A musician buys a saxophone that belonged to a jazz hero

A JAZZ saxophonist from Henley bought an instrument that belonged to the founder of a famous jazz club in London who was one of his heroes.

Art Themen, of Wharfe Lane, paid an undisclosed sum for Ronnie Scott’s saxophone because the previous owner wanted the instrument well maintained.

The 82-year-old only plays him on special occasions, but those will include a performance at Henley next month.

Scott founded his jazz club in Soho in 1959 and it is still one of the most popular in the world.

After his death in 1996, the saxophone was sold at auction to Roger Baycock, the owner of the Allegro music store in Oxford, who sold it to Art in November.

The instrument is believed to have belonged to Hank Mobley, a black American saxophonist who died in 1986, before Scott owned it.

Art, who has been playing the saxophone since he was 16, first saw the instrument at the store more than 20 years ago. He said: “Roger Baycock had a showcase with Ronnie Scott’s saxophone and Tubby Hayes’ saxophone. These two instruments were not for sale and that was the end of this story.

“But on my birthday at the end of November, I got a call from a guy with a muffled voice and it was Roger d’Allegro.

“I told him I remember him and the saxophone and he told me he sold Tubby Hayes’ saxophone to what he thought was a good house.

“But the buyer sold it for a profit, so Roger said he wanted Ronnie Scott’s saxophone to go to a good house and he was calling saxophonists round.

“I asked him how much he called and I was first so I said I would get it because Ronnie Scott is one of my heroes.

“I actually played with him once in the 60s. I barely spoke to him, but he was definitely a hero of mine, so I just had to.

“Roger said he wasn’t here to make a profit so he sold it to me at the going rate for an instrument of that age.” Art, who lives with his partner Monnik Vleugels, said the saxophone was in perfect condition and he played it for the first time later the same day.

The retired orthopedic surgeon said: ‘I had a gig that night in Birmingham which was geographically quite convenient as the Oxford store was en route.

“Roger showed me the provenance. When Ronnie Scott died it was repossessed by Phillips, the auctioneers who put it up for sale and Roger made an offer.

“The provenance has ties to Hank Mobley, who was one of the greatest saxophonists.

“Towards the end of his life he was in a bad place and came to England and allegedly gave this saxophone to Ronnie.

“The provenance is that it’s definitely Ronnie Scott with a significant connection to Hank Mobley, who really lived the jazz life.

“I didn’t live the jazz life because of my previous job at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading – I had to keep my nose clean.” Art said he feared the instrument had deteriorated while it was in a lighted cabinet in the store, but far from it.

“I took it out and it was perfect,” he said. “I felt elated and that’s an understatement.”

The saxophonist will perform with the saxophone at the Kenton Theater in New Street on Sunday March 27 at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Manchester-born musician won the Worshipful Company of
The musicians.

Art said: “It was so unexpected that the people who received this award, including Ronnie Scott, are all established personalities.

“I’m basically a sideman, so for a sideman to receive this award is really very uplifting and exemplifies the broad church of the Worshipful Company of Musicians – they don’t just recognize the people center stage.”

Art was due to receive his award two weeks ago but had to postpone the presentation due to him
catching covid-19 and having to self-isolate.

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