Watching Ronnie’s, Oliver Murray’s excellent documentary about Ronnie Scott and the club that bears his name, my mind, inevitably, ran back over the many evenings spent there, some blurred by time, others, like a particular evening when Ronnie himself was playing – and playing beautifully – I remember more clearly. Here’s Charlie Resnick sharing that memory in the novel, Living Proof.
Betty Carter was singing ‘Body and Soul’ on the car stereo as he drove, mingling the words and tune with those of a second, similar song, so that the final, climactic chorus seemed forever delayed, but that wasn’t it. Not exactly. More confusing still, the words of yet another song were worrying away at some part of Resnick’s mind.
‘Send in the Clowns’.
He had heard Betty Carter live just once. A rare trip to London, a weekend in early spring, and she had been at Ronnie Scott’s. A striking black woman, not beautiful, not young; warm and confident, good-humoured, talking to the audience between numbers with that slight slow-business bonhomie that set Resnick’s teeth painfully on edge. But when she sang … He remembered ‘But Beautiful’, ‘What’s New?’, the way she would move around the stage with the microphone, her body bending to the shapes of the words with a combination of feeling and control that was unsurpassable.
Scott himself, nose like a hawk and gimlet-eyed, his sixty-odd years showing only where the skin hung thinly at his neck, had been leading his quartet through the support slots on the same evening. Tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums. After several rousing numbers, Scott had played a two-chorus version of Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’, almost straight, bass and drums dropping out, the tone of his saxophone ravishing and hard, one of the best ballad performances Resnick had ever heard, silencing the club and striking him straight to the heart.
When the book was published, I sent a copy to Ronnie Scott, along with a tape (!) on which I read some of my poems with accompaniment by the band, Second Nature. Here’s his reply …