Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kandinsky and Kenton: An Artistic Accord


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Beginning in the mid-1940’s, Kenton found an enthusiastic, ever-growing, devoted audience. His music seemingly spoke to the postwar young and veterans of World War II. The enveloping, orgasmic sound of the orchestra had a hypnotic quality. The general feeling was that Kenton was hip. And though many critics disagreed vehemently, supporters of the orchestra would have none of that. They loved with a passion this vivid, often stirring, immoderately loud music that made them feel good and seemed to promise something for the future.”
- Burt Korall, Jazz author and critic

There’s a tremendous bond between Jazz musicians.

They know how hard it is to play this music; harder still to create it.

As a result, Jazz musicians have a ready respect for others who demonstrate a facility in navigating the music’s many challenges.

The knowing look; the smile of appreciation; the nodding of the head in approval are all subtle signs accorded to a musician who can make it happen in Jazz.

Jazz doesn’t exist; it has to be brought into existence by the improvising skills of the musician, individually and in combination.

Of course, the melodies, chord structures and blues frameworks that these improvisations are based on are, for the most part, written compositions.

But this notated music only serves as a point of departure.

Jazz is almost impossible to teach, but it can be learned.

In Jazz, one of the sincerest forms of flattery is indeed imitation; copying the work of others in order to get the “feel” of how Jazz is done and to develop one’s own sensibilities for making it.

It’s like trying on our elders’ clothes until one is able to “dress” oneself with originality, assurance and style.

When it all comes together and one finds one’s own voice in Jazz, there’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction and power in what the author Arthur Koestler once described as “The Act of Creation.”

Although I am not at all practiced in other, creative arts, I am told by many who are that artists share a similar affinity with the work of each other be they painters or poets or photographers; essayists or writers or biographers; playwrights or actors or movie directors.

Sometimes these artistic accords cross lines and combine well with one another.

Imagine viewing motion pictures with film scores by Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith or Ennio Morricone, or listening to Leonard Bernstein or Sting read the narrative to Tchaikovsky’s Peter and The Wolf  while the symphony orchestra plays out the sounds of each of the characters or any of the multitude of multi-media experiences that we create for ourselves like viewing photographs or reading a novel while listening to music.

The arts blend and form a concurrence with one another because each in their own way takes us through perception into the world of imagination, emotion and atmospheric mood. 

Artistic expression also satisfies our need to shape our own world; our individualism, as it were.


Part of growing up is rejecting the world of our parents [without, of course, rejecting them] and seeking out our own interests and world view. Artists help us to do this by replacing the powerful ambiguity of imitation with the thrilling assurance of finding our own preferences.

Artists often pave the way for the new. In Jazz, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives were followed by the big bands of The Swing Era and they, in turn, were followed by Bebop and various forms of progressive or modern Jazz.

In painting, Greek and Roman art was followed by that of Medieval Times, and then the Renaissance, Mannerism, The Baroque and the various schools of Modern Art including, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impression and the many schools of Twentieth Century painting and sculpture.

Two examples of artists that strike me as constantly searching and probing for new directions while having an artistic unity based in iconoclasm are the painter Wassily Kandinsky [1866-1944] and the composer-arranger-bandleader Stan Kenton [1911-1979].

Put into a simpler form: I like listening to Kenton’s music while viewing Kandinsky’s art. Both are known for their daring.

Kandinsky died in 1944, a few years after Kenton formed his first big band in 1941. As a Russian living in Germany, Kandinsky’s art reflected the chaos of German culture before and between the two, world wars.

A leading member of a group of Munich artists known as “Der Blaue Reiter” [The Blue Horsemen], Kandinsky abandoned representational art altogether.

Using a rainbow of colors and a free, dynamic brushwork, Kandinsky created a completely non-objective style.

Whatever traces of representation his work contains are quite unintentional – his aim was to charge form and color with a purely spiritual meaning [as he put it] by eliminating all resemblance to the physical world.


Not to push the analogy between art and music too closely, but Stan Kenton in his music, as did Kandinsky in his painting, eventually eschewed representational forms of the Jazz while pursuing more abstract forms of the music.

He didn’t want his band to swing or his music to be danced to, he wanted it to be modern, contemporary, and progressive.

But most of all he wanted his music to be listened to, to have an impact, to be felt!

Big, brassy and bombastic, Kenton’s musical conception was orchestral bordering on the grandiose. His music wasn’t mainstream, if anything, it was characterized by a concerted effort to attack established Jazz “traditions.”

Can you imagine standing in front of the Kenton band when it unleashed the power and majesty of its music?

Trumpets screaming, French Horns heralding, trombones blatting, and tuba’s bellowing bass notes – what a rush!

I feel the same flash of excitement when I view Kandinsky’s paintings with their bold, bright colors, non-objective configurations and juxtaposition of shapes and patterns.

Both Kandinsky and Kenton were spurred on by the artistic urge to find their own style; to do it their way.

“Kandinsky's—or any artist's [Kenton?]—ideas are not important to us unless we are convinced of the importance of his pic­tures. Did he create a viable style? Admittedly, his work demands an intuitive response that may be hard for some of us, yet the painting here reproduced has density and vitality, and a radiant freshness of feeling that impresses us even though we are uncertain what exactly the artist has expressed.” [H.W. Janson, History of Art].

Here’s a retrospective of Kandinsky’s painting set to Johnny Richards’ orchestration of La Suerte De Los Tontos [Fortune of Fools] from Kenton’s Cuban Fire! CD. See what you think about how well they work together to form and accord of the arts. The soloist are Lennie Niehaus on alto saxophone and Vinnie Tano on trumpet.



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Big Band Jazz From St. Petersburg … Russia!



© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


From viewing occasional photographs of its beautiful buildings, castles and canals and its many parks and open spaces, over the years, I had a limited awareness of St. Petersburg, the charming Russian city often called “The Venice of the North.”

But I had very little idea of how the city came into existence until I received Robert Massie’s Peter The Great: His Life and His World [New York: Ballantine Books, 1980] as a Christmas gift.

I had been very impressed with Massie’s earlier biography, Nicholas and Alexandria, a book that was meticulously researched, definitive and yet, at the same time, extremely readable.

Massie is often referred to as a “popular or narrative historian,” a group that has come to include such distinguished writers as William Manchester for his books on Churchill and J.F.K, David McCullough for his books on Truman and John Adams, and, most recently, Robert Caro for his monumental four-volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

All have deservedly won Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards and many other major literary honors.


Massie’s book on Peter The Great [1672-1725] is a fascinating story about how Peter yanked Russia into the then “modern” world by in effect leading a cultural revolution that replaced the traditionalist and medieval social and political system with a modern, scientific Europe-oriented and rationalist system of government.

The “Window on the West” through which he viewed this transformation was St. Petersburg which Peter created in 1703 on the marshy swamps where the Neva River drains northward into the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea.

Peter The Great: His Life and World is a riveting recounting of the journey of one of the World’s Great Souls. “Impetuous and stubborn, generous and cruel, tender and unforgiving, a man of enormous energy and complexity…,” Peter The Great almost single-handedly transformed Russia into a modern world power before his death at the age of 53.

Almost ten years to the day later, I was once again put in touch with the splendors of St. Petersburg, this time courtesy of the release of the movie The Russia House on Christmas Day, 1990.

This beautifully photographed film is based on writer Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of John le Carré’s book by the same title.


Directed by Fred Schepisi and starring Sean Connery, Michele Pfeiffer, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Roy Scheider and a host of great character actors, the movie was one of the first to be shot on location in Moscow and St. Petersburg by a US film crew.

Topping it all off is a magnificent film score by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the true masters of movie music, that emphasizes the talents of Branford Marsalis and the gorgeous tone that he gets on the soprano saxophone, pianist Michael Lang and bassist John Patitucci.

The closing credits are screened over seven minutes of scrumptious scenes of Moscow and St. Petersburg with Branford, Mike and John improvising in the background following the orchestra’s statement of Jerry’s main theme for the movie.

I was so overwhelmed by the magnificent photography, particularly of St. Petersburg, Jerry Goldsmith’s score and Branford, Mike and John playing that I put together my own video montage using this music in conjunction with selected images of St. Petersburg.


This may be difficult to believe, but the Alexander Orloff photographs of St. Petersburg that I use in the video were drawn from Dimitri Shvidkovsky’s St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars [New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1996] which was given to me as a gift on Christmas Day - 2000!


The next interregnum in my involvement with St. Petersburg was to be longer than ten years, but only just, as the city once again entered my life this time in the form of a big band Jazz CD that was recorded there and sent to me by an internet friend who resides there.

His name is Serge Bogdanov and he is one of the driving forces behind and the principal arranger for The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra, the resident Jazz Big Band in St. Petersburg, Russia!



The CD is entitled The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra Letter to a Friend [Art Beat Music AB-CD-11-2012-038] and it contains six original compositions, four of them by Gennady Golshtein and three standards, all arranged by Serge. Gennady is Serge’s mentor and some of you may remember a tune that Victor Feldman recorded on his Plays Soviet Jazz Themes entitled Gennadi which Golshtein composed and gave to Victor when he was part of the Benny Goodman Orchestra that toured the USSR in 1962.

Interestingly, the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra’s Letter to a Friend has a CD release party scheduled for February 27th 2013 at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Jazz Hall.

Three weeks earlier on February 6, 2013, a concert to celebrate the book Russian Jazz: 90 years of history in two volumes was held in the same venue.

It would seem that Russia has an almost a century-old involvement with Jazz and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra’s Letter to a Friend CD is a facet of the continuing evolution Jazz in St. Petersburg and in Russia as a whole.


Printed in 2012 by the Planet Music publishing house based in St. Petersburg, its publication was timed to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Jazz in Russia.

Included in the two-volume collection are materials covering the early stages of Jazz’s development in Russia, a review of formative period of Soviet Jazz in the second half of the XX century and biographical information about current masters of Russian Jazz and young stars of the national Jazz scene.

The book’s chief editors are Alexander Peterson and Kirill and Anna Moshkov Filipeva - founders of www.Dzhaz.Ru [a Russian Jazz portal with news, reviews and festival information]. The work includes essays by leading jazz journalists and critics including Vladimir Feiertag, Alex Batashev, Michael Mitropolsky and many others. 

The concert in honor of the book’s publication included a musical program by Gennady Gholstein and his Orchestra, the "Saxophones of St. Petersburg," trumpet and flugelhorn player David Goloshchekin’s band and vocals by Ella Trafova.

Both Gennady Gholstein and David Goloschkein have played major roles as mentors and patrons to both Serge Bogdanov and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra.

Serge’s arrangements reflect a kind of brief history of modern Jazz orchestration. They contain elements that were characteristic of the first three Woody Herman Herds when Ralph Burns, Neal Hefti and Al Cohn were doing the writing for those bands. The lightness and clarity of Neal Hefti’s later writing for the Count Basie New Testament Band [1959-1960] is also apparent in Serge’s work as is the linear writing of the charts that Gerry Mulligan did for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, as well as, Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer’s scores for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band of the 1960s

But as Serge himself notes, the most dominant influence on his writing is that of Thad Jones’ conception which had its most complete expression in the orchestra that Thad co-led for many years with drummer Mel Lewis and has right through to the sound of the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. I also hear strains of the late Gil Evans in Serge’s voicings. Perhaps these come through Thad who had great respect for Gil’s unique ability to use instruments in unusual combinations.


While myriad influences are discernible in his style, Serge’s orchestrations have their own stamp, their own distinctiveness that make them different than anything you’ve hear before.

For one so young, Serge has developed great skill as an orchestrator. His charts have a particular emphasis on the middle register and a relaxed and easy swing.

