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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Still rolling at Ronnie Scott's
Ronnie Scott's club
Cellaring jazz for 42 years: Ronnie Scott's club
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

This week Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts brings his 10-piece jazz group to Ronnie Scott's club in London's West End.

That a world famous rock musician more used to playing stadiums should elect to work in a tiny Soho club is a measure of the respect in which the venue is held.

Charlie Watts
Watts rediscovers his jazz roots at Ronnie's
It was founded in October 1959 by Ronnie Scott and his partner Pete King - both saxophonists.

The club had been germinating in Ronnie's mind since a 1947 trip to New York when he had seen at first hand the thriving club scene on 52nd Street, then the home of the most contemporary sounds in the jazz world.

'Difficult'

Remarkably enough, given the precarious economics of jazz, the club is almost 42 years old, and has survived even the death of Ronnie Scott himself at the end of 1996.

Pete King told BBC News Online about finding himself without his partner: "It was incredibly difficult, but there was never any question that I wasn't going to carry on.

Pete King
Pete King: Steering the club after Scott's death
"But I was faced with people saying 'We can't go there, Ronnie's not alive any more,' - that was the thing I had to get over, to establish that the club was very much here and going on."

"Apart from that, Ronnie and I met as saxophone players some 50-odd years ago, way before the club, we were in one of his bands together in 1953.

"So the loss of Ronnie to me was not just a business thing, he was my deepest and best friend."

Pete King has used the last few years to try to rejuvenate the visiting artists' roster and the club is now on a surer footing than for some time.

'Steaming on'

"The worst time was when we were nearly going out of business something like 15 years ago," he recalls.

"We were even involved with a receiver - it was tight, but a couple of people rallied round us and we bought it back from the receiver and we've steamed on ever since."

It is a sign of the goodwill generated by the club that there some friendly backers - including the Musicians' Union and Dire Straits manager Ed Bicknell - who have occasionally stepped in to ensure the club keeps its head above water.

Mark Knopfler
Mark Knopfler: One of many non-jazz artists
While some old favourites still have residencies - Elvin Jones, James Moody and the Woody Herman Big Band among them - the club has reached out to young jazz talent and world music, particularly Latin jazz.

"Jazz music is in artistic development all the time, like modern painting, jazz changes - it's never-ending," says Pete King.

Foot tapping

"So jazz is going its own way, and continues to go through different phases and not all of them are commercial - sometimes you can't so easily tap your foot to the music - but it's developing all the time.

"But we were instrumental in bringing a lot of Cuban music in - and you certainly can tap your foot to that."

The club - which moved from its original Gerrard Street home to Frith Street in 1965 - has been a great vantage point to watch Soho changing.

"When we were young musicians 50 year ago Soho was like a village on its own, with smaller businesses and families living next to each other," remembers Pete King, "now you've got big business and fewer families.

"I'm still very, very proud of the club.

Enthusiasm

"I'm 72 this coming August but I don't think of my age - I think this is the place for me and they'll probably carry me out from here!"

And after 42 years, Pete King can still show his enthusiasm for the music which inspired he and Ronnie to start the club - whatever the music is currently called.

"Really, jazz to us is good music - and without wanting to, we've slightly eased out of using the word 'jazz' too much because there can be great gypsy music, Latin jazz, whatever.

"And great English jazz, for instance like Charlie Watts' 10-piece band - all very, very talented British players - it's great to have them in the place."

See also:

04 Jun 01 | Music
A jazz panacea from Ilford
24 May 01 | Music
New insights on jazz genius
25 May 01 | Reviews
Electric explorations
21 May 01 | Music
Humph: Still swinging at 80
26 Mar 01 | Music
The last jazz revolutionary?
12 Feb 01 | Wales
BBC deal rescues Brecon Jazz
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