Jazz star Ronnie Scott dropped suicide hints

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A personal fear that he could no longer perform to his own enormously high standards may have driven Ronnie Scott, the jazz musician and club owner, to kill himself.

As close friends and relatives yesterday continued to mourn, Scott's army of admirers awaited the inevitable commemorative night at his Soho jazz club in Frith Street. One close friend said: "Those expecting a wake should know better."

An early biography of Scott's life by the critic John Fordham was initially called "Let's Join Hands and Contact the Living". Another close friend said: "The title was apt. We will be celebrating someone who knew how to live."

Scott's body was discovered by one of his daughters in his London flat on Monday. A glass containing alcohol and a empty bottle of pills were found near the body.

In recent months, those who knew the 69-year-old Scott were aware that he was depressed. Some friends also believed he had tried to drop gentle hints that it was unlikely he would be around for his 70th birthday.

Scott had been quietly scheduled to play at his club on Christmas Eve. It had been nearly two years since he had played his beloved tenor saxophone in front of audiences. Having developed a serious gum disease, he was forced to undergo extensive specialist dental surgery in the United States. Tooth extraction and implants were part of the surgery. Crucially for a specialist musician this had altered the shape of his mouth and affected his ability to play.

Those around Scott knew he was having problems with what musicians call "embouchure", the position and use of the lips involved in playing a wind instrument like the saxophone.

He had been struggling to play precise notes and create his own distinctive timbre.

Although Scott always talked modestly about his own talents compared to the jazz greats who over 30 years had performed in his club, he was nevertheless, according to friends, an "intuitive, competitive performer" who maintained "enormously high standards".

Although professional critics and musicians have lined up to praise Scott's achievements, both as a player and as the man who rejuvenated British jazz and encouraged generations of players into believing jazz excellence was not just the preserve of Americans, close friends were reluctant to speculate about the precise reasons that made him decide to commit suicide.

One respected critic who knew Scott well said jazz musicians like him led a lifestyle that few understood.

Their work, in the small hours of the night, moving into day, also involved the intensity of having to improvise.

In addition, their pressurised reputation, night after night, meant they were "only as good as their last solo".

One of Scott's tenor-sax heroes, the American Coleman Hawkins, is listed in the history books as having died naturally from pneumonia in 1969. But this was not before he had practically lived for years on a diet of Remy Martin brandy, and was prone to regular bouts of clinical depression.

Although the world of jazz is littered with self-destructive temperaments - such as the alto-saxophone player Charlie Parker, who spent a large part of his professional life addicted to heroin, or the trumpeter Chet Baker, who died in 1988 after falling or more likely jumping from a hotel window in Amsterdam - Scott will be remembered for a constructive contribution to his craft.

The musician and writer, George Melly, who had been booked to sing with Scott at the Frith Street club, said musicians would remember him as a wonderful player and a wonderful person.

Obituary, page 13