He often carries the lead voicing with the soprano sax wrapped in the warm sound of mellow brass played in unison; no screeching in the upper register or bass pedal tones thrown in for effect, the music just flows.

Serge’s writing is based on an uncomplicated swing, but yet, it is full of pep and definition.

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is very adept at playing these arrangements. The sections play well individually but they also easily blend together as a full band. While the band sounds well rehearsed, it doesn’t sound mechanical.

What is so startling about Serge’s arrangements and the playing of the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is how professional and mature they both sound.

One wonders how these traits can be so fully developed in a Jazz big band that, judging from its photographs, is made-up of relatively young musicians.

All must have superb teachers, have spent many hours listening to records and even more hours practicing on their individual instruments and rehearsing together as a band.

If something as abstract as music can said to have “qualities,” then two are on exhibition with Serge Bogdanov and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra: a vision and a dedication to achieving this goal.

Notating Jazz is a very difficult thing to do because there are aspects of the music that are imprecise. You can’t learn them from a textbook; you have to immerse yourself in learning from listening and from sharing with one another. It takes a lot of time, dedication and effort to master these skills.

The high quality of big band Jazz that Serge and the JPO put on display in Letter to a Friend reflects an enormous passion for Jazz, because without it and a lot of determination, I doubt this recording would ever have happened.

In his insert notes to the CD, the Russian musicologist Victor Feiertag takes some of these points further. Here’s what he has to say about the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra and the music on Letter to a Friend.


© - Vladimir Feiertag/Art Beat Music, copyright protected; all rights reserved [paragraphing modified and some editing].

“At last, a big band , capable of offering both a vivid mastery and stylish arrange­ments, along with real swing, has appeared in St. Petersburg. And all this is being done by young musicians aged 25 to 30! They never heard live either Duke Elling­ton (whose composition "Love You Madly" is however worthily played on this album), or Count Basie, and didn't catch the orchestras of Joseph Weinstein, Vadim Lyudvikovskiy or the first groups of Oleg Lundstrem. But their influence is obvious.

All the saxophonists of the orchestra were raised and taught to play their instruments by Gennady Golshtein, who at one time defined the style of most Russian orchestras and since the mid-70's helped to found jazz education in St. Petersburg. It was he who assembled and led the unique orchestra "Saxophones of Saint-Petersburg" in the last decade of the past century, having continued the marvelous history of big bands in "Northern Palmyra". It was he who instilled a taste for the art of arrangement in Serge Bogdanov, one of the leaders of the current band.

In fact, the big band has two leaders - the lead saxophonist Kirill Bubyakin (alto, soprano saxophones and flute) and the arranger Serge Bogdanov (baritone saxophone). Both consider Thad Jones an idol, and David Goloschokin - who provided the prestigious stage of the St. Petersburg Jazz Philharmonic Hall to the newly formed band for their rehearsals and performances  - as a patron.

The debut album includes primarily compositions of residents of St. Petersburg: - four dedications to Gennady Golshtein - partly new, partly ones written 30 years ago ("The Time Has Come", Melodiya, 1988). The author dedicated these melodies to his friends: "A Theme For Tima" is dedicated to Teimuraz Kukholev, the first St. Petersburg bop pianist; "A Letter to a Friend" is for George Friedman, a saxophonist and a pioneer ideologist of "jazz ferment" in the Northern Capital; "Sleeping Ships" is a tribute to the memory of his irreplaceable partner, trumpeter Konstantin Nosov; and "In the Westside" is a dedication to Vitaly Dolgov, the best arranger of the last century.

Also included are orchestral versions of hard bop tunes of other natives of St. Petersburg - current Muscovite Alexander Berenson and Ruslan Khain (New York, USA). Also worth noting is an unusual version of the famous "Evening Song" by Vasily Solovjev-Sedov, his original declaration of love for his native city. And this is not a political statement, not a demonstration of patriotism, but a need of a new generation of musicians to interpret the rich musical cultural heritage of Russia and of our city [St. Petersburg].

Serge Bogdanov recognizes that "there were many wonderful melodies among the most popular songs of the Soviet period, especially in the '40's and '50's. They are still an integral part of our life. "Evening Song" by Vasily Solovjey-Sedoy holds a special place. It is simply impossible not to be connected to this tune if one was born and lives in Leningrad-St.Petersburg. Being an unofficial anthem of our city, it can be heard not only on radio and television but on public transporta­tion, as a musical call sign, and recently the anthem of a famous football club [Football Club Zenit St. Petersburg Футбольный клуб «Зенит].

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is completely a modern band. In the orchestra there is no separation between frontmen and sidemen. Everyone can improvise. The debut album of the orchestra also includes some, more experienced musicians as invited guests such as David Goloschokin and Igor Butman (also a resident of St. Petersburg)  as featured soloists to help fill out the overall sound picture. The orchestra has existed for three years and in a small, close-knit jazz world has already achieved fame, thanks to St. Peters­burg concerts and thematic programs (featuring the music ofCount Basie, Thad Jones, and Gennady Golshtein) as well as trips to festivals and work with foreign musicians.

Of course, the path to the hearts of the audience is long and complicated, but this album may find its way to that audience of big band Jazz fans because of its absolutely incredible colors, unexpected dynamics and surging rhythms along with its "modern mainstream" style.

I hope that music fans will pay attention to the debut album of this revived northern capital big band, and exclaim together with the author of the last compo­sition, Frank Wess: "You Made a Good Move!"

The following video features images of the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra of St. Petersburg, Russia in action. The tune is In the Westside by Gennady Golshtein. Serge Bogdanov, of course, did the arrangement and the solos are by Andrey Zimovets on piano, Kirill Bubyakin on alto saxophone and David Goloschekin on flugelhorn.

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra Letter to a Friend [Art Beat Music AB-CD-11-2012-038] will eventually be available via iTunes and perhaps other downloads.

