A Wednesday lunchtime at Ronnie Scott’s.
The sun shining down on to dancefloor in the upstairs bar; a nice-looking drum kit tucked away at the back; an ice-cold beer, with some old friends, just after midday. Brilliant. It doesn’t get much better — and in conversation with Richard Williams was the critic Brian Case, ex-of the NME, Melody Maker and Time Out, and now happily retired, enjoying just listening to music or reading a book without having to strain for an adjective or a rush of adverbs.
Because of my line of work I’ve sat through a fair few literary readings or ‘in conversations’ in my time, mind wandering, trying to remember if I’d turned the oven off before I left, worrying about something ultimately irrelevant at work. But this was different: hugely engaging tales of a life in books and music, of picking Dexter Gordon up from Heathrow Airport in a battered old green van in the rain in 1971; of loving the simple speed of Johnny Griffin; of dealing with the razor-sharp wit of Ronnie (Scott) himself (and the bar’s staff during the venue’s heyday); of the ecstatic life-affirming nature of jazz, but also of ‘down’ writers like David Goodis.
The occasion was to mark the publication of On the Snap by Caught by the River books. The book itself is full of such yarns, the encounters around the pieces of journalism, rather than the journalism itself — hiding behind a breakfast counter of a Danish hotel to check out whether Tom Waits was a fake or not; celebrating the genius of Ian Dury’s rhyming slang; talking about great American writers with Norman Mailer. And on and on. It’s a slim volume, but with a huge canvas.
There are only a couple of jazz tracks in this show, but what beauties: Don Cherry live in Nantes in 1964 and, right at the end, Gerry Mulligan at the Newport Jazz festival in 1958. Serendipitously, it turns out Gerry Mulligan was one of the first jazzers caught live by a young, teenage Brian Case in Deptford.