‘Taint What you Smoke, It’s the Way That you Smoke it

Ronnie_Scott

Ronnie Scott’s  jazz club in London’s Soho  is probably the most famous jazz club in the world. But before Ronnie settled down to became a responsible business man, he was one of Britain’s finest jazz musicians.

I go further:  he was considered by the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie to be one of the top tenor sax players in the world.

But back in the 1950’s,  before he became a sober,  down-to-earth jazz club owner,  Ronnie was a wild, tearaway.   Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” was a choirboy by comparison..  It was smoke–everything-drink-everything- snort-everything and even inject everything – kind of life. It was all-night jam sessions either with other musicians – or with women.

Ronnie’s best friend was Charlie Short,  a superb bass player (he  became a featured bass man in the Ted Heath band) who was as wild as Ronnie.  When high, which was most of the time, Charlie had a way of dreaming up crazy fantasies which would percolate through his highly charged up brain into fact.  Amazingly,  he possessed the kind of  personality that was capable of persuading others around him to actually go along with  these wild mental excursions of his.

For example playing a gig with a local band in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, he suddenly dreamed up the notion that there was buried treasure under the sand of Cowes beach.  And he managed to convince the band he was gigging with for the night.

So that at one o’clock of a Sunday morning, had you been walking your dog along the prom or something,  you would have been greeted with the sight of  seven guys with dinner jackets off, bow ties akimbo, madly digging holes in the beach while Charlie was marching up and down busily engaged in assessing the angle his shadow as it fell across the beach in the bright moonlight, which was somehow an integral factor to this crazy search for the cache of pirate gold Doubloons he felt sure – but for one night only – was buried beneath the Isle’s golden sand.

In those days, Ronnie rode around on a huge, very powerful Norton International motor bike. It was after giving his pal Charlie a lift on the pillion of this noisy monster that the idea hit Charlie.

The next day he called on Ronnie at his little flat, and as they proceeded to get high on some fine Mexico Green,  Charlie presented his latest idea.

Ronnie must enter the Isle of Man TT motor cycle race.

He told Ronnie he was sure he would win because even though he would be up against some of the finest motor cyclists in the world, Ronnie had a secret that would guarantee him victory.  The secret was a handful of uppers followed by smoking a joint of Bechuhana Gold, which Charlie assured Ronnie would afford him the perfect high for winning the race.

The way he saw it, these other cyclists were just a bunch of squares. “Their cornball minds will only work at a normal rate,” he explained to Ronnie.  He went on to explain,  that Ronnie’s mind,  on the other hand,  charged up with this mind- dazzling intake of pills plus Bechuhana’s finest would be racing twice as fast as all the  others in the race.

“You’ll be able to control your bike at speeds these squares would never imagine.  Treacherous corners,  difficult turns:  man, they will be as nothing to you because of your super speed mind.  “Man, you cannot lose” he assured Ronnie.  “We are set to make a fortune. You’ll be world famous”.

Ronnie fell for it.

And that is how,  on the Isle of Man, on the day of the famous TT race, with all the world’s finest racing motor cyclists, there, on the back row stood ‘R. Scott, from Great Britain’.  Standing next to him in a clean, white overall was his ‘engineer’ Mr Charles Short.

Ten minutes before the race was scheduled to start,  chief engineer Mr Short asked R. Scott from Great Britain if he could see him privately.  They found a spot out of sight of the riders and officials where Mr Short ‘engineered’ the brain of  R. Scott from Great Britain, with a handful of uppers plus a joint of Bechuhana  gold and a swig of whiskey to help the medicine go down. Ronnie returned to his bike stoned out of his skull.

Now all the bikes were busy revving their engines prior to the starting flag.

The way Ronnie told it to me: “The flag came down and we were off.  In a very short time I was whizzing along at a dazzling speed.  I knew I was ahead of everybody. There wasn’t another racer in sight. ‘Christ, I’ve done it’ I thought . Charlie was right. Wow”.

He went on:  “I swung the bike round a bend to see a guy with a flag waving me down.   As I got off my bike I said to him,  “Phew, that was one hell of a race. Have I won”?

