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‘Ronnie’s’ on BBC4

Val Wilmer’s classic portrait of Ronnie Scott leaning against the entrance of his Frith Street club captures the man as most of us thought we knew him: the epitome of Soho cool. Ronnie’s, a new documentary written and directed by Oliver Murray, goes deeper to show us the man known to his intimates. Something that could easily have been banal and superficial becomes a sensitive and finely nuanced depiction of a life lived under pressures both external and internal.

The film is being shown on BBC4 this weekend and should be watched by everyone who ever set foot in the club, or even wished they had. It starts out conventionally enough, as if it is going be a straightforward celebration of the 60-year-old institution that has played host to Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, Buddy Rich, Count Basie, Roland Kirk, Bill Evans and so many other famous names. Before long, however, it is describing the relationship between Ronnie and Pete King, his business partner, the man who kept the wheels turning when times got tough, as they often did.

They’re both gone now, but Murray brings them back to life through their own words and those of others, building a picture of two men united by stoicism, sardonic wit, and a love of music and (mostly) musicians. Ronnie’s complex character is fully explored, including his near-ruinous gambling habit and the depression that afflicted him — which, combined his inability to play the saxophone following extensive dental treatment, probably led to his death from what the coroner described as “an incautious dose of sedatives”.

Clips of many great musicians at the club keep things swinging along, but darker undertones gather in the second half and the final section is elegiac and extremely affecting. By acknowledging the darker truths, this superlative film makes us cherish the continued existence of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club even more.

* Ronnie’s is transmitted on BBC4 this Sunday, November 15, at 9pm. Here’s the trailer. Val Wilmer’s photograph is used by her kind permission.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Crowe #

    I saw Ronnie play in a tatty suburban Dublin lounge bar in the mid-70s and always cherish my only visit to his club to see the wonderful Dr. John, not too long before the latter’s death.

    Looking forward to the Documentary.

    Thanks, Richard.

    November 13, 2020
  2. Mick Steels #

    Saw the film recently and can highly recommend it, also the book by Ronnie’s daughter “A Fine Kind of Madness” gives a valuable insight about the saxophonist’s life.
    Musical excerpts are generally quite short but enjoyable, look out for a youthful Tony Oxley playing in a quartet with Ronnie

    November 13, 2020
  3. Colin Harper #

    Looking forward to it. I’ve been enjoying the new Ronnie Scott Quartet ‘BBC Jazz Club 1964-66’ release on Rhythm and Blues Records recently. The late-night mood of the short 1965 session I find especially captivating, and wish Ron had recorded more in that period.

    November 13, 2020
    • Bob B. #

      Thanks for the prompt on this. Brings back fond memories of seeing Ronnie stood on left stage by the mike chuckling away to himself as Prof. Irwin Corey let rip with his act (Cedar Walton’s Trio completed what was a stellar double bill at the club that night).

      November 13, 2020
  4. John Atkins #

    Whenever I think of Ronnie Scott I am reminded of the story – possibly apocryphal – of the early days of the club when footfall was very slow. It tells of a prospective customer who phoned to ask what time the club opens The reply from Ronnie was “What time can you get here”?

    November 13, 2020
  5. Diana #

    Utterly fabulous!

    November 15, 2020
  6. Colin Richardson #

    Ronnie’s pithy joke sessions, laconically delivered while draped over the mike stand, were always enjoyable, in spite of the fact that they didn’t vary much. Sometimes regular patrons, who had heard them many times before, would mouth along with Ronnie, who would then pause and glare at the culprit, causing him to shrink into his seat.

    November 16, 2020
  7. Chris Walsh #

    Was that John Marshall playing drums for Mary Lou Williams?

    November 23, 2020

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