A further Retrospective, by Brian Davis
In my previous overviews published in JARS since Ronnie's death, I have concentrated, mainly and understandably on Ronnie as leader. Thus, there were a few dates which I did not highlight, where his playing shone brightly from within another man's group. Four immediately come to mind, though in truth in two of them Ronnie had equal billing with the nominal leader.
During the latter months of 1951 and early '52, Esquire set up a number of dates featuring pianist Ronnie Ball's trio with guest soloists out front: Victor Feldman, Harry Klein and Ronnie Scott. Ronnie's date with Ball was in October '51 and takes us back to that period when the Stan Getz sound was uppermost in Ronnie's sphere of influence. He breathed his way lightly and quite beautifully through four titles, including an exquisite All Of Me and I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Pete Blannin and Tony Kinsey completing the trio. Incidentally, when Ronnie Ball emigrated to the States in 1952, Kinsey, in effect, took over the trio with Dill Jones replacing Ball.
Apart from the Esquire April '51 date with Ronnie and Spike Robinson, there were two further dates with an American on hand. The first in August '52 in Stockholm during a Scandinavian tour by Lena Horne with the Jack Parnell band (with Ronnie in the reed section) in attendance. Lena's accompanist, American pianist Arnold Ross, got together with Ronnie, Jimmy Deuchar, Derek Humble, Sammy Stokes and Jack himself, and recorded four excellent titles issued in Britain by Esquire on a long-forgotten EP. Well worth a listen ... if you can find it!
The third date with an American was back in Britain in June 1953, and in view of the draconian MU ruling of the time, it has always surprised me that Esquire was able to release this. Another pianist, this time ex-Sam Donahue Navy band sideman Rocky Coluccio, was back in Britain in an accompanying role at the Palladium. Four titles again, but collectors had the unique benefit of hearing two versions of each, as the two 78rpm discs had different takes to all four later issued on an EP. Coluccio varies far more than Ronnie from take to take, who is on sublime form throughout, wisely seeing little cause to improve from take to take upon his first offering. Although slipping back into soft light-toned mode this is peak Ronnie of the time; cool ballad artistry in How Am I To Know, alternating with powerful but light toned swing in Tangerine and Night And Day.
As mentioned before, the Tempo label also flew the flag for top British jazzmen of the time, not the least being Victor Feldman. Victor had nine Tempo dates in all, ranging from trios via quintets, sextets, nonets to full force big bands. Ronnie took part in a sextet and two big band sessions and I referred to his beautiful ballad rendition of I Surrender Dear in part of this series. In contrasting mood, his appearance in two tracks from a big band date in September '55 is noteworthy. Tubby Hayes and Ronnie share tenor duties, but due to the crowded solo rota of the all star line-up get only sixteen bars each in Victor's Big Top and around the same in the faintly Latin Maenya, but Dizzy Reece. It's fascinating to hear Ronnie take every possible advantage of these brief chances and blow up a storm, whereas, comparatively Tubby barely seems to get going!
Staying with Tempo, two further sessions, one in July '56 and another in the October, give us four more examples of Ronnie in this particular period when arguably he was committing to record some of the most forthright and fulsome jazz of his career. Added interest is to compare the styles of his two front line partners; the entirely ‘one off’ sound of trumpeter Dizzy Reece (whose date it was), and in the second, the equally inventive but utterly different approach of Jimmy Deuchar. Out Of Nowhere and the bebop standard Scrapple From The Apple have Ronnie and Dizzy absolutely flying, fuelled by the high octane of Terry Shannon, Lennie Bush and the mighty Phil Seamen. In the later date Ronnie 'led' Jimmy with Terry, Lennie and Allan Ganley in what was labelled as his 'new' quintet, but probably only new for the session as opposed to being a regular line up. Fairly short but swaggeringly confident readings of Speak low and I’ll Take Romance came out of this. The July date appeared each side of a Tempo EP, the October on a 78, both later reissued on, respectively, a Reece 12" LP and a Tempo anthology called appropriately Speak Low. Regretfully, I have to end somewhere, so what better than back with Ronnie as leader, but forward nine years? I have already commented on two of the mere five albums he recorded during his last three decades but a third, short-lived and entirely forgotten today, warrants attention. Fontana was the label, the whimsical titles The Night Is Scott And You're So Swingable, the album. One track with guitarist Emest Rangilin, Lennie Bush, Tony Crombie; four more with these guys, plus another first for Ronnie, the addition of a string section, and finally five items with Ronnie and the Club's rhythm section of the time, Stan Tracey, Rick Laird, Bill Eyden. What more can I say than Ronnie is peerless throughout, whether swinging as only he could with the club trio on Night Has A Thousand Eyes or the rapid fire Treat It Gentle, or as relaxation personified on Sweet Lotus Blossom with Ranglin? Then we hear him in caressing vein on the 'title' track (correctly entitled, of course) or with the discreet string backing on the beautiful What's New?, They Can't Convince Me and, would you believe, All About Ronnie. Indeed, this album is all about Ronnie; will we ever see a CD version I wonder?!
[This article first appeared in JARS Issue 111, March-April 1998]