“No” the official said. “You have been disqualified for not having exceeded 35 miles an hour! “

 

Advertisements

Danny Kaye: factual or fictional

Danny Kay was a Hollywood superstar. He had been a star on Broadway before making it big in the movies. His performances in “The Court Jester”, “Hans Christian Andersen” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” rocketed him into superstardom.

He really was a brilliantly funny comedian, a good singer and dancer – in fact everything a Hollywood funny man should be.

So it was quite a surprise when he came to Johannesburg to do his stage show.  And like every other famous personality who ever visited the golden city, he came to Ciro’s night club where I was pianist/band leader.

It was my belief that when a big star came into the club we should never make a big deal out of it.  I always thought that he or she is there to relax out of the glare of the spotlight.

After the first shock of surprise at seeing this famous film star, I was in for an even bigger one.  About  an hour after he had arrived, Danny suddenly climbed up on to our little stage to stand behind me as I was playing. He put his hands on my shoulders as he bent down to whisper in my ear “You play good piano”.  When we had finished the number, he said to me “Do you know ‘Ballin’ the Jack?”

This was an old jazz tune, composed by Jelly-Roll Morton (who, by the way, claimed he invented jazz, but was unknown outside his native New Orleans). Danny Kaye must have heard it somehow and his recording of it became a big hit.

As I started to play it, he moved from behind me to front and centre on the stage and grabbing the microphone, to the delight of the audience, sang it and even did a crazy little dance while I played an instrumental chorus.

After that we became friends – especially after I had persuaded a surgeon friend of mine to allow him to assist in an operation – something he had always wanted to do. He told me it was his life-long wish to be a surgeon, but his family was too poor to pay for any special schooling.

As Ciro’s club closed on Sundays and of course, he was not on stage that night, Danny, myself and two other friends went to The Stork Club, the only club which stayed open on Sundays.

Danny regaled us with a hundred tales about various incidents in his life – some sad, but,  because he was a brilliant impersonator and a natural comedian, most of them hilariously funny.

The Stork club had a pretty 20 year-old gal, in a figure-hugging dress who would wander around the club taking pictures of the guests, many of whom would pay good money for the photos.

We were having a great time. Danny was doing a very funny impersonation of a German film producer and the ham-fisted way he tried to date Marlene Dietrich, when this sweet kid took a photo of him.  Danny did not stop his very funny saga, as the camera flashed. He went on with it  as he got out of his seat and went round the table to where the little camera gal was standing.

What happened then occurred at lightning speed. He grabbed the girl’s camera and threw it hard down on the floor, smashing it in pieces. Then his left hand flashed out to grab her hair and with his other hand, thwack, thwack, he hit her hard round the face first with his open hand and then the back of it.  Still holding her hair he then pushed the semi-dazed little chick down on to a chair.

Taking his seat again, he explained in the frozen silence that followed,  “She made a mistake” he said. “She thought she was taking a picture of Danny Kaye. She wasn’t.  Because Danny Kaye exists only on the stage or in a movie. The moment he leaves the stage, Danny Kaye evaporates and becomes the guy he really is: Danny Kaminsky. That’s me folk.  The tough kid from ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ in New York. And no-one takes  pictures of Danny Kaminsky without first asking”.

Turning to the girl photographer – who was now crying – he peeled off £100  (the equivalent of £1,000 today) which he gave her,  saying,  “If you want to take a shot of Danny Kaye come to the theatre tomorrow. Right now I am Danny Kaminsky and he don’t like people taking his photo”.

The party broke up pretty quickly after that.

In subsequent conversations with him, I found him to be a very complicated guy: deeply frustrated by having been too poor to follow his deeply-held  wish to become a surgeon: a man who loved children and gave a lot of his time – and money – to helping them.  But a rough, tough guy and someone unable to rid himself of the violence and the gang warfare he grew up with on the mean streets of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ in New York City.

So when you fall about laughing at Danny Kaye in say, ‘The Court Jester’,  remember – you are watching a non-existent person: a figment of the imagination of tough, street-wise, but brilliantly talented Danny Kaminsky.

images-11