Directed by: Oliver Murray
Written by: Oliver Murray
Starring: Ronnie Scott, Pete King, Michael Parkinson
You don’t know anything about jazz. Don’t worry, neither do I. And honestly? No-one really does. I mean some people do, but even most of them only say it to sound cool. Ronnie Scott knew jazz. As both the owner, and a performer at Ronnie Scott’s – London’s most prestigious and famous jazz club, he was a corner stone of the scene in the UK and helped introduce a golden era from the rest of the world to his city. Ronnie’s is a remarkable documentary about the man as much as it is about the club.
Ronnie’s mixes footage and clips of 60s London with the classic performances of jazz legends to tell the story of Ronnie Scott’s journey to establish a jazz club in Soho. Narration is provided from an impressive cast of talking heads – such as Quincy Jones, Michael Parkinson and Sonny Rollins – as well as audio of Scott himself.
The documentary’s greatest accomplishment is bringing the atmosphere of the club itself to the audience’s living room. Whether it’s the stunning performance footage (which is worth watching the movie for alone) or the smoky, intimate photos of Scott as he watches his dream take form, the audience is transported out of miserable lockdown life to a time when live music was loud, crowds were bustling and life was good.
The documentary balances its various elements perfectly. Viewers will find themselves immersed watching Ella Fitzgerald perform at the club, forgetting they were witness to a manic, pulsating jazz overbeat as the club’s financial troubles were laid out just moments before. The performances do distract from Ronnie’s story – but they never detract from it. Any viewers who find themselves lost in the brilliance of the musicians are eased back into quiet, contemplative scenes detailing Scott’s personal demons and struggles. This is Ronnie Scott’s story, but it does seem appropriate that his dream manifested would play a key part in the telling of it.
The subject of the documentary itself is suitably unexplored, and the director Oliver Murray shines a light on the story of a landmark of London nightlife that many viewers will be unaware of. The story of Ronnie’s club is as engaging as his own, and the documentary stands as further testament to its success and stature in the city. There are some oversights that would have benefitted from further investigation – such as the gangland links in the club’s early days and the journey of the club following Scott’s death, but these omissions do allow for the movie to delve more into the personal.
The mark of a great movie is engaging the audience in a subject they know little about. Ronnie’s takes a subject, a place and a man that most will be unfamiliar with, and conjures a fascinating insight into a cultural institution and the man who made it happen. Ronnie’s jazz club is still standing, awaiting its first punters back when the world returns to normal. Until then, Ronnie’s is the perfect way to remind ourselves how crucial the club is. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn something about jazz along the way.