Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club: Punters get the chance to take the stage in epic show

An IT consultant from Brentwood got his chance to join the likes of Miles Davis and Benny Golson at the first Ronnie Scott’s musical-instruments amnesty

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The Independent Culture

Miles Davis, Count Basie, Benny Golson – and now Geoffrey, the IT consultant from Brentwood, Essex. He, too, was playing the legendary Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Soho, London.

No matter that Geoffrey Millett’s rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” was – by his own admission - only just recognisable. On 11 July, all could be forgiven. Because 11 July was the first Ronnie Scott’s musical-instruments amnesty.

Mr Millett, aged 66, was bidding farewell to his Yamaha guitar, a birthday present from his late father, the jazz-loving Reverend Hugh Millett.

Along with about 120 other instruments donated, the guitar will find a new life with the Music Fund and Sistema England charities. They will be played in Britain and the developing world by children who might otherwise have been unable to afford a chance to make music.

Mr Millett’s father, who in the early 1960s trained for the priesthood by day and visited jazz clubs by night, would have been “chuffed to bits” to see his son’s brief moment in the spotlight.

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Simon Cooke is the managing director of Ronnie Scott’s (Teri Pengilley)

But even better, said Mr Millett, “some youngster out there might get the chance to play my old guitar and have their life enriched by music”.

The Yamaha became surplus to requirements after Mr Millett inherited his father’s prized Gibson acoustic guitar. And when it came to practising enough to become a guitar virtuoso, “life intervened”.

“The Yamaha guitar stood untouched in our living room for years. I didn’t realise just how dusty the case was until I got it out into the sunlight.”

That was a familiar story at the event.

Jeremy Waxman, 56, the headmaster of Kingsbury High School in Brent, north London, walked into the club with a dusty case and a confession. The case had moved with him from house to house, occupying cupboard after cupboard, for 40 years. And in all that time it had never been opened and the clarinet inside had never been played.

“My parents got it for me when I was 12,” he said. “As well as funding my lessons, they paid for leasing the clarinet, which, after five years, you could keep. I felt I owed it to them to stick with it until I got the instrument, in 1975.

“After that, I didn’t play it but didn’t have the heart to throw it away. It’s lovely to think it will be played by someone with more enthusiasm.

“As a boy in the school orchestra, I didn’t play,” the headmaster admitted, “I mimed.”

Simon Cooke, 58, the managing director of Ronnie Scott’s, surveyed the growing treasure hoard.

 

Everything was there, from a great uncle’s battered 1920s banjo to the donation from pop star Sam Smith: a violin that was played by a member of the backing orchestra during his 2015 Brit Awards performance.

So, too, was Mr Cooke’s own saxophone, bought when he was a student and destined to spend decades lurking in his attic.

“You get a sax,” explained Mr Cooke, a man now on the business, rather than playing, side of music. “You think it’ll help pull the birds. Then you discover that, musically, you are historically average.”

But then you realise you can hold a musical-instrument amnesty at one of the most loved venues in the world. And that you can watch an IT consultant from Essex realise a jazz lover’s dream, grin contentedly and enjoy his view of the bigger picture.

“Playing this place is fantastic,” said Mr Millett. “But knowing that some kid will now get the chance to play this guitar is an even bigger deal than playing Ronnie Scott’s.”

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