In the meantime, should you wish to purchase a copy, you can contact Serge Bogdanov directly for the details at jazzphilorch@gmail.com or www.jporchestra.com.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ronnie Scott's Revisited

With the posting of the BBC video documenting the origins  of Ronnie Scott's famous London Jazz club, which you can locate below this feature, I thought it might be fun to dig into the JazzProfiles archives and revisit this earlier posting on Ronnie and his famous club.

The music is Big Top from a 1956 Victor Feldman big band recording on which Ronnie takes the tenor saxophone solo.

If you are a Jazz fan, Ronnie's was and is a special place.




“The feel becomes more important, the truth of it. You accept yourself for what you are. If it’s not Stan Getz or Mike Brecker or John Coltrane, at least it’s you. For better or worse.”
- Ronnie Scott

“There have been musician-run Jazz clubs before – Shelly’s Manne Hole, Ali’s Alley, Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge – but none with the quiet charisma of Ronnie Scott’s in London’s Soho.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD

“It is no small tribute to the talents of Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes that their Couriers of Jazz Quintet was the first to break the ice for modern Jazz with a two-tenor combo, by no means an easy unit to work with. There has been one other such successful two-tenor unit in recent years, that of tenors Al Cohn and Zoot Sims which excited Jazz fans during its brief existence.”
- Ralph J. Gleason

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Over the years, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has had the good fortune of visiting London on a number of occasions.

These trips were mostly to do with business, but usually included a little pleasure thrown in on the side.

One cold and rainy night [apologies to Dickens] as we were finishing work, a colleague who was also a Jazz fan suggested that we drop-by tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott’s world-famous Jazz Club located at 47 Frith Street in the Soho section of the city.

The club opened on 30 October 1959 at 39 Gerrard Street, also in Soho, before moving to its present location in 1965.  Having celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, it is still in operation today.


My colleague had a membership in the club which provided for a reduced cover charge, a discounted drinks ticket and other privileges including an annual subscription to the club’s newsletter.

He was also apparently so well-known to those granting admission that they allowed us access to the downstairs bar, a small basement room at Ronnie’s where musicians hung-out before, during and after sets.

After we had settled-in, we both noticed that Ronnie Scott was there smoking a cigarette and having a drink. I gathered that my associate knew Ronnie well enough to walk over to say "Hello" ["Hallo"?] and introduce me to him.

Upon meeting Ronnie, I blurted out something to the effect that I had been in his debt for a number of years.

By way of background, I had studied drums in Southern California with the late, Victor Feldman.


Also a native of London, Victor had come to the United States in 1956 at the urging of none other than Ronnie Scott.  Scott had been like an older brother to Victor, so when he basically told Victor that there was nothing left for him to achieve in English Jazz circles, Victor took his advice and accepted Woody Herman’s offer to come to the USA and join his big band

It was the beginning of a 30-year career for Victor [who died in 1987] which was marked by huge commercial success in the Hollywood studios as well as a number of artistic high points in the Jazz World including a stint with Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet, a recording session and short term gig with Miles Davis and a number of his own, excellent piano-bass-drums trios with bassists such as Scott LaFaro, Monty Budwig and John Patitucci and drummers like Stan Levey, Colin Bailey and Johnny Guerin.

All of which prompted me to say to Ronnie Scott: “If it hadn’t been for you, Victor Feldman may not have come to the states and I might have missed the chance to study with him and to get to know him as a friend.”

Ronnie shook my hand and then said: “Victor and Tubby Hayes were the best Jazz musicians that England ever produced.”

To which I said: “I’m glad I never had to choose between them.”

Ronnie Scott smiled and retorted: “Smart man.”

He then motioned with his head to bring over a nearby cocktail waitress and as she approached us he turned and said: “Keep your money in your pocket, you’re my guests tonight.”

Nice man who did a ton for Jazz.

If you wish to know more about Ronnie Scott, his career in music and the history of his club, there is no better pace to start than with a copy of John Fordham’s Jazz Man: The Amazing Story of Ronnie Scott and his Club, [London: Kyle Cathie Limited, Rev. Ed., 1995].

Mr. Fordham is a Jazz critic, writer and broadcaster who contributes regularly to The Guardian and he has a number of other books on the subject of Jazz to his credit.



© -John Fordham, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“'Blow!' yelled Tubby Hayes. His partner Ronnie Scott launched a solo on 'Some of My Best Friends Are Blues', a mid-tempo twelve-bar blues that constituted one of his rare contributions to the art of jazz composition. The tenor was harder and more gravelly now, but zigzagging gracefully over the chords. A packed house at London's Dominion Theatre on that night in 1958 had already warmly greeted the band's breakneck opening version of Cole Porter's 'What Is This Thing Called Love?', even though the band they had really paid to hear was still to come - the American Dave Brubeck Quartet, then at the beginning of its boom years.

Hayes and Scott cut distinctly contrasting figures in the footlights. Though both were immaculate in suits - something that the sartorially pre­occupied older man had always insisted on - clothes looked as if they fitted Scott to the last thread, while Hayes couldn't help resembling a schoolboy who had borrowed his father's Saturday night special.

As with most British modern jazz ensembles, nobody did anything par­ticularly demonstrative on stage. Scott would stand virtually motionless at the microphone, the horn held slightly to one side, his eyes often closed. He was restrained in the presentations on that night, slightly nervous but still registering his old familiar trademark.

'Thank you very much,' he said to the audience's applause for 'Some of My Best Friends Are Blues'. 'And now from a brand new LP which you may have seen in the shops, entitled Elvis Presley sings Thelonious Monk...'

The headlong delivery of the Cole Porter tune had been virtually a def­inition of their style, preceding the melody with wild, nervy riffing like the sound of frantic footsteps on a staircase, Porter's original notes suddenly materialising as if the perpetrator had burst through a door.

