JJ 05/63: In My Opinion – Ronnie Scott

Sixty years ago, the saxophonist and club boss liked Hodges but not Mulligan and remarked that jazz on record is always second best. First published in Jazz Journal May 1963

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Ronnie Scott on the cover of Jazz Journal, May 1963

This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop.

Ronnie Scott was probably the first British musician to make a name for himself, outside his own country, as an outstanding tenor saxophonist. He has in his time graced the orchestras of Ted Heath, Jack Parnell and Tito Burns, and was instrumental in forming Britain’s first notable modern group, the Jazz Couriers. In company with Pete King he now, in addition to his musical activities, runs a jazz club, which by reason of hard work and application to business, has been built into a fine example of just what a jazz club should be. – Sinclair Traill


In Walked Budd. Johnny-Griffin/Eddie Lockjaw Davis. “Lookin’ At Monk”. Jazzland JLP 39
Excellent. A good example of straight forward modern jazz tenor playing. Griffin appeared at the club recently and proved to he the most popular artist we have yet presented. Not diffi­cult to understand, I think, as he has tremendous vitality and a staggering technique as well as being a natural showman. I know there were those who said it was all technique and very little jazz, but I’m afraid they could only have been listening with half an ear. Admittedly he doesn’t convey the tremendous intensity and deep seriousness of Coltrane, but this is simply because Johnny just isn’t that type of person. He is a happy lively sort of guy and his character was beautifully expressed in his playing. Eddie Davis is another player whom I admire greatly – it would be nice to have him at the club one day. Rather an unusual mixture these two, because their styles are really rather dissimilar, yet they each have a certain uninhibi­ted outlook that tends to make them complement each other in some strange way. The tune is, I think, one of Monk’s best – he is one of the greatest of the jazz composers.

Rat Race Blues. Gigi Gryce. Esquire 32-181
Not very impressive I’m afraid. Not much individuality and really nothing to distinguish it from dozens of jazz releases that seem to appear every month. All the musicians are of course extremely competent, perhaps the most impressive being trum­pet player Richard Williams. But the best one can say of this record is that it is representative of the high standard of technical facility attained by jazz musicians today; although I think that there are quite a few guys over here who are at least as worthy of being recorded.

Pop music: ‘It seems to be the fashionable thing to dismiss it all as unadulterated rubbish. I am not too sure about this . . . Many of the tunes are written in the 12-bar-blues style and in general pop music is much more rhythmic in the jazz sense than it has ever been before’

Honeysuckle Rose. Benny Carter. “Further Definitions”. HMV CSD 1480
Benny Carter. One of my favourite alto players and arrangers. The scoring for four saxophones on this is most attractive. Coleman Hawkins is for me the star of the proceedings. Abso­lutely fantastic, the way he seems to improve with age without resorting to the clichés of the moment. Carter still produces one of the most beautiful alto saxophone sounds ever and is still an instantly recognisable voice. I have heard Charlie Rouse play better than he does here, but Phil Woods plays beautifully, not at all fazed by the company he is in. Woods is one of the most brilliant musicians of this era. A very good record.

Kidney Stew. Eddie Cleanhead Vinson. “Back Door Blues”. Riverside RLP/3502
Eminently listenable middle-of-the-road jazz. This is the sort of music that can appeal to a very wide public and can do the cause of contemporary jazz nothing but good. Inciden­tally, whilst on the subject of “popular” music, it seems to be the fashionable thing to dismiss it all as unadulterated rubbish. I am not too sure about this. Whilst a lot of it is undoubtedly utter junk, there are certain facets of it which are fairly en­couraging. For instance, many of the tunes are written in the 12-bar-blues style and in general pop music is much more rhythmic in the jazz sense than it has ever been before. Apart from some of the trashy vocal things, the advent of rock and roll, rhythm and blues and the trad boom are at least a step in the right direction. It wasn’t so long ago that pop music con­sisted of things like Mairzy Doats, the Victor Sylvester strict tempo dance orchestra and Joe Loss’s orchestra playing Tuxedo Junction. Listening to Eddie Vinson, one of the best modern blues singers, reminds me that Jimmie Rushing is due in Europe soon. Now there’s someone I’d love to feature at the club!

‘Mulligan I can leave or take. Whilst being an admirable musician and a wonderful arranger, his talents as a jazz soloist leave me rather unmoved. There is something a little “Dixie” in his playing that just doesn’t appeal to me’

Bunny. Gerry Mulligan/Johnny Hodges. HMV CSD 1372
Mulligan and Hodges – at first glance another strange partner­ship, but it seems to come off. There isn’t much I can say about Hodges – he is one of the great jazz artists. His glorious sound and impeccable technique make him every saxophone player’s ideal. That slur that he plays with such consummate ease on the Ellington recording of Passion Flower for instance – that’s impossible! And yet to watch him you would think it was the easiest thing in the world. I watched him with the Ellington band on concerts and he would come out in front of the band and play something absolutely glorious and give the impression that the last thing he was concerned with was playing the alto saxophone. He just seemed to continually look around at various parts of the theatre with the appearance of complete disinterest. I got the impression that he was noting carefully the various fire escapes in the hall – in the event of an earth­quake, perhaps! Mulligan I can leave or take. Whilst being an admirable musician and a wonderful arranger, his talents as a jazz soloist leave me rather unmoved. There is something a little “Dixie” in his playing that just doesn’t appeal to me. Whilst his playing is always immaculate and, what is more im­portant, always sounds improvised, he just isn’t my cup of tea.

Blues for J.P. – Woody Herman – 1963. Philips 652 025 BL
I heard this band about a year ago in America – a very in­teresting young group. I was particularly impressed with a tenor player Sal Nistico. Woody seems to have a knack for finding young players and moulding them into a unit. He is a fabulous person with a great sense of humour and I think that it is this personality of his which contributes a great deal to his talent for being able to get musicians to give of their best when they work for him. This particular band, if they stay together, may easily be as good as any band he has ever led. And then of course there is Woody himself on clarinet; he is another musician whose style has seemed to change very little throughout the years, yet never seems to sound dated. The band business could well use a few more like Woody.

‘To me jazz is essentially an “in person” experience and records must always be a sort of second-hand make-shift . . . The best mo­ments are, of course, completely unpredictable and are rarely captured on record’

Afterthoughts.
To me jazz is essentially an ‘in person’ experience and records must always be a sort of second-hand make-shift. I have heard all the American artists that have appeared at the club reach heights which in my opinion they have rarely, if ever, attained on record. I may mention in passing, as there have been so many brick-bats cast at the accompanying British rhythm sec­tion, that Johnny Griffin (who is not the easiest soloist to satis­fy, with his liking for ultra-fast tempos and his highly de­veloped rhythmic sense), was highly delighted with the Stan Tracey trio with Ronnie Stevenson on drums and Malcolm Cecil on bass. He went so far as to say that he was due to record in the States immediately upon his return, and with vir­tually all of the finest rhythm sections in New York available to him, he would have preferred to record here with the Stan Tracey trio. And I can assure you he meant this very sincerely. In my own humble opinion they constitute the most exciting and capable rhythm section this country has had for a long time. The point I am trying to make is that jazz by its nature is a spontaneous momentary thing and it is this that makes it perhaps the most individual of all the arts, and the best mo­ments are, of course, completely unpredictable and are rarely captured on record.