Jazz & Bird Tables


I have to buy a washer dryer.   As the move gathers apace I have to fill the kitchen with white goods.  But for Monday to celebrate exchange, I filled my mojito glass and loafed off to Ronnie’s with my Jazz Buddy.  Although the evening centred around the compositions and arrangements of that winner of the 1987 Toronto Slimmer of the Year Contest, Oscar Peterson, my head was not in a jazz place.  I was not ready to slip into a syncopated place.  I was ready to make lists and draw neat, pencilled lines around words and think in straight, classical lines.  I kept remembering all the institutions and organizations I have to write to to tell them I’ve moved – the HMRC, the banks, The Nice Free Library, The Charming Expensive Library, not to mention The Bobby Darin Fan Club – and I kept working out whether I now have any money left (I don’t).  But, by golly, there was finance enough for a rare steak and a round of drinks, and although I wouldn’t exactly have to sing for my supper, I may have had to end the evening by washing up in the club kitchen.

First of all on early Monday evening, while enduring shock-Exchanged-on-a-flat induced hysteria, I calmed myself with a Bar Italia lemon tea.  This meant having to deal with the peculiar vortex of energy that surrounds Bar Italia and vibrates from it’s retro-chic glass counter tops.  Here, no sooner have you peered at the cheesecake and several family members manifest.  Why do the law of physics dictate that within a minute of poking my thinly sliced lemon in my cup of tea my brother will walk in, look  unsurprised to see me, and tell me I’ve got something stuck in my teeth?  Unnervingly, he says he knew I was in there because he was having me followed from Oxford Street.  But even he cannot deny the Bar Italia law.  Sometimes, it’s like a weird JB Priestley play (as if there was any other kind) where time starts going backwards and families get younger and stranger, balder and fatter, thinner and menopausal, but the room never changes.

The story of Ronnie Scott’s interior decor would make a chilling JB Priestley play.   The play would open in 2012 and with the club looking decidedly balder and thinner than it did after it’s all-singing, all-dancing makeover five years ago.  The carpets on the stairs now have holes in them and the ladies loos are almost back to looking as decrepid as they did in the 1990s, with scraped floors, damaged paintwork and a general feeling of being sweaty and unclean.  The carpeting on the main floor of the club is tacky underfoot and there are what appear to be food stains on the ceiling.  I don’t know how you even get food stains on the ceiling.  The drinks menus are extraordinarily sad looking – rocking the “lived in” look with a series of cracks, stains and rumpled, damaged edges.  This is a drinks menu that has lived.  You can smell the stale rum from the mouths that have jazzily breathed over them.  Then the curtain would come up on the Second Act of this depressing play and it would be 2006 .  The club looks shiny and sparkling, resplendent in it’s own chic glamour, following its extravagant overhaul and full with the taste of promise and the sight of young jazzers in neat suits and ties.  You can taste the lost hope because you’ve already seen Act One.  The Third Act would be set in its original incarnation in the 1960s to the 1990s.  This set would feature shabby, gaffer-taped carpet, astonishing toilet facilities, thin gingham tablecloths and brown wicker lampshades cradling orange lightbulbs, which would lend an increasingly sinister light onto the already sinister looking house vegetable soup.  The end of the play would be back at the beginning.  The audience would be shakily rising to their feet probably feeling queasy and a bit jazzed out.   It is wonderful that Ronnie Scott’s has survived, but must it be destined to return to its slightly cheap, uncared for look that it spent millions trying to eradicate in the early years of the Noughties?  Obviously, I can’t clean anything because I obviously don’t have a washer dryer, but I’m sure someone could get the Domestos out.

Yahama had lent the club a second grand piano for the evening so it was a crammed stage – two double basses, two grand pianos, a guitarist and a drummer.  The support was a surprise – not the support listed on the website – but the lovely Dave O’Higgins.  He looked very clean.  So did the main headline act, especially Matt Skelton who looked like a man who not only had a washer dryer but a lovely ironing board too.  As we were taken through the story of Oscar Peterson’s life in chronological form, we were treated to a beautiful rendition of Yesterdays featuring Dave Newton, as well as rarely performed sections from Peterson’s Canadiana Suite including “Place St Henri”, which I had never heard before and was a remarkably robust piece of double piano performances from James Pearson and Dave Newton ‘cutting heads’ throughout.  Backed by the already mentioned Skelton – his generation’s most reassuring and versatile drummer – the group also featured Len Skeet and Sam Burgess.  A wrong decision was made to place Burgess and Skeet on the spot somewhat by nonsensically encouraging them to awkwardly interview each other in the second set, but half way through the first set the two of them treated us to a beautiful double bass duet of Bye Bye Blackbird.  Hush fell on the club, until you couldn’t even hear the plop of the dessert spoons scooping into creme brulees.  The two double basses caught and carried each other’s melodies beautifully until:

“Do you want a microwave?”  said Jazz Buddy suddenly.

“Eh?”  I said.  “Got a spare one.  When you move.  Want a microwave?”    This was a quiet moment.  Bass player Len Skeet turned around, perhaps thinking he was being offered a microwave.

“Yeah – great.  Thanks.  Love one.”  

The waiter, pallid and looking a bit strained, returned.  There were new mojitos in front of us where our empty plates had been.  This was pleasing.

Dave Newton looked very cool.  I bet he’s got a microwave.  And a washer dryer.  In fact I bet he’s got a bird table and one of those washing machine lines you get from Lakeland that twirl about.   He dresses like a very popular History teacher, who would take his A Level class for tentative end of term beers at the pub.  His delivery was so lackadaisical as to be almost soporific.  The guitarist Colin Oxley took a solo at this halfway point in what was turning out to be a maligned evening for him.  The musical director had repeatedly forgotten to announce his name for a round of applause at the end of each set.  Whilst gazing at the flotsam that washes up underneath drumkits and grand pianos (plastic water bottles, various cables for some numpty to fall over, crumpled bits of sheet music, tupperware boxes) I wondered if I should invest in a new fridge freezer and thought about IKEA wardrobes.   I considered floormops.  I riffed on curtains whilst listening to a drum solo but by the end of Have you Met Miss Jones? I was still undecided as to whether to go to John Lewis or Homebase.   I thought of towels and remembered I had a Zara Home voucher stashed away since Christmas.  I would buy red towels I thought.  Then I realised that of course I wouldn’t buy red towels, I had just had five mojitos and all sorts of things seem like a good idea once you’ve had five mojitos.  Before now ideas I have had after five mojitos include:

1) A holiday in St Petersburg

2) let’s email a cinema and say that we want to rent it out and play Back To The Future in it really LOUDLY.

3) I’m going to put some tap shoes on.

4) I am going to take the tap shoes off, now that I have attempted and failed at a triple timestep and done something embarrassing to my groin which may or may not require Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug medication.

5) Berkshire.  It sounds lovely.  BERKSHIRE.  Let’s all go to Berkshire.

All too soon, the evening had swung to a close and it was – amazingly – eleven o’clock.  The last double bass solo was accompanied only by the brisk whir of twenty chip and pin machines as patrons gave payment, and the flourish of the rip of the Visa receipt from the machines was punctuated by a piano note.  We scooped up our bags and my head kept running with the things I have to do.  I thought, as I traipsed across the floor which had clearly not been vacuumed since 2009, that when I buy my heap of towels, my washing fluids and my diamante rubber gloves, it will take all my willpower not to march back to 47 Frith Street and scrub the whole, dastardly place clean.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is usually updated every Thursday, but please note there will be no update on Thursday 15th March.   See you on the 22nd.  Thank you!

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