Most of what the Couriers did had that crazed momentum about it, it was sealed, hermetic, impervious, music not particularly suited to the expression of human frailties of the kind that were being poignantly articu­lated at the time by Ronnie Scott's old playing partner, the West Indian Joe Harriott, or by the Scottish player Bobby Wellins. But it had a gleeful, belli­cose appeal. On the Dominion gig, they closed an equally tumbling version of 'Guys and Dolls' with a call-and-response section that turned into a head­long unison coda, ending on a blipping high note as if someone had abruptly planted a full stop in the music. It brought the house down. The finale was a rendition of 'Cheek To Cheek' so fast that only dancing partners bound at the neck could possibly have sustained the lyric's original sentiments.

Though Brubeck himself, highly impressed with Scott and Hayes, was to say at the end of the tour 'they sound more like an American band than we do', there was an unintentional irony in his remark. Brubeck didn't really sound much like an American band at all, being preoccupied with European conservatoire music and a kind of ornate, theoretical jazz. But American modernist outfits like those of Art Blakey and Hank Mobley in reality sounded quite different to the Couriers.

The attack of the rhythm sections was the dividing line - Blakey's cym­bal beat was restless and probing, the momentum sporadically lifted by huge, breaker-like rolls and admonishing tappings and clatterings. With underpinnings so strong, the soloists could afford to play less, and avoid the hysterical, fill-every-chink manner frequently adopted by their admir­ers abroad. Insecurities about their quality by comparison with the Americans led British bebop bands to a kind of over-compensatory pyrotechnics, like teenagers driving cars too fast to prove their mettle. The palais-band tradition was audible in the Couriers' work too, in expert but slightly fussy arrangements that sounded very close to the repertoire of a miniature dance orchestra. But the Brubeck tour of Britain was a golden opportunity for the band, and the Dominion gig - recorded for EMI as The Jazz Couriers In Concert - was a high spot of it.


Though the band represented as much as he'd ever wanted from playing, Ronnie Scott revealed later that year, in a passing remark during an inter­view, that he had not forgotten that old 52nd Street dream. He was featured in Melody Maker in the autumn of 1958, where he was described as 'one of the post-war angry young men of jazz'. Scott reiterated his dislike of critics, a point he made whenever he got the chance. He was asked if he wanted to be a session player and replied that nothing would please him more, except that 'the only sessions I've done recently have been rock 'n' roll, where I have to play out of tune/ But the end of the interview showed the way his mind was turning. What were his hopes for the local jazz scene? Td like to see a new type of jazz club in London/ Scott replied. 'A well-appointed place which was licensed and catered for people of all ages and not merely for youngsters/
By the summer of 1959, the steam was going out of the Jazz Couriers. Tubby Hayes had never really stopped relishing the idea of a larger band, one that could handle the growing scope of his writing and arranging.

The last date was 30 August at the City Hall in Cork. And after the demise of the Couriers, which Ronnie Scott would have continued with indefinitely if the choice had been entirely his, there seemed little enough to get excited about in the jazz world. The only versions of the music that seemed likely to attract a substantial following were the Dave Brubeck group and the Modern Jazz Quartet. They were subtle, intelligent outfits, but they didn't display that infectious creative tension audible in Stitt's band, or Miles Davis's, or the Couriers themselves on a good night. After the first tidal wave of rock 'n' roll had subsided, you could demonstrate your taste by having a recording of one of Brubeck's explorations of fancy rhythms and hybrid classicism in your collection, or the hushed, cut-glass chamber-jazz of the MJQ. They were the closest fifties jazz came to pop­chart success.

Critics were divided about them. Benny Green had by this time virtu­ally stopped playing and was working regularly as a jazz critic for the Observer, a new career offered to him by that newspaper's most influential jazz fan, theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. Green was a fluent and witty writer, one of the few jazz musicians who was comfortably capable of turning the offhanded, oblique, observant and frequently macabre humour of the music business into prose. He hated the hyping of Brubeck and the MJQ and frequently laid into them in print. 'The British jazz fan is highly con­scious of his own insularity,' Green began an article on Brubeck during the pianist's 1959 visit to the Royal Festival Hall. 'He yearns to be in the swim, so our promoters cater most thoughtfully for this desire by sticking topical labels on their American touring shows/ Green went on to describe Brubeck's popularity 'as one of the peculiar aberrations of current taste'.

The Modern Jazz Quartet fared little better. Green concluded resignedly that: 'For the last five years four men have sought with painful eagerness to transform the racy art of jazz into something aspiring towards cultural respectability/ That much was undeniable. The MJQ took pains to dress like a classical chamber group, and performed with a measured and metic­ulous deliberation, for all the improvisational gifts of its four members in other settings.

While on holiday in Majorca that year, Scott had a reminder that maybe running a club could simply be fun (which was all he'd ever really asked for) and an opportunity to make a little money, present musicians he admired, and have somewhere amenable to play. He met a drummer and club proprietor called Ramon Farran, who was the son of a Catalan band­leader and had married Robert Graves's daughter Lucia. Through Farran, Scott came to meet the writer at Canellun, the house that Graves had built in the picturesque village of Deja in 1929. The poet broke the ice by simply enquiring: 'What's the pot situation like in London now?' He turned out to be fascinated by jazz, had even acted as patron to unconventional artists like Cecil Taylor. Scott was in turn fascinated by Graves and a little dis­comfited by his circle too. They had all read so much, and they were so funny, but with a sense of humour impenetrably dependent on knowledge and an education Scott hadn't had the benefit of, not the wisecracking, fatalistic, self-defensive shield against fate that came from a childhood on the streets of the East End.
Graves showed Scott around his booklined study. He seemed, Scott reflected later, to have written most of them himself. 'I've tried writing,’ Scott began tentatively, 'but I find it the hardest thing in the world.'

'Of course you will,’ Graves replied somewhat brusquely. 'Unless you're God.'
They got on well. Scott spent a good deal of time walking and swim­ming with Graves. He was astonished by the old man's boundless energy, springing up the steep slope from the sea to the house like a gazelle.

