Jazz Musician Ronnie Scott has been honoured with an English Heritage blue today (Thursday 24 October), in Chinatown, Soho. The plaque marks the site of the first Ronnie Scott’s club, ahead of the 60th anniversary of it’s opening. Ronnie Scott together with fellow saxophonist Pete King, opened his eponymous Soho jazz club in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street on 30 October 1959. With the help of a loan of £1,000 from Scott’s step-father, they painted the room, built a small bandstand, and bought some second-hand furniture and a baby grand piano. A later refurbishment saw the construction of built-in upholstered seating on a tiered platform at the back.
The tables covered with red tablecloths and topped with dimly-lit lamps emulated the risqué mystery of New York’s jazz clubs on 52nd Street. Loudspeakers placed on the steps outside broadcast jazz into the street as a way of enticing people in, but as the club’s only ventilation was from keeping the front door open, the music escaped that way as well.
Ronnie Scott’s Managing Director Simon Cooke, said; “Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club has led the way in British Jazz for 60 years through its innovative programming and championing of the music and musicians. An English Heritage Blue Plaque is a fine acknowledgement of the contribution that Ronnie Scott himself made to the British Jazz scene.”
Mary Scott, Ronnie Scott’s widow, said; “Ronnie received many accolades during his lifetime, each time he would chuckle with pleasure, feeling honoured a little mystified and humbled. When awarded the OBE his only regret was that his mother wasn’t there to see it. The English Heritage Blue Plaque is the well deserved Jewel in the crown of recognition for his life time contribution to jazz. I am grateful to have lived long enough to see this happen and am overjoyed and honoured to be a part of the celebration.”
Gerrard Street was home to Ronnie Scott’s for 6 years, between 1959 and 1965. At that time American musicians were banned from performing in Britain because of disagreements between the unions. As well as promoting British modern jazz, in 1961, King negotiated an exchange deal so that American artists could perform in British clubs, and vice versa. The club started presenting international musicians. Zoot Sims came first, for a month-long residency, followed by artists such as Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Ben Webster, and Al Cohn. In the early days the clientele included Harold Pinter, the Beatles, Peter O’Toole, and Spike Milligan, who later visited Frith Street with Peter Sellers and Princess Margaret, and was a very good friend of Scott’s.
The Gerrard Street premises closed on 27 November 1965 when the club moved to 47 Frith Street. Scott and King re-launched Gerrard Street in September 1966 – renaming it the Old Place – until the lease ran out in 1967.
The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl, Knight Frank and members of the public.