It’s been one year since Ronnie Scott’s, one of the world’s most famous jazz clubs, took possession of a brand new, specially commissioned double bass. Few bass players travel with a bass these days and the idea was simple; Ronnie’s wanted to be able to offer visiting musicians the very best in-house equipment possible, in order to facilitate the very best performances possible. But as you would expect from a club with such high values, it was no usual bass. The club had commissioned a remarkable bespoke bass made by one of the UK’s finest bass makers and utilising the very finest raw materials.
Crucially, the instrument was modelled on the original Amati bass given to jazz legend Ray Brown (who performed at the club many times) by his one-time wife Ella Fitzgerald. The Amati were an Italian family of string instrument makers active in the 16th to 18th centuries, who, like the Stradivarius and Guarneri families, were makers of exceptionally high repute and as such, Ray Brown’s Amati bass was noted for its unique timbre and sound. That bass is still in existence today, currently belonging to David Longenecker who plays with the Toronto Philharmonic.
Ronnie Scott’s bespoke bass is no less of a work of art. Made from the very highest quality tonewood and covered in eight coats of varnish, the bass had taken over nine months to produce from scratch by renowned London-based instrument maker, Laurence Dixon. Laurence had been in regular contact with Longenecker to replicate key unique characteristics of the bass such as the ‘f’ holes, machine heads and the neck ‘scroll’.
“As soon as the idea came up” says Laurence, “we all knew that we had to make it happen. I know the world’s greatest musicians play at the club, so it deserves to have an instrument of the highest quality – It was quite something to work on a project where there was more than profit or vanity at stake”.
Stentor, a worldwide leading manufacturer and distributor of high quality orchestral stringed instruments, were intrigued and excited by the idea of Ronnie’s commissioning such a fine instrument, so were delighted to donate the all important high grade tonewood – top grade spruce, beautiful maple, and ebony for the fingerboard- that the commission demanded. Over the past 20 years Stentor has regularly supported musicians and performances, continuing a musical tradition that started over 100 years ago.
Ronnie’s took possession of the bass in November 2012 in time for the week long run by the Mingus Big Band – arguably the greatest big band of them all, performing music of jazz’s greatest bass legend Charles Mingus. Though a beautiful, elegant model – powerful, but with a sweetness to suit the intimacy of the club, they were suitably nervous; would it be good enough?! Bassist Boris Kozlov played the instrument for just 2 minutes, loved it and used it for all 12 shows.
One year on, and the bass has been played and acclaimed by a wealth of visiting musicians including jazz master bassist Ron Carter “nice fiddle man”, and Kyle Eastwood, all under the watchful eye of Ronnie Scott’s bassist Sam Burgess. The bespoke bass is now ’played-in’ and a complete success. And as the instrument’s creator muses…” I often think of an evening, (to misquote an old standard),’I wonder who’s playing her now!’”
Ronnie Scott’s, 47 Frith Street, Soho, W1