30 November 2020Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to live-stream special anniversary concert
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra begins its year-long twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations with a specially curated concert, live-streamed from Perth Concert Hall, on Saturday 5th December.
Founded in 1995 by saxophonist and musical director Tommy Smith OBE, the orchestra has collaborated with a who’s who of jazz, from British luminaries Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth to American stars Peter Erskine, Gary Burton, John Scofield and Joe Lovano.
Its extensive concert history has included tributes to Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck and has featured new works drawing on the classical and Scottish traditions as well as furthering the jazz big band canon.
The many highlights over the ensemble’s quarter-century have seen performances at world-renowned London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s and at leading jazz festivals in the UK, Norway, France and the U.S. There have also been enthusiastic reviews on both sides of the Atlantic for albums such as American Adventure and The Culloden Moor Suite, which featured its composer, Scottish tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins as lead soloist.
“We’ve always created opportunities for new, young talents, as well as working with well-established names, and this concert will put the spotlight on three such musicians,” says Tommy Smith. “Trombonists Anoushka Nanguy and Liam Shortall were winners at the recent Scottish Jazz Awards – Anoushka winning the Rising Star title and Liam winning Best Album and Best Band with his group Corto.Alto – and Kieran MacLeod has a great future as an arranger.”
The concert, for which tickets will be available to book on the SNJO’s website, follows a series of YouTube video releases designed to maintain contact with the orchestra’s audience while live performances have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Like musicians all over the world, we’ve had to reschedule our concert programme, and reschedule it again over the past eight months,” says Smith. “So we’ve released videos with some of our special guests - singers Jazzmeia Horn, Kenny Washington and Kurt Elling and New York vibes virtuoso Joe Locke - to remind our audience what we sound like. The essence of jazz, however, is creating music in the moment and we want this live-stream to give people as close to the live jazz experience as possible. We’ll be observing social distance regulations so we'll be further apart than usual but at the same time relaying the immediacy and intimacy of a jazz concert.”
Tommy Smith conducts the SNJO (photo by Derek Clark)
29 November 2020"Jazz jargonbuster" Richard Michael joins Jazz London Radio
Award-winning pianist, orchestra director, jazz educator, composer and broadcaster, Richard Michael is joining Jazz London Radio to present a monthly feature called It’s All About Music.
With almost fifty years’ involvement as director of Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra and a long career as head of music at Beath High School in Cowdenbeath, in Fife, Michael has developed extensive skills as a communicator and talent developer.
He has been influential in bringing forward many of Scotland’s young jazz musicians, including Fergus McCreadie, Helena Kay and Calum Gourlay and his talent as a pianist, allied to his easy rapport with an audience, has allowed him to create a series of recitals on The History of Jazz Piano. Covering the stride style through to Keith Jarrett, his presentation won a Herald Angel during the Edinburgh festivals season in 2010.
Since 2007, Michael has appeared on successive BBC Radio Scotland jazz programmes as the “Jazz Jargonbuster”, revealing how jazz works to thousands of listeners. He also runs an annual summer school, is Honorary Professor of Jazz Piano at the University of St Andrews and played a major role in the development of the ABRSM jazz Piano Syllabus. He currently runs a ”virtual” FYJO with members from the length of the UK, teaches improvisation on the Nicola Benedetti Foundation and is working on a book and DVD called Jazz Piano for Kids for Hal Leonard Inc.
It’s All About Music will occupy a fifteen-minute segment of Jazz London Radio’s Jazz Then and Now programme, hosted by trumpeter and bandleader Chris Hodgkins. The first instalment, covering the walking bass, will go out on December 30 at 3pm and will be followed by facets of jazz including Latin Feel, Swing Groove, Gospel, Boogie Woogie, Scat and Ragtime.
26 November 2020Top singer Tina May sings the Duncan Lamont songbook on new disc
Featuring a collection of songs written by Scottish musician and composer Duncan Lamont, the album is full of the character and wit that Lamont, who died in July 2019, brought to his work as an astute observer of places and people.
Originally a trumpet player, Lamont left his hometown, Greenock for London in the 1950s, and like many other musicians of the time, he worked his passage on transatlantic liners, by now playing saxophone in the ships’ orchestras so that he could experience the jazz scene in New York while on shore leave.
He not only learned from the musicians he heard on these trips, going on to play with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, Count Basie and Sir Paul McCartney among other top line stars, he also got ideas for songs.
Natalie Cole recorded A Great Day in Harlem on her Ask A Woman Who Knows album. Dame Cleo Laine sang Not You Again at Carnegie Hall and recorded many other Lamont compositions. And the legendary Hollywood dancer-actor-singer Fred Astaire personally endorsed the song Duncan wrote for and about him. Duncan wrote a song every day and left a huge portfolio of material from which Tina May has chosen fourteen for the album, which she produced with Duncan’s sons, Ross and Duncan Jnr.
“Every time I sing a jazz standard like Midnight Sun or More Than You Know, I think of Duncan because these songs were of the quality that he aimed for in his own writing,” says Tina May. “And he very often succeeded because he was such a perfectionist. There’s a least one song on the album that had two different sets of lyrics because Duncan kept tinkering and improving on what he’d written.”
The album features May with the house trio from Ronnie Scott’s - pianist James Pearson, bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Chris Higginbottom – with valuable contributions from trombonist Mark Nightingale, percussionist Phil Hopkins and accordionist Karen Street.
The songs include Lamont’s wry look at the march of big-time developers on 52nd Street itself, a tribute to the great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim and English Folk Song, whose lyrics were written by Spike Milligan.
24 November 2020Dutch drummer's dreams come true with solo album
Dutch drummer-percussionist Joost Lijbaart realises a life-long ambition with the release of his first solo album, Free, on November 30th.
Known internationally for his work with saxophonist Yuri Honing’s trio and quartet over the past twenty-five years, and more recently for leading the ambient improvising voice-guitar-percussion trio Under the Surface, Lijbaart devoted six months during lockdown in Amsterdam to writing and recording the album.
“I love working with Yuri’s group and with Sanne [Rambags - singer] and Bram [Stadhouders – guitarist] in Under the Surface,” he says. “But for a long, long time I’ve wondered what it would be like to create something where I play all the instruments myself. So, I gathered lots of drums, tuned percussion, harmonium, vibraphone and much more, and got to work.”
All the compositions on the album are Lijbaart’s own, some being quite short but others, including the opening Strangers from the Sky, bordering on the comparatively epic. It’s very atmospheric in style and very considered but there are also passages where Lijbaart opens up his kit and rocks with considerable effervescence.
“The whole experience became what I’d describe as a journey inside,” he says. “Composing and recording the album gave me deeper insights about myself as a drummer but also as a man and as a human being. And of course, I was confronted with my own influences; classical percussion, my hero drummers, music from around the world, which also feeds into Under the Surface, and more. I’m really happy with the way it turned out.”
05 November 2020Elling finds Somewhere to shine with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
The stars align on the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s new video. With music by one of America’s greatest composers, Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by master wordsmith Stephen Sondheim, Somewhere is a classic vehicle for one of the most distinctive and most beautifully toned singers of the current age, Kurt Elling.
Written for the multi-award-winning romantic musical drama West Side Story, the song was selected by Elling and SNJO director Tommy Smith to represent Love and Beauty in Synopticon, the critically acclaimed song cycle depicting human emotions, virtues and experiences.
The video is being released on Remembrance Sunday, November 8, to acknowledge the song’s message of reconnecting with a loved one.
“Like all poetry, everyone has their own interpretation of a lyric,” says Tommy Smith. “We chose this release date so that when the nation unites this weekend to remember and honour the fallen and those we have lost, no-one is forgotten.”
Following on from Elling and the orchestra’s enthusiastically received Courage: Jeep on 35°, also taken from the Syntopicon series of concerts, Somewhere is a superb example of a singer and instrumental ensemble working together in harmony and common purpose in a live setting.
From the simply executed introduction by pianist Steve Hamilton, who carefully follows the score’s musical instructions to keep the opening statement pure, the performance is brilliantly considered. Elling’s clear, mahogany-toned singing brings out the poetry of Sondheim’s yearning lyric and both Hamilton and alto saxophonist Ru Pattison improvise with expression and creativity in keeping with the song’s sentiment and New York pianist Geoffrey Keezer’s apposite, warm brassy arrangement.
“This is the fourth video we’ve released during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Tommy Smith of the recording which was made at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. “The idea behind these releases is that they help us to stay in touch with our audience