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Ronnie Scott’s - Jewel of London’s West End
After booking your accommodation in one of SO Hotel & Resorts premium London hotels, the easy part is done. Your comfort and relaxation now guaranteed, it’s time to start planning your London itinerary to make the most of what this fine city has to offer. For that, the West End is a great place to start. Easily accessible on the Underground, the West End district is home to many of London’s most famous neighbourhoods, including Soho, Piccadilly, Covent Garden, Mayfair, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. For theatre lovers, shopping addicts, and museum hunters alike, this historical place has something for everyone, and should not be forgotten on anyone’s to-see list.
One jewel of London’s West End district is the famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club at 47 Frith Street. From its humble beginnings in a hole in the wall basement bar a short distance away, Ronnie Scott’s is now a name synonymous with British jazz worldwide, and surely a highlight of any trip to London for both jazz aficionados and casual passersby. A true jazz experience like no other you can find in the city, go to see the rooms which great legends such as Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Art Blakey, Stan Getz and Duke Ellington have silenced with their genius. The club has, of course, experienced its ups and downs, heavily reflecting attitudes to jazz in the last century. These days, shows are performed regularly and can be seen on their website.
Ronnie Scott’s originally opened on Friday the 30th of October 1959 in a small location at 39 Gerrard Street in Soho, but the dream had begun some twelve years before, when Scott had blown his life savings visiting New York, a Mecca for British jazz addicts at a time when the Musicians Union didn’t allow American players. For Ronnie Scott, who had grown up only being able to listen to imported vinyl, who had received his first saxophone lessons from Vera Lynn’s father-in-law Jack Lewis, without ever being able to hear the true legends of jazz play live, it must have been an incredible experience. A whole street lined with basement jazz clubs with the biggest names of jazz playing in bars next door to each other, each competing for the overwhelmed young man’s attention. With the pure rush of finally seeing his heroes play the music of unconscious poetry, Scott was hooked.
He returned to the States several times, on one such occasion experienced a memorable night with Miles Davis playing with the Charlie Parker Quintet at The Three Deuces before playing again with Dizzy Gillespie’s band next door. This was a scene which could not be found in London at the time, and it stayed in Scott’s mind.
The Humble Beginnings
With a rent of £12 a week, the first jazz club of its kind in London was a joint venture with tenor saxophonist Pete King and was funded with a £1,000 loan from Scott’s stepfather which would help them to meet immediate commitments. Their first vision for the club was nothing at all like the style and glamour you will find at Ronnie Scott’s today, it was intended primarily to provide a place for young musicians to improve, with a decent piano, a microphone and maybe a light.
It was a difficult time to be working in jazz in London, many jazz musicians were considered unemployable, as musicians in an emerging genre which had been condemned by the music industry. Jazz paid no attention to class, colour, or capitalism, and was too easily rejected by many on those grounds. Scott and King wanted to provide a solution to this, to build their own place where musicians could meet, jam and perform for small audiences, without catering to the whims of London’s big club owners, who preferred the more socially acceptable sounds of music one could easily dance to.
For the first two years of its existence, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Gerrard Street hosted a great many talented British musicians. It had thrown off the image of the late-night taxi driver hang out that the building had been before, and was starting to get a name for itself. Despite this, they were still facing difficulties with the fact that with restrictions from the Musicians Union, it was difficult getting permits for the great American jazzmen to come and play. When it was eventually allowed, their piano rental service let them down at the last minute, reasoning that they hadn’t known it was a jazz club, and anyway, they would have trouble getting the piano down the stairs.
‘The New Place’
The early 60s started with a bang. After some politics, The Tubby Hayes Quartet went to play at the Half Note Club in New York, and Zoot Sims was booked in for a four-week residency at the London club in November 1961. At last, the British audience could enjoy the American music in person. During those years, Ronnie Scott’s would play host to many American saxophonists, including Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, Benny Golson and Ben Webster.
The success of those years prompted the pair to search for a new location and in the summer of 1965, Scott and King found the ideal venue at 47 Frith Street, only a short walk from the old location. Whilst a £1,000 loan had covered most of the original costs, the new hall would set them back around £35,000 to convert and decorate, the start of the new Ronnie Scott’s that we know and love today.
Reflecting the spirit of their venture, the ‘old place’ continued to be operated at a loss until the lease expired, allowing young British jazzmen to play and develop their skills. In the spring of 1968, they acquired the building next door and were then able to extend the premises and have the space to grow.
Ronnie Scott’s, later in life
After winning an Order of the British Empire for his services to jazz in 1981, Ronnie Scott sadly and unexpectedly died in 1996, leaving Pete King in charge of the now stylish and famous club. Pete King stayed in his role for another 9 years, seeing the 45th anniversary of the club pass in style.
In June 2005 King sold the bar to Sarah Greene, a theatre impresario who had long been a regular of the jazz club. She was chosen by King due to experience restoring some of London’s oldest theatres, she was the perfect person for the job. King sadly died in 2009, but was the honorary president until the day he passed away.
The world-renowned club is still bringing in the music and the patrons and is a must-see for your trip to London. Although they have spent large parts of the last year closed due to coronavirus restrictions, they have been running lockdown sessions on their YouTube account if you want to experience what they have to offer from the comfort of your own home.
How to get there from our luxury London locations
Our London hotels are conveniently located next to transport links, making our accommodation a good choice for anyone who plans on exploring. From the SO Paddington hotel, the West End can be reached in five minutes on the Underground. From the London Star, you are a short walk away from the Acton Station from which you can be walking around central London in no time. Please ask at reception if you have any questions or need some help in arranging your transport, our staff will be more than happy to help.
Where to eat nearby
Within a stone’s throw of Ronnie Scott’s Frith Street location, you can eat in the Delhi Brasserie without worrying that you might arrive late to your show. Authentic food, stylish decor and a Goan fish curry to die for would make this restaurant a destination by itself, even if weren’t for its lucky proximity to Ronnie Scott’s.
If you are interested in the history and would like to go to check out ‘the old place’ at 39 Gerrard Street and see the club’s humble origin before your show, then you might like to eat at Haozhan, known for its roast and lacquered duck. Or, hidden behind a secret jade door at the other end of the street, you could try Opium, a 1920s Shanghai-themed cocktail and dim sum bar.
What else to do in the West End
Whilst you’re in the area you should check out China town, especially if you are lucky enough to be in London for the Chinese New Year. Small but compact, you can find every kind of Chinese food here and even a few French-influenced Vietnamese places. Grab some dim sum and experience another heart of London!
Another popular stop in the West End is The British Museum, home to millions of objects on display such as the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies. However, there are many more museums which may take your interest. What about the Foundling Museum, in London’s first home for abandoned children? Or for those wanting to take their obligatory photo in front of one of London’s iconic red buses, there’s the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.
Once you’re in Covent Garden, you simply can’t miss catching a live performance by one of the many talented buskers there, before taking a walk through the market itself. Covent Garden is also home to the National Portrait Gallery and many of London’s historic theatres, including the Garrick Theatre, the Adelphi Theatre and the Savoy Theatre.
Then at the end of the night, take pleasure in knowing that you are but a short ride on the Underground away from your luxury accommodation in one of SO Hotels & Resorts London locations.
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