|Ronnie Scott - end of an era...|
|The British press has never been particularly enthusiastic about giving publicity to jazz music or jazz musicians, unless there was a whiff of scandal, or a drug bust story, fire, police raid or gang battle, which would automatically guarantee immediate attention. Between December 24th, 1996 and January 17th, 1997 the news of Ronnie's death and the rumours surrounding it, prompted almost 400 column inches of copy in the National press plus numerous photographs. It's likely he received more attention then than for his musical achievements in his lifetime. Despite the speculation in the press and the misleading headlines eg: "Ronnie Scott death was drug overdose" (The Times February 6th, 1997), the coroner's verdict at the final inquest was "death by misadventure"...|
A longtime heavy smoker Ronnie suffered from considerable ill-health during his last two years. He suffered a thrombosis and had two operations on his legs before he suffered teeth problems. For a saxophone player teeth troubles can be a disaster. Ronnie was advised to have teeth implants, a painful and time consuming course of treatment, which if successful can be very effective.
Ronnie expected to be out of musical action for about a year but there were unforseen complications which extended the time he was unable to blow and practice, and this meant that his aim of playing publicly again on Christmas Eve seemed to be an unlikely hope.
Pete King, Ronnie's partner speaking to Jazz Journal after Ronnie's death said.... "I think the final straw was when they came to put the top teeth in and the bone structure wasn't large enough to take them and they started floundering round. That really affected him as it would any sax player. He really didn't want to be bothered to run the club, all he wanted to do was play the saxophone. He was in America for most of the year visiting friends and when he came back he looked great and talked great. Even though he was rarely at the club, when he did appear his input was tremendous, and the staff although feeling a sense of loss and tragedy sometimes feel as though he is going to walk in at any moment."
For most of his life Ronnie was a teetotaller, neither he or Pete King were drinkers. It is all the more tragic that the pain of his teeth operations was such that he began to drink alcohol during the last few months of his life. Unfortunately it was this habit coupled with the ultra-strong sleeping tablets prescribed by his dentist which combined to cause his unexpected death at the age of sixty-nine.
It is true that Ronnie Scott did suffer from depression from time to time - he was always trying for perfection but disappointed with his own performances. This must have been accelerated by his inability to play the tenor to his usual standard as the teeth problem developed.
Ronnie at the Nice jazz festival in the late 1980s
(Picture by Mike O'Sullivan)
Ronnie was a much loved jazz icon revered not only for his tenor playing but affectionately and indulgently loved for his razor sharp wit, and sardonic, often self deprecating humour, regularly displayed at the club. filling the self appointed role of linkman between acts he delighted regulars with his one liners, particularly his put-downs of the rare barrackers or drunks.
Ronnie's achievements, in partnership with Pete King, battling against almost impossible odds to launch a world class jazz club that has survived for over fifty years is deserving of wide acclaim. In recognition of his achievements he was awarded an OBE in 1981.
Biography and discography.... Interview (1963).... 39 Gerrard Street.... 47 Frith Street.... "These are the jokes"....