We went to Ronnie Scott’s to see Sarah Jane Morris. She was wonderful as always, and I wouldn’t have missed seeing her again. She is one of those singers who hook you into things that you would otherwise not accept, at any rate without reservation, by simple conviction. Her band were excellent too, every one an individual, some not encountered for years (for instance the horn player from Test Department) crammed there onto the little stage. Her new songs are politically committed, but sound musical and joyful and don’t lecture you; when she sang the old hits she brought the house down.
The better half had been to Ronnie Scott’s club since he died and it changed hands (with a company of excited oligarchs, to see Annie Ross, and, in the case of at least one of the excited oligarchs, to sing along, which must be one definition of Hell) but I hadn’t. It’s easy to be romantic about Ronnie’s in the old days. There was great music, now gone for ever and never to be replaced – in my case including Art Blakey, Gerry Mulligan, Warne Marsh, a young Joan Armatrading opening for Cecil Taylor, Ronnie Scott himself – but the audience always contained its share of idiots. Property dealers went there to finish off their day, or so they would tell me when they called me late next morning so that I would turn the deals they had done, over the legendarily appalling spaghetti, into legal agreements.
As you wait for the live music to start, the soundtrack is the Jazz Messengers and the others from decades ago. But the schedule for the month ahead contains little that anyone would call jazz, certainly not jazz of the straightforward sort championed throughout his life by Art Blakey.
There are two universal rules of audience participation. Both were ignored the other night at Ronnie Scott’s.
The first is that to earn the right to wave your arms and make hooting noises at the end of a song you should keep quiet and listen to it first.
The second rule I once heard enunciated by the great Robin Williamson. If you must clap, find a beat with which you are happy – and stick to it.
The people there are also quite startlingly rude. I suppose that you don’t expect the spiritual descendants of 80s property developers to be over-par as regards manners. The queue for the Gents involved the competitive use of shoulders, around the gangways women lounged guffawing and the little waiters, splendid in their red braces, asserted their rights of priority with their elbows. You don’t get the impression that London’s bohemia-lite is a class at ease with itself.
And why on earth, by the way, does the backdrop for the stage display a large representation of Richard Nixon playing the tenor saxophone?
Probably the answer to all this is that jazz died, quietly, a decade or three ago, but the obsequies continue, increasingly arcane and increasingly bad-tempered.
It’s been a musical week. For two days, I was allowed to attend a recording of choral music by Peter Philips. It took place in a freezing church (surprisingly freezing given that outside it wasn’t particularly cold) and I was allowed to watch and listen and not make a noise or otherwise disturb the process.
It is a huge pleasure to be present when people are modestly engaged in something that one could not do to save one’s life. The producer and the engineer were kind and accommodating, even though my sole contribution to the proceedings was not to be too much in the way. I was allowed to wear professional headphones. They were so good that at first I thought they weren’t working because they sounded just the same as real life. But even with the professional headphones on I could hear only a fraction of the incidents that bothered the producer.
As the track is put together, first in attempted complete takes and then with patches to cover the bits that are fluffed, you get to listen to music with an attentiveness that never happens otherwise.
Peter Philips is a sensational composer, one of my favourites, but little known. He lived in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. He was English but had to leave England in a hurry on account of being a Roman Catholic in the time of Queen Elizabeth 1, and he ended in Antwerp. He was sufficiently cross about this to be a plausible suspect in a plot to kill the queen, though, by then fluent in Flemish, he was able to read the charges and establish his innocence.
Because he left England he tends to be ignored by English nationalists and of course foreigners disregard him as a matter of routine, even though he occasionally descended to calling himself Pierre Philippe, Pietro Philippi or Petrus Philippus, to pretend that he was foreign too. His music is sometimes surprisingly funky and often jaw-droppingly lovely.
The recording will be released on Hyperion Records later in the year.
The other musical thing that I did this week was belatedly to buy a copy of George Harrison’s last – indeed, posthumous – album Brainwashed. It is also funky and jaw-droppingly lovely, actually in a similar way. This I suppose is a comparison that would please no one.