Lady sings the blues as loyal fans remember Ronnie Scott

John Walsh finds Paradise at St Martin-in-the-Fields
Click to follow
The Independent Online
"This must be what it's like waiting to get into Paradise," said the man beside me as we inched towards the doors of the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, central London. "You're standin' beside Peter O'Toole, and both of you with about the same chance of gettin' in."

Indeed. O'Toole looked drawn and pale-eyed but he still towered over the rest of us in his dove-grey suit last seen at last month's memorial service, for the late Ronald Fraser.

Yesterday's turnout was for a jazz man, not an actor, but a jazz man with a repertoire of memorable lines, memorable if only because he repeated them so often ("You tried the food? The chef's world famous. Kalahari bushmen come all the way 'ere just to stick their spears in his soup.") He and his club represented an aristos of down-at-heel style, of rumpled musical excellence to which the rest of the world doffed its beret.

A thousand of the cantankerous club owner's acolytes were finally packed inside the church's shabby splendour and off-white columns.

Lol Coxhill, bald and pugnacious, had just flown in from Bologna with his clarinet in its battered black case. Barbara Windsor had driven from the EastEnders lot at Elstree in Hertfordshire. A tiny explosion of fuchsia and spun sugar, she was approached by an Irish beggar with a bloodied nose and a tragic expression. "My god," he said on recognising her, "I've seen yer on the telly," before being shooed away by Babs' fans.

Understandably, in this starry company, there were mis-recognitions. "Excuse me," a ratty-looking jockey asked Wynton Marsalis, "are you Little Richard?" A dead ringer for Shirley, Lady Porter, sporting a marmalade bob was identified as Zandra Rhodes. Then a murmur ran through the crowd: "George is here ... George ... Ah George." And Mr Melly processed grandly by in a black cowboy hat and a hearing aid.

Inside, Dennis Norden sat in the seventh row, Russell Davies in the 12th. Around me, in the upper gallery, a remarkable dress code prevailed among the men - hair spilling over the collar, black shirt, black tie, shades, parchment complexions. It could have been a remembrance service for a very different East End Ronnie.

Elsewhere different jazz generations were easily spotted. The former beatniks were all in exiguous Ben Gunn whiskers, like a Punch political cartoon circa 1870. The older generation, going back to Ronnie's days at Club 11 in Great Windmill Street, were bald and immensely cheerful, perhaps at still being alive. They stood comparing notes: who played tenor sax with whom on bass , before leaving for America in 1953?

A former drummer called Dave Davies showed me a snap of the first night his band played the Salon Bal in Haringey, with a fresh-faced R Scott on the left.

On stage Benny Green, Scott's authorised biographer, addressed the crowd in a gravelly Cockney rasp, in between five-minute jazz vignettes.

How he'd met Ronnie in 1951, worshipped him from afar, and, on seeing his hero sitting in the audience, while he was playing on stage one night, found every trace of saliva in his body drying up for several minutes until, sympathetically, Ronnie left. How, on holiday in Majorca, he'd watched Ronnie befriend the poet Robert Graves, and how the latter had talked about the Apollo and Orpheus and said the voice of the muses was in the saxophone.

Marion Montgomery sang Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" with a beautiful basso swoop. James Moody, the great saxophonist ended his set with a kiss up to the ceiling and beyond it to his old friend. The demob-era baldies tapped their feet as Stan Tracey and Peter King played Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday". The last trumpet solo came from Ian Carr.

A thousand Scott fans filed out of the church heading for scotches and music. I looked up at the twin cherubs that sit on top of the organ loft, blowing silently on their long trumpets. They looked a bit grand for the occasion. Ronnie would have told them to eff off.