This year marks the 60th anniversary of Ronnie Scott’s, the world-famous music venue in London’s Soho, and home away from home for the most iconic names in jazz.
If these walls could talk, they’d share some fascinating stories, I’m sure. But some never-before-seen photographs by Freddy Warren might give us a glimpse behind the scenes.
Revealed in a new book, Ronnie Scott’s 1959–69, published by Reel Art Press, the images show Ronnie warming his hands around a fire and inspecting walls on the building site at Frith Street, followed by performance shots of the greats of jazz at both the ‘old and ‘new’ Soho locations.
Warren photographed every major happening at the club for more than ten years, and this is the first time his vast archive of jazz photos has been accessed and published.
Count Basie © Freddy Warren
Ella Fitzgerald and the audience at Ronnie Scott’s Frith Street © Freddy Warren
Warren was killed in a fire at his home in 2010. His nephew, Simon Whittle, retrieved thousands of Warren’s photographs from the ruins, as much a document of Whittle’s precious youth spent hanging out with his glamorous Uncle Fred and his famous friends as a revelatory archive of music history and the giants of jazz.
As a young boy Whittle was allowed to tag along in secret while Warren photographed everyone from Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Art Blakey, Stan Getz, Duke Ellington and countless others, as they played onstage and off at their beloved Ronnie Scott’s.
Jimmy Smith practice © Freddy Warren
Trummy Young © Freddy Warren
Stan Tracey, Yusef Lateef and Rick Laird cooking © Freddy Warren
A keen jazz drummer, Warren would also join Ronnie and guest musicians for an impromptu gig, one night joining audience member Dudley Moore on piano and Ronnie on saxophone when the guest artist was delayed.
Warren’s appreciation and love of jazz and its characters suffused his photos, as he sought to capture “the atmosphere – the ‘aurora’ as I call it – the movement…the fantastic communication between the players that makes jazz what it is.”
Ask any jazz musician in the world where they found their artistic home and, without doubt, the answer would be Birdland in New York and Ronnie Scott’s in London. Throughout the past 60 years the legendary jazz club, par excellence, has hosted all the greats from America, Europe, Africa and Latin America. No other jazz venue in Europe has ever come close to achieving the reputation and affection shown to Ronnie Scott’s, perhaps because of the rapport between Ronnie, the musicians and the aficionados.
Tony Bennett and Eddie Lockjaw Davis © Freddy Warren
Bill Evans at Freddy Warren’s studio before a performance at Ronnie Scott’s © Freddy Warren
The publisher says: “This book is a genuine treasure trove of images celebrating the best jazz musicians in the world. Performing live, or relaxing in unguarded moments in a setting exclusively created for them by jazz lover Ronnie Scott and immortalised by the extraordinary Freddy Warren, an incredible talent who lived to celebrate music. This is their history and their story.”
Ronnie Scott’s 1959–69 will coincide with a new exhibition of Freddy Warren’s photographs at the Barbican to mark six decades since the construction of Ronnie Scott’s.
Ronnie & Sax © Freddy Warren
Ronnie Scott’s Neon Sign © Freddy Warren
Ronnie Scott’s 1959-69: Photographs by Freddy Warren is published by Reel Art Press RRP £29.95. For further information and a full list of stockists visit www.reelartpress.com.