By 1961 Ronnie Scott was visiting the Majorcan capital Palma regularly, often performing with Farran's Wynton Kelly-like trio at the drummer's Indigo Club, and he was to continue his visits until the early 1970s. Graves would periodically visit London, too, in the days after Ronnie Scott had become a promoter as well as a performer of jazz. 'Robert's in the club/ Scott would call through to Benny Green. 'Do you want to come down?'


The breakthrough was an accident, of course. Jack Fordham, the Soho entrepreneur, had lost interest in the Gerrard Street premises that Scott and King had occasionally used for their own jazz presentations. Fordham's principal living came from the hamburger joint - one of the first - he ran in Berwick Street. Eventually he offered 39 Gerrard Street to Scott for a knock­down rent. It became Ronnie Scott's first club.

Pete King - who like Benny Green had by now realised that he needed to choose between a playing career and something more promising - was almost entirely involved with promotion, partly on his own account, and partly in association with Harold Davison, and worked out of his own Soho office. He caught Ronnie Scott's enthusiastic conviction that this was the moment they'd been waiting for. Then Scott went to his parents to ask for help and got a loan of £1000 from his stepfather to get the ball rolling. Sol Berger was by this time a successful partner in a textiles company, and he willingly bought a stake in his step-son's club.

Number 39 Gerrard Street had nothing but space and not very much of that. The two would-be club proprietors went to the East End in search of cheap furniture and bought a job lot of chairs which they arranged in aus­tere lines in front of the bandstand. Pete King's father-in-law, a Manchester carpenter, came down to help build a few rudimentary tables. Then there wouldn't be room for dancing, so it was going to have to be a venue for fans who really wanted to come and listen. There was no liquor licence and the best the establishment was likely to be able to provide was tea, for years sta­ple fuel for the Archer Street metabolism (the two men had established a lifelong 'tea bag connection' with a Chiswick wholesaler), coffee, and maybe a hamburger.

From the start, it was an unspoken agreement that the front man would be Ronnie Scott and that the club would bear his name, though King was crucial to the graft of administration even then, and would become the dif­ference between survival and collapse in later years. King's commitment was total, and Stella was obliged by the working hours to bring up their two children almost singlehanded. But to King, Scott was the unchallenged star. Someone had to embody the club in the eyes of the jazz public. Scott was the most highly regarded modern jazz musician in Britain, apart from Tubby Hayes, and his reputation was something money couldn't buy.

The London modern jazz world of the late 1950s was a limited market and for the new contenders in it, the lie of the land was not so difficult to gauge. In Wardour Street, a stone's throw away, was the Flamingo, already in existence for two years. The old Studio 51, which opened after the Club Eleven's demise, had started life with a modern jazz policy but by 1959 was presenting revivalist and traditional music. As for the amount of music you could reasonably expect to present and still come out ahead, Saturday night audiences were good and Sundays passable, but weekdays were graveyards.

Scott and King thought the entrance prices charged by the other jazz clubs were too low ever to be able to finance really unusual acts. They never considered Americans, and anyway the embargo was still firm. They would gradually improve their modest premises so that one day it would be the kind of place where people wouldn't mind paying a little more just to be in a real club. And they would build towards making jazz a part of London life. After scratching together the basics, they went about developing a marketing policy. What this amounted to was a weekly pooling of gags by the musicians that could be deployed as publicity in small ads in Melody Maker. Scott had never seen any reason why you shouldn't present any enterprise to the customers as if the whole thing were a joke, as long as you didn't treat it as one when it really counted, and that meant playing. He therefore placed an entry in the columns of Melody Maker of 31 October 1959 which declared the following:

RONNIE SCOTT'S CLUB
39 Gerrard Street, W1

OPENING TONIGHT!
Friday 7.30pm.

Tubby Hayes Quartet; the trio with
Eddie Thompson, Stan Roberts, Spike Heatley.

A young alto saxophonist, Peter King, and
an old tenor saxophonist, Ronnie Scott.

The first appearance in a jazz club since the
relief of Mafeking by Jack Parnell.

Membership 10/- until January 1961.
Admission 1/6 (to members) 2/6 (non-members)

The entry concluded boldly: 'The best jazz in the best club in town' - Ronnie Scott having learnt from the American example that you didn't lose any­thing by excess. If the punters didn't agree they could always vote with their feet. It was a gamble, but Ronnie Scott came from a long gamblers' line.

Scott and King had opened the proceedings with a shrewd mixture of attractions, a blend of the new and the familiar intended to cut across as many of the modern jazz persuasions as possible. Hayes was a sure-fire cert, of course, and would be appearing with the Couriers' old pianist Terry Shannon, and with Phil Seamen on drums and a brilliant new bassist, Jeff Clyne, who had played on the streets of Edgware with Ronnie Scott's step­sister Marlene and who had revered the local heroes, the Feldman brothers, on those same streets. As for the reference to the 'young alto saxophonist Peter King', this was not a gag at his partner's expense but introducing a sensational new arrival on the scene, a thin anxious-looking nineteen-year-old from Tolworth in Surrey, who had been playing for just a little over two years and already demonstrated his intense admiration for the work of Charlie Parker - King's speed of thought and richness of resources were close to rivaling Tubby Hayes even then. The newcomer's preoccupation with Parker extended, as Benny Green observed, to his small-talk, which consisted almost entirely of analyses of the structure of various Parker solos.



In the press, Peter King was modest about his achievements. He said he was 'limited both technically and musically. But I can feel something com­ing.' In fact, as the more discriminating of local observers immediately realised, King was virtually there. He was already one of the few British interpreters of Parker's methods to execute the complexities of bop with an air of ease and relaxation. This was not so much discernible in the young man's demeanour onstage (his eyes would be downcast as he played, his legs splayed and knees bending with the beat like a man who had spent a long time on horseback, and he perpetually looked nervous) but in the flu­ency with which streams of new melody tumbled from his horn, and the momentum of his rhythmic attack.

