my dad was from Tipperary in Ireland and my mum is from Glasgow.
Mmm, that’s an interesting mix! How long have you lived in Lanzarote?
It’s been five years and three months. And counting!
And what brought you here in the first place?
I have lived in Gran Canaria with my fiancée Karen before. Then unfortunately my ex-wife passed away so we went back to England to be with the children for a while. We still wanted to come back to Spain and when it was time, we decided to try somewhere different. A friend recommended Lanzarote… and here we are.
What do you like about the island?
The good weather all year round is a big pull. It’s a happy place, lively and cheerful.
What is your favourite place in Lanzarote?
For food I really like a restaurant called La Bohemia in Costa Teguise, which is where I live. I also love to walk along the sea front as well with my fiancée, although sometimes we do venture a bit up the mountains too.
Good stuff. Let’s get back to the music. What do you sing and play?
I’m learning to play the guitar at the moment but when I perform, I sing & play the sax. My repertoire goes from the Rat Pack, Neil Diamond, Jazz and Ska, obviously.
Who is your idol, musically speaking?
My favourite Ska band is Madness. For the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, etc. And in terms of Jazz, my two favourite sax players are David Sanborn and Grover Washington Jr.
How would you describe your gigs and your music for someone who’s never heard you before?
Any one attending my gigs can expect fun and to enjoy themselves, even dance when it was allowed. I like to interact with the audience, requests are welcome, for example, and if I know the song, I’ll sing it or play it.
Do you have any special projects coming up?
Well, I am working on adding some more Blues Brothers tunes to my solo act repertoire.
At the moment live gigs are difficult, if not impossible, to carry out. Do you do any live-streaming?
Yes, I do indeed. On Wednesdays, I used to do from 5 to 7pm but I’m changing it to 6 to 8pm. On Fridays I do 6 to 8pm and on Sundays, I do 5 to 7pm. Friday sessions are Ska whereas the other two are a mix of Ska, Rat Pack and saxophone classics too. Until we were allowed, we did some live-streaming with The Ska Duo, but because of the current restrictions we are not being able to visit each other houses so these sessions have been put on hold. We haven’t performed with The Skatoons for nearly a year!
I know, it’s such a pity, isn’t it? How can our readers and listeners keep up to date with your gigs (when they will be allowed again) and live-streams?
The best way is to follow my Facebook page at
And finally, anything else you would like to tell your fans, something they might still not know about you?
I am a scooter enthusiast and I am a member of the Lanzarote Scooter Club. It’s only a small group of about ten people, both Spanish and English, who share the love for scooters. Prior the times we are living, we used to meet up twice a week and go around the island. It’s a great way to discover all the places Lanzarote has to offer.
Wow, it certainly sounds like a fun way to do it. Listen, Tony, thank you so much for your time & for the music! Best of luck & hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy your gigs live soon.
This article was written by the Sidetracks & Detours Joined Up Jazz Journalists; Norman Warwick, owner and editor of Sidetracks & Detours, and a weekly columnist for Lanzarote Information, Steve Bewick, jazz broadcaster and presenter of Hot Biscuits, and Gary Heywood-Everett, jazz writer and historian and Susana Fondon, music journalist for Lanzarote Information. The Sidetracks & Detours inaugural Annual Joined Up Jazz Celebration in association with Hot Biscuits has now reached the end of its first week and our next post will go live on Monday 8th March to begin the second and final week of our festival. Don´t forget you can hear Gary and Steve Bewick presenting the Hot Biscuits jazz programme on
You will also find regular interviews by Susana conducted with musicians of all genres in her articles on Lanzarote Information, and of course our daily Sidetracks & Detours blog will return to its usual comprehensive arts coverage of poetry, pottery, painting, percussion, dance, drama and musical dips into folk, country, blues, jazz, classical and pop. Meanwhile we are grateful to Lanzarote Information for lending Susana to us for the event and for allowing her to reproduce her article previously published on their site. We are also grateful to Jazz In Reading, Jazz North and RibbleValley Jazz And Blues for including details of our festival in their listings, We look forward to bringing you further details in the weeks to come of the excellent work they do for the jazz community.