REVIEW – Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club On Tour @ Corn Exchange, Devizes – Thursday 11th November 2021

Jazz Is Back In Town!

Andy Fawthrop

Yay!  The Devizes Arts Festival is back in business, albeit in truncated format for this year, and kicked off public proceedings with a real bang last night in The Corn Exchange.

Despite being massively well served for all forms of live music in D-Town generally, jazz has been somewhat under-represented of late.  I certainly remember going to regular jazz gigs a few years ago, just next door in the Bear’s Cellar Bar, but there’s been nothing much since.

But that was all put to rights last night as The Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club On Tour rolled into town.  This proved to be exactly what it said on the tin – direct from the world-famous jazz club founded by the eponymous Ronnie Scott in the late 1950s London’s Soho, this was a live touring version of what generally happens “live” in the club itself.  We were treated to what can only be described as a multi-media presentation, combining a world class live jazz quintet alongside rare archive photos and video footage.  We were taken on a guided verbal and musical tour of the history of this great cultural institution.  Set amongst the dive bars and jazz juke joints of Soho, we heard of the desperate hand-to-mouth finances of the early years, the frequent police raids, and the various scrapes with gangsters (including the Krays, who were rumoured to have taken Ronnie and Pete “for a little drive”!)

Our “MC” for the evening, playing the role of compere, raconteur and sax soloist Ronnie Scott was the near-lookalike (and birthday boy) Alex Garnett.  He perfectly conveyed the seedy, dubious and wise-cracking humour of the man, combined with a clear love of the music, and appreciation of the skills of his fellow musicians.  On upright bass we had the dapper Sam Burgess, on piano the grinning James Pearson, and on drums the highly-accomplished Shaney Forbes.  Completing the line-up was vocalist Natalie Williams, who brought some real sparkle and show-biz pizzazz to proceedings.  Whether tackling numbers from the Great American Songbook, other jazz standards, or simply scat-singing, Natalie absolutely lit up the room with her enthusiastic personality and powerful vocals.

The band looked very comfortable on stage with one another, compact and tight when required, but giving one another just the right amount of space for the various solos.  I was particularly impressed with Shaney Forbes’ drum solo in the first half.  The material chosen was eclectic, featuring forays into the back catalogue of Sarah Vaughn (“Sassy”), Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, and many others.

If the aim was to convey “the feel” of what it was like in the early days of an evening in Ronnie Scott’s Club, then the quintet certainly succeeded.  A near-packed house was treated to a great evening’s entertainment, and lapped it all up.  A rousing call for an encore was the least they deserved.  A really great night out.  Let’s hope someone in town now picks up the jazz baton again!

Devizes Arts Festival continues for the next week, with a large range of events, including several fringe (free!) events at various venues around the town.  See www.devizesartsfestival.org.uk/ for further details and booking information.  Of particular note are An Evening With Sally Barker (featuring the songs of Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny) at The Town Hall tomorrow (Saturday) 13th November, and a rousing finale dance night with Motown Gold next Friday 19th November.  Some tickets for both are still available.


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