King had never served an apprenticeship in one idiom and then switched to another. He was a modernist through and through. His very existence was a testament to the value of the players of Scott's generation having made those pilgrimages to New York and spent those long hours in Carlo Krahmer's studio listening to imported 78s. They had built a spring­board for new players that would make possible a conclusive rejection of the inferiority complex that British players had about their jazz.

The first gig also featured Eddie Thompson, a pianist whose ideas absorbed swing music, bop, the majestic 'orchestral' jazz pianists like Art Tatum and Duke Ellington and a good deal of classical music too. In fea­turing Thompson, the club was opening with one of the finest keyboard artists in the land.

It was an evening of magic. Scott and King had already set themselves several dates that they had eventually missed and the club wasn't really ready for business even on that memorable occasion of 30 October 1959. There were shows every night of that weekend; in the daytime frantic efforts were made to improve the place. The club was packed with musi­cians and friends. Ray Nance, Duke Ellington's trumpeter who was returning to the States after the band's European tour, dropped in on the Friday night to wish Scott luck. It became obvious that the all-nighters were such a magnet for after-hours players looking for somewhere to blow that the club began to charge them 2/- for the privilege, a state of affairs that caused a certain amount of hurt surprise.

Many in the business, who thought they knew only too well not only the prospects for modern jazz in London, but the temporary nature of some of Ronnie Scott's enthusiasms as well, gave the place no more than a couple of weeks. But in the event it was just what the London jazz public needed. It was informal, it didn't charge nightclub prices, the music was consistently good and it was devoted to a no-messing policy of presentation of the best practitioners of jazz in BritainMelody Maker ran a spread on the club the week after it opened, with photographs of Scott, Thompson, Tubby Hayes and others. The copy declared:

In addition to presenting the top names of British modern jazz, Ronnie intends to feature promising young musicians at the club and Friday's guest stars included the new alto sensation, Peter King.

In its pre-Christmas edition, its correspondent Bob Dawbarn also com­mented on the new arrival as 'a highly optimistic note for British jazz. There are still too few places for the modern musician to ply his trade, but the players themselves took matters into their own hands.'

Word of mouth was the publicity machine for the most part, apart from those little ads in Melody Maker. Scott devoted himself to making a minia­ture art-form out of them in the hope that people would seek them out, promising anything he could think of. He would claim that the club would be featuring an unexpected joint appearance by Sir Thomas Beecham, Somerset Maugham and Little Richard. He would promise food untouched by human hands because the chef was a gorilla.

The place caught on. Visiting musicians from abroad, increasingly prevalent in Britain as Harold Davison and others staged more and more concerts that would tie into existing European tours, were to be seen in Ronnie Scott's, which added to the glamour of being there. There were, after all, few enough places in any town where such a rare bird as a jazz musician could truly feel at home. The drummer Shelly Manne, in London with one of Norman Granz's 'Jazz At The Philharmonic' packages, even returned to the States to open a club of his own after having spent some time absorbing the atmosphere at Gerrard Street. That the place was run by musicians was already promising to be a considerable benefit. Even though Scott and King were not in a position to pay big money, they were in the same business as the professionals they were hiring, and they were honest. Players didn't suffer the crippling paranoia, fleecing and all-round disrespect that often characterised relationships between jazz musicians and promoters.

Two problems were soon apparent. The first was that there was a law of diminishing returns about presenting British jazz players - even the very best - night after night. Scott and King soon felt the draught of this diffi­culty. They ran the establishment on a simple principle, based on a consul­tation with the rudimentary accounts at the end of each week. If there was enough in the kitty to pay the artists and the rent for another week's work, it meant the place was still open.

The second snag was the absence of a bar. Scott and King looked into the formalities and the regulations were complicated. If you were going to serve alcohol, you needed a 'wine committee'. Ronnie Scott and Pete King formed two-thirds of the wine committee and asked Benny Green to be the third, being a literary man and a correspondent for a high-class newspaper. Green duly travelled to Wembley police station to make a statement as to why Ronnie Scott's Club wanted to make a public nuisance of itself in this way.

'What is the purpose of this club?' asked the station sergeant wearily.

'It's to try to get rhythm sections to play in time,' intoned Green, straight-faced.



The sergeant dutifully took it down word for word. The club's liquor licence was also dependent on providing some form of emergency exit in the case of fire. It was rudimentary enough, and fortunately never had to be tested, being simply a metal ladder that extended upstairs into the hallway of the Jewish garment manufacturer above. Relationships with that estab­lishment were mixed during Ronnie Scott's tenure in Gerrard Street.

 Early on it became apparent that Scott and King were going to be no orthodox club-owners. Scott's guiding philosophy, as it had been back in the days of the nine-piece, continued to be that if you could get a laugh out of it, it couldn't be all bad. The word soon got around. Here was a place where all of the misfits and square pegs of a square mile of London dedicated to the entertainment of the normals by the weirdos could relax in congenial company - like writer Colin Maclnnes, a deep devotee of jazz and friend of Denis Rose, like actor and playwright Harold Pinter. A man called Fred Twigg attached himself to the club, and became its odd-job man and cleaner. He took to sleeping on the premises, which worsened a chronic condition that Twigg lived with - apparitions. He often complained to the proprietors of flying creatures and gorillas that frequented the establish­ment at night. And in those early days, the club unexpectedly became an actors' studio as well.

Ronnie Scott had known the actress Georgia Brown from the East End, and she suggested to him that the Gerrard Street cellar would be perfect as a daytime rehearsal room for an actors' company. The company turned out to involve the likes of Maggie Smith, George Devine of the Royal Court Theatre, Michael Caine and Lindsay Anderson. (Ronnie Scott fell unrequitedly in love with an actress called Ann Lynne and visited the Royal Court night after night to watch her in performance with Albert Finney.) Scott and Benny Green found the rehearsals irresistible. They both took to standing behind the tea bar for hours, endlessly making lemon tea for the labouring thespians and eventually found their own communications with others helplessly enmeshed in fake stage-speak. 'What dost thou fancy in the 4.30?' Scott would enquire of Green.

