Edinburgh to Ronnie Scotts – Becoming a Jazz Photographer
By David Sinclair
Artie Shaw, by DS.
I have always loved music. It started with my mother playing Boogie-Woogie and Chopin on a battered, upright piano at home in Craigmillar, Edinburgh. Then, whilst in hospital in London in my late teens, a fellow patient introduced me to his 78’s of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. I fell in love with the clarinet.
Since then, the Swing era, clarinet music, and klezmer, have always been high on my list of listening. Sadly to-day there are very few performers on the instrument, as most alto and tenor sax players tell me that it is rather difficult to play. I think they are wrong, I have a clarinet and it’s impossible to play.
David’s first, and favourite, image of Ronnie, 1989
My interest in photography arrived much later when, in the mid 1980’s, my wife Kathy bought me a Minolta 35mm as a birthday present. We spent weekends visiting and photographing old churches in the Surrey, Sussex and Kent. I much prefer black and white pictures to colour, and the churches were perfect for such work. I also visited car boot sales regularly, and one Sunday I came upon a stainless steel case which held a Rolleiflex 2.8, a Nikon 35mm body and 3 lenses, which I finally negotiated to a total price of £50!
Then, in the local village of Bletchingley, the school hall started performance evenings of actors, authors and musicians. I went with my camera to the first event, which was US Dixieland trumpeter Wild Bill Davison.
Cedar Walton, by DS. Cedar was playing at Ronnies the night that David and Ronnie first met.
Soon after, the Ronnie Scott Quintet played there. The photograph I took that night of Ronnie sitting unaware, shown here, is still one of my favourites. After printing it in my darkroom, I rang him at his club to ask if he would sign it. He said “Sure, bring it along”. He gave Kathy and I a table watching the jazz pianist Cedar Walton, and later signed the picture “To a Great Guy. Ronnie”. I was delighted, particularly as he felt I was a great guy…until next morning over my cornflakes and gazing starry eyed at the photo and the written blessing, I suddenly realised that the wording actually read “FROM a Great Guy.” Typical of Ronnie!
Don Weller & Art Themen
Meanwhile, Kathy and I started twice a week visits to the Bulls Head pub music room, in Barnes, by the River Thames in London. Great stuff, with the likes of Stan Tracey, Don Weller, Art Themen and Dick Morrissey. Very soon, the owner, Dan Fleming, had my photographs all round the walls of the room, and I began to feel like a Jazz Photographer. So much so in fact that I rang Ronnie Scotts, and wound up speaking to Pete King (the manager there since 1959), asking if I could come to the club to take photos, NO was his pointed reply – he always had a soft heart.
Pete King & Elvin Jones by DS.
A few months later, I was very surprised, and overjoyed, to get a call from Pete (I didn’t know he even knew my number), who in his charming fashion said “bring your bloody camera up if you want to.” I have now been photographing there for 25 years. From then on jazz photography became a major part of my life. Other clubs followed, and links across the music industry.
Len Skeat, Bassist and early Mentor, here in Ronnies 2002
Looking back on those early days I met many musicians, managers and promoters who supported me and have become good friends. But, above all, I am grateful to Len Skeat who, early on, was my mentor, introducing me into venues, and encouraging me with my work. I have much to thank him for.
As well as Ronnies, I enjoy visiting as many other London venues as I can, including the 606 Club, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Vortex, as well as many larger venues across the city such as the Barbican, Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. The London Jazz Festival is always a highlight of my year, not least because of my close relationship with everyone at Serious who produce the Festival.
David’s work remains all over the walls of Ronnies to this day. He still photographs there on occasion. See the “galleries” on this website for more of his 25+ years unique archive of jazz.
Andy Sheppard at Ronnies
Jon Hendricks at Ronnies
Mark Murphy at Ronnies
Mark Knopfler at Ronnies
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