For four years now, charismatic entertainer Michael Mwenso has been charged with leading “open stage” sessions at Ronnie’s. Starting in the upstairs bar as a weekly jam session – but soon graduating downstairs to exploit Ronnie Scott’s late licence, turning Monday-Thursday nights into the sophisticated “Late Show” – Mwenso has scatted, charmed and uproariously swung his way through night after night of inexorable jazz.
Ronnie’s is losing a host to Jazz at Lincoln Centre in New York, a move propagated by the great Wynton Marsalis. Mwenso will fulfil a role there to introduce and encourage a new demographic amongst audiences and performers, as well as programming for the centre – which will involve scouting for talent throughout the city (what a great job!) – and being involved in teaching and educating related to the Lincoln Centre’s “Essentially Ellington” competition and education program.
Last night – the final night of Mwenso’s residency at Ronnie’s – was buzzing with press, musicians and jazz fans alike, all turning out in force to bid farewell to this compelling character who has made the Late Show his own. The house band of Steve Brown, Adam King, Leon Greening and Mwenso himself, tore through classics such as Firefly, The Party’s Over, and Old Folks.
In the crowd and awaiting an invitation to play during the second set were a plethora of London jazzers, young and old, including Matt Home, James Pearson, Jonathan Gee, and Allison Neale.
As well as the faultless bop scatting and outstanding presentation skills, what always has impressed me about Mwenso has been his vast knowledge (who knew that Walter Booker shared military duties with Elvis Presley?!) and his unrelenting love and enthusiasm for jazz.
All of this serves to remind us why we won’t be forgetting Mwenso in a hurry.
The late show will continue four nights a week, led alternately by saxophonists Alex Garnett, Brandon Allen and Zhenya Strigalev.