Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Ace of Clubs

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Ace of Clubs

Article excerpt

JAZZ

Richard Cook meets the man who's kept Ronnie Scott's going for four decades

We are lunching at one of the old Italian restaurants that still dot the Soho neighbourhood, and across the table is one of the local legends. He has been here for 40 years, first at the "Old Place" in Gerrard Street, then in the nocturnal den halfway down Frith Street, with its awning and steps up and unchanging neon sign. Out front, the names are different every week, but Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club sees them all come and go. And the man who has kept it working these past four decades doesn't even have his name anywhere.

"Some of the antipasto, that'll be nice," says Pete King, and they go to make up a plate for him. King left home at 9.30 this morning and he'll get back at about 2.30 tomorrow morning. The Count Basic Band is in this week- it's what they call a "ghost band", and the gloomy might think it an appropriate booking for a club with so many distinguished spectres in its walls. Jazz has had some wretched ups and downs in London, but Ronnie's - as every habitue calls it - has survived almost serenely into an age that is quite remote from the one in which it started.

Pete King is the one who's looked after it and kept it alive. When his long-time partner Scott died in 1996, he had some dark days; but what else was there to do? King used to race cars and he still likes a bit of golf. Otherwise, there's the club. It is 40 years ago this month that the two jazzmen - King used to play some useful tenor - opened in Gerrard Street. After visiting America in the 1940s and 1950s, they'd never stopped talking about the clubs on 52nd Street, and why couldn't there be one in London, too? Then they came across an old cab drivers' retreat in Gerrard Street. After borrowing a thousand quid from Scott's stepfather, they opened.

"In those days, it was younger people, and they were still dancing to jazz music then - bopping, they used to call it. …

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