As some of our readers will know, Host author Mark McKergow is a keen semi-pro (occasionally!) jazz saxophonist. When he was writing Host, Mark was looking for great examples of host leaders in different contexts. One of those was Ronnie Scott – saxophonist, club founder and manager, and general leading light of British jazz between the 1950s and the 1990s. Here’s the section from the Host book about him (from the chapter on the Initiator role, page 92):
Hosting around the world: Keeping going for British jazz at
Ronnie Scott was a British tenor saxophonist bewitched by modern jazz. In the 1940s, he had worked his passage on the liners to New York to see the giants of bebop perform in the clubs around 52nd Street, and came back filled with a desire to have something similar in London – a place where young adventurous UK musicians could perform their edgy music without being booed off by unhappy diners, and where the best American stars could perform to a sympathetic audience.
He finally raised £1000 with his colleague Peter King and opened in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street, Soho in 1959. The club was a success, and attracted the musicians and audiences that Scott had envisaged (though they had to fight a union ban on visiting Americans to make it happen). A generation of British players grew up around the scene, with Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans and many more taking up residencies. Rollins liked the atmosphere of the club so much that he asked to be locked in overnight while he worked on the music for the 1966 film Alfie, starring Michael Caine.
During the 1960s, the club moved to bigger premises in Frith Street, where it remains to this day. Despite being in perpetual financial trouble, Scott and King managed, by hook or by crook, to keep going. Scott died in 1999, but his name and spirit live on – the club still runs late-night sessions of the kind that inspired him in New York. Ronnie Scott was a good tenor saxophonist, but is remembered throughout the jazz world as a brave and persistent Initiator who managed to adjust, keep going and maintain a special place for British musicians.
Today is the 60th birthday of Ronnie Scotts! The club has produced this excellent little video narrated by Stephen Fry about Ronnie and what he ‘initiated’. Check it out!