Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


‘Ronnie’s’ film, Part Two

My most sublime Ronnie’s experience, by far, was getting to witness Cecil Taylor’s Feel Trio (with Tony Oxley and William Parker) in 1990, some of which is immortalised as part of 2 T’s for a lovely T, a typically opaque Cecil title for an excoriating 5-CD set on the late Richard Cook’s Codanza label, finally released in 2002, and all recorded live in London in that year. I also saw a solo CT performance at the  Camden Town Jazz Cafe a few months later, so, in retrospect, lucky, lucky me!

It’s certainly one of my most cherished live gig experiences. I attended with two of my more assertive friends, who, after we arrived at a packed Ronnie’s, barged our way to the very front and garnered us seats literally a few feet away from the master, just behind him in fact, and we luxuriated in the full Taylor-immersion, watching as the back of his shirt slowly become more and more drenched with his sweat, until the whole shirt was utterly sodden. What a totally committed performer! Two sets of rampant power that made my fifty quid well, well worth spending. 

My last attendance at the club was much less special, however, as I went to support one of my mates who was bassist for a never-remembered pop band who somehow got to play a showcase at this hallowed venue. This rest is not history, sadly

My experiences of the years of the very early 90s are mostly of being a new parent, with a baby boy (and soon, a baby girl), taking up much of our ‘leisure’ time, but when I look at my tickets of that time (sad, I know, and so anachronistic!), it seems to have been a good period to see seriously great American masters in sympathetic venues. Seeing an avant master like Cecil Taylor at Ronnie’s fairly conservative club was especially memorable, but I seem to remember that the Jazz Cafe, previously sited in a long, thin, tiny space in Newington Green (I saw a duo of Evan Parker and Stan Tracey there in its final days, both of these English masters squeezed into a bow window the size of  that of my own front room), had moved to a much more prestigious space in Camden Town (it’s still there, although I would hesitate to call it a ‘jazz’ cafe.) This was, I think, in late 1989, and, on the opening night, it had still not managed to even get a license for alcoholic drinks, so it was orange juice all round. I recall that the opening act was a duo of the very lauded tenor saxophonist/composer David Murray and percussionist Khalil El’ Zabir, a very promising start for the reinvigorated Jazz Cafe.

In 1990, I saw both the Feel Trio and Anthony Braxton’s quartet with Marilyn Crispell at the same venue, but it was soon apparently nearly bankrupted, and a far more conservative programme soon emerged, with a focus on Latin-tinged jazz, a far more tractable proposition for the would-be jazz hipster of the time. I’ve only been back there a handful of times, catching a Charles Gayle set, as far back as 1996, as one rare example. However, not only catching Cecil at two gigs in 1990, I also caught the Sun Ra Arkestra at Harlesden’s Mean Fiddler and at the Hackney’s Empire (both are now available in recorded form, the former originally being made available to Wire subscribers shortly after the performance.) It’s always very difficult to extrapolate generalities from one’s own experience, but that particular time did feel generous to the ‘mainstream’ of progressive jazz-related forms, and  its more experimental wings, as I hope my upcoming biography of the London Musicians’ Collective will further demonstrate.

It wasn’t really until the opening of Cafe Oto in 2008 that a genuine home for genre-busting music emerged. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club has a glorious past, as I hope the film will show, but I doubt that I will go there again, unless it has a genuinely GIANT surprise for me. Long may it survive and prosper.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby