Ronnie Scott’s, the name of London’s hottest Jazz club, an epicentre of the London music scene, but also, the name of a person!? Who would have known! Well… a fair few of that generation got to meet the guy, but as time moves on, stories are left untold. The Filmmaker Oliver Murray felt it necessary to preserve Scott’s legacy as a person rather than a venue, and made this heart-warming documentary about a man with a dream.
We'll be screening 'Ronnie's' on October 12th at Melkweg, Amsterdam. Tickets are for sale here !
"If you’re into music, you fail as a Londoner for not going there" -Oliver Murray
Words by the director of ‘Ronnie’s’ Oliver Murray, who talks about his time as a young filmmaker in London running around the streets of Soho and passing the club almost every day. The image of it became biennial, but there was still this strong internal question of who Ronnie was. So, when a producer pitched him the idea of making a documentary focusing on the man behind it all, he simply could not refuse.
From a working-class background, Scott’s love of music and a trip to New York, built up the desire to take an old workers café in the heart of a then dingy Soho and turn it into the coolest club on Earth. Hearing from close friends, partners, and regulars at Ronnie's, with anecdotes about London gangsters, footage of 1960’s London, and recordings of Jimi Hendrix, Murray creates an enjoyable, educational, and enlightening experience that delves into the many lives of Ronnie Scott.
The documentary tells the story of Jazz from a perspective you could only do through a character like Ronnie. Someone whose passion emanated to physical a space, and brought together icons of music from all over the globe, and made Ronnie’s, a bucket-list place to play, to this day. Not only did Ronnie give everything to music, music gave everything to him, and the film doesn’t shy away from the tragic emotional and physical challenges that came into Scott’s life and how music acted as his medicine.
In conversation with Murray, I was able to get a deeper insight into the making of the documentary, what challenges there were and what messages were vital to get across.
The documentary is shot using archival footage with voice overs. Asking what compelled him to make the film in this way Murray states, "it didn’t make sense to do it any other way". It’s a very personal story, and having voices of people talking about "back in the day" and then cutting to them in the present, makes it a less immersive experience for the audience, and takes them out of Ronnie’s world. However, the dedication that came with this decision was fundamental, as although there was knowledge the footage existed, finding it was another matter.
Murray compares the experience of finding archival material for Ronnie’s, with another documentary he made about the Rolling Stones. "With the Stones, people know that every few years this footage is going to be used in either a documentary or films, etc. So, it’s looked after and organised". Finding footage for Ronnie's was another experience, "because it's Jazz, people don’t care as much, and it climbs higher and higher up the shelf".
He describes a visit to the BBC archive, one of the biggest and oldest archives in the world, and how he took a punt at this disk labeled "Jazz musician". - A simple title for a reel that ended up having footage of “Miles-fucking-Davis playing at Ronnie Scott’s”.
One thing Murray wanted to do through this documentary was take away the ideas about the "exclusivity" of Jazz. Talking about the marketing of the film he states, "it was a very difficult procedure as Jazz is one of those things you love, or you hate. People have this perception of it being inaccessible, however this is the completely wrong way to look at it". If you see the artist that played at Ronnie’s; Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison (to name a few), these are not Jazz artists. They’re musicians that want to play at Ronnie's because it is a home for music lovers, not a prestigious cocktail-drinking, nose-snubbing bar. It’s in the heart of Soho, run by working-class East-end guys!
Surprisingly what might have helped this message come across was the fact the film was released in the midst of the pandemic. It added another element of collectiveness to the film, as people affiliated Ronnie's to their equivalent. And the melancholia of not being able to go to these places, was replaced by a cherishing of their existence.
All in all, this documentary, is a love letter to Jazz, a lesson in the appreciation of music and clubs, and proof of the need for people with dreams.
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