"Always Pack Your Uniform On Top" was recorded during a weeklong engagement in London at Ronnie Scott's Club, which has been a jazz institution since 1959, the year in which I began my career as an itinerant musician.
One of the criteria by which beboppers of a certain age measure their hipness is whether or not they hung out at the "old" Ronnie's on Gerrard Street; I did. The old club was cramped, dark and smoky - everything a jazz club of that era was expected to be. It was also welcoming to its patrons and accommodating to its musicians. The club moved to its present location on Frith Street in 1965. The new club sacrificed some of the charms of the old - it's less cramped, dark and smoky. But really not much changed in the move, or over the years. Ronnie's even without Ronnie, who died in 1996, is still a fine place in which to listen to music, and to play it.
I first played the club in the sixties with Art Farmer, Jim Hall and Pete (LaRoca) Sims. A BBC TV show of this band has recently resurfaced; it shows us looking sharp in our matching suits and paisley ties, and playing very well. I had recently learned to stay up all night and into the next morning, and London afforded a marvelous panoply of late night amusements. Pete and I, the kids of the band, were working our way systematically through them during the gig at Ronnie's, and we played the BBC show, which was taped about midday, still up and running from the night before. We'd stayed at Ronnie's until Ronnie himself ushered us to the sidewalk, which was bathed in dawn's first light. He paused to lock the club's front door and then walked us to our hotel. We ate a hearty English breakfast and then bought new shoes, so as to look our best for TV.
I subsequently played the club with Stan Getz, with Gary Burton in the late sixties and early seventies, and then, after a break of more than 20 years, with Paul Motian.
I returned with my quintet in April of 1999, during a tour of Europe. I was pleased to note that, despite Mr. Scott's absence, many of the same inmates I'd known for years were still in charge of the asylum, most notably Pete King, who ran the joint. By the time this recording was made, midway through the week, the band had drawn together nicely. We were wrapped up in each other's playing, comfortable on the bandstand. Attendance was brisk, Pete was happy, we took chances and had fun.