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Jazz up your Saturday at Ronnie Scott’s free Soho street party

By Nick Levine

Sixty years ago, in 1959, Ronnie Scott’s opened its doors in a basement on Gerrard Street, Soho, before moving to its current home on Frith Street in 1965, where it has attracted the biggest and best names in jazz ever since.

As part of the year-long diamond anniversary celebrations, the club is holding a free street party this Saturday – July 20 – from noon until 6pm. The Frith Street festivities will, of course, feature some amazing jazz acts, but there’ll also be family-friendly activities, outdoor bars, champagne cocktails and street food.

Headlining the music side of things is London-based saxophonist Nubya Garcia. She’s just back from a North American tour and is absolutely storming it at the moment, leading the charge of the new Brit jazz stars to explode on to the scene (check out her debut EP ‘Nubya’s 5ive’ to get a feeling for what she’s about). This could be one of the last times you’ll be able to hear her play for free, and she comes highly recommended.

Other acts lined up are ever-popular Ronnie’s regular Pee Wee Ellis and his Funk Assembly, Latin jazz band Eliana & La Evolucion and children’s jazz group Kinetika Bloco. As well as superlative jazz, there’ll be a load of kids’ entertainment including face-painting, balloon-modelling and a bubble show. And who doesn’t love a bubble show while sipping champagne and listening to jazz?

The charitable arm of the club will also be holding its third instrument amnesty, where members of the public are asked to donate musical instruments and equipment to be handed out to various programmes that help young people growing up in challenging environments.

So head down to Frith Street this Saturday afternoon and help wish one of our city’s most beloved musical institutions a very happy sixtieth birthday. 

Twelve fascinating facts about Ronnie Scott’s

1. Ronnie Scott and Pete King originally opened the club in a basement on Gerrard Street in 1959, before moving to Frith Street in 1965.

2. The club has always had a house pianist. Currently it’s the nimble-fingered and very talented James Pearson.

3. Sonny Rollins wrote the theme to ‘Alfie’ in the club.

4. The club once flew a grand piano suspended under a helicopter across the face of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. This was for a special Ronnie Scott’s house band performance taking place as part of the Zermatt Unplugged festival.

5. The club currently has 3,524 members. But you don’t need to be a member to get in. If you’re new to the club and want to check it out, you should get along to one of the Late Late Shows (usually every night except Sunday, after the main show). Entry is a tenner in advance, £12.50 on the door. 

6. Last year Ronnie’s sold 77,539 bottles of beer, 3,500 bottles of champagne, 81,219 cocktails, 24,890 glasses of white wine and 2,999 plates of scallops.

7. The club sold 98 percent of its tickets for headline shows last year, so if you see something you want to go to, make sure to grab your ticket early.

8. The club only shuts for three nights a year.

9. Behind the bar is an unopened Magnum of 1964 Mumm Champagne that symbolises the club’s status as a gangster safe house. 

10. Zoot Sims was the first overseas artist to appear at Ronnie Scott’s. For the first two years the club was open it was nearly impossible to get work permits for American musicians. Founder Pete King lobbied for the ban on Americans to be lifted, and in 1961 Sims was booked for an unprecedented four-week residency.

11. Miles Davis only ever played at the club once, in 1969.

12. The club has only changed hands once in 60 years. The current owner Sally Greene and Michael Watt bought the club in 2005. 

Ronnie Scott’s Street Party is on Sat Jul 20 between noon and 6pm on Frith St, Soho. Check out Time Out’s guide to the best jazz clubs in London here


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