Despite being a staple on London’s jazz scene since opening in 1959, it was this writer’s first visit to the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho. Being such an institution, it is hard not to arrive with great expectations, but from the moment you step in every part of the imagined scene is fulfilled. Red lamps, tea candles, photos of legends adorning the walls and even someone to lead you to your seats, sparing the awkward hunt for your seat in a dark room; it feels like something of a lost era. The only thing missing was a haze of cigarette smoke, but what can you do.
In front of a sold-out crowd, man of the hour Sean Khan was on stage before the lights came on testing the microphones, and so we were spared all theatrics as he was introduced. Suddenly illuminated, the humble frontman quickly introduced his three-piece band before diving straight in to a ferocious saxophone workout. When his lungs needed a rest during the first few songs, his pianist Andy Noble gladly stepped up to the plate, his face contorting constantly between deep concentration and sheer joy.
Soon the special guests began to surface. Heidi Vogel was the first to appear, filling every corner of the room with her voice. With every note, crystal clear through the club’s pristine sound system, she showed why she is one of jazz’s leading ladies, taking over Sabrina Malheiros’ vocal duties on ‘Sister Soul’ – standout on his recent album on Far Out Recordings – before going on to give her own take on ‘Afro Blue’ and even delivering a sublime example of Scat singing done just right. Rounding out each performance, Omar joined them on stage, first lending his vocals to Roy Ayers’ classic ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ as Khan made a well-received switch to the flute, and then rounding out the evening with the brilliant ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down’.
The true star of the show though was always Sean. Even when stepping back to allow the singers to take centre stage, he was a constant ball of jazz energy, twitching and jerking as he hit every note. He admits on the night that Ronnie Scott’s was a place he “couldn’t afford to get in to as a kid, and now [he’s] playing it!” Now that the first hurdle has been jumped, hopefully we’ll eventually see him on the walls of the club alongside many of his idols.