One of the rehearsals involved George Devine donning an elaborate mask, and demanding that the actors guess the emotion expressed by his body-language only. Devine went up to the street to prepare, and promptly vanished. It transpired that the passing citizens of Soho had concluded from Devine's mask that exotic fetishistic pursuits were going on downstairs, and had mobbed him. Devine eventually tore himself away and fled inartistically down the steps. 'Fear!' promptly supplied the members of the actors' company on the appearance of the master, still sticking to instructions.

Throughout 1960, the difficulty of sustaining an audience for the local musicians continued to nag at Scott and King. The Musicians' Union ban had stopped being unconditional two years previously and international artists regularly came and went. But residencies, the maintaining of an imported star in a British venue night after night for a week, or a month, had not been considered. King, who still worked with the now highly suc­cessful impresario Harold Davison, knew that the latter would not be keen that his protégés step on his territory.

But King also knew that things could not go on as they were. He began at the British Musicians' Union, with the assistant secretary, Harry Francis, who was amenable to the idea of a new arrangement that would suit the requirements of a specialist nightclub. If the exchange of artists would be one for one, Francis was convinced that the request would go through on the British side. King turned his attention to the real nub of the problem. Since the 1930s, James C. Petrillo of the American Federation of Musicians had effectively battened down any form of trade in musical resources likely to cause loss of earnings to his own members. Petrillo (nicknamed 'Little Caesar' because of his stocky, pugnacious, Edward G. Robinson-like demeanour) was a man with a straight-shooting style of negotiation that made him a formidable opponent. The American Federation's policy had grown out of far leaner years than the 1950s and King, as a musician himself, was generally sympathetic to the union's orig­inal position. Its inflexibility from the mid-fifties onwards was principally fuelled by the attitude of the British Musicians' Union, which was con­vinced that American members would receive far more attractive invita­tions to Britain than the other way around. King reasoned that if jazz musicians were the Cinderella’s of the profession already, it was short­sighted now that times were not so hard to turn down a policy that might further the public's interest in the music generally.

Scott and King needed to pick their first guest, then worry about the bureaucracy afterwards. They chose Zoot Sims, a one-time partner of Stan Getz in the Woody Herman band and a player with much the same lyricism and raffish elegance as Getz but with a more robust and muscular delivery. Sims was popular at the Half Note Club in New York, an Italian family business by the Cantorino brothers, with a reputation similar to that of the Scott club in London for presenting good music to audiences that cared about it in an atmosphere conducive to relaxation and inventiveness. Sims accepted readily.

King then went to New York to try to sew it up. He told the music press that Tubby Hayes was taking a holiday in America at the same time, and it was only reasonable that he, as Hayes's manager, should make an attempt to arrange some work for his client. King met Sims for a beer to chew it over. They played Tubby Hayes's records to the Cantorino’s, and from dis­trusting a project they felt they didn't really need - an English jazz soloist on a month's residency in the heart of New York's jazzland - the Italians came around to the idea, and wanted to help Zoot, an old friend. The mat­ter went backwards and forwards inside the American Federation officials' headquarters for what to King seemed like an age. But the news finally came through that Petrillo had accepted the deal. King rang Scott in London and told him they were in business. Scott rang Harry Francis at the Musicians' Union and the swap was on. Finally they called Sims, who asked simply: 'When do I come?'

The exchange was arranged for November 1961. Ronnie Scott's Club was about to become an international jazz venue.


Zoot Sims was a delight.

After his first show, the proprietors of London's new international jazz club sat bemused in their locked up premises, counting the hours until they could hear him play again. For Scott, who had probably already subcon­sciously decided that a policy of booking practitioners on his own chosen instrument was going to be one of the principle ways he would enjoy being a promoter, Sims was a definition of the modern jazz musician who was still functioning wholeheartedly and pragmatically in the world everybody else had to live in.

He had a lot in common with Ronnie. He had been a teenage saxophone star in a showy jazz orchestra, the Woody Herman band. He was an unpre­tentious, unaffected, music-loving enthusiast. He knew jazz history. And he always played the music as if he enjoyed it. Sims was the kind of player who could have thrived in just about any sort of jazz band of the previous forty-odd years.

Sims delivered his easy-going swing and gentle rhapsodising through­out the month of November 1961 to thrilled audiences at the club. A casual, fresh-faced man, Sims would play without demonstrativeness, holding the instrument still. His opening bars would establish the tune with the direct­ness and confidence of a player completely at ease with his raw materials, and much of his appeal was founded on the manner in which his sound exhibited both confidence and a heady lightness, as if he were performing a graceful juggling act in slow motion. King arranged a short tour of out-of-town venues for Sims, and the proprietors presented him with a silver brandy flask after his last performance. Other local musicians donated such peculiarly British gifts as copies of Goon Show records.

Sims was also one of the first Americans to experience the off-beam goings-on that entered the folklore of the Ronnie Scott Club in its various in­carnations. Somebody threw a smoke-bomb into the room on 5 November which cleared the premises, but the Californian, a man after the Eastenders' hearts, barely raised an eyebrow. Fred Twigg, the club's vision-prone cleaner, was deeply suspicious of the quiet, unassuming visitor. 'Russian spy,' he warned Scott ominously. 'He's a Russian spy.'

In an interview, the usually unforthcoming Sims declared he was delighted with playing in London, since the intimacy of a club gave him the opportunity to relax. 'It reminds me of the Half Note,' Sims said. 'The atmosphere is warm and it's an easygoing place. Musicians like it. It has the same kind of management.' Sims added that he'd like to see Ronnie Scott play in the States. 'It depends on his confidence,' the American accurately observed.

For Scott's part, he was sad to see Sims go. 'My God,' he mused. 'What an anti-climax next week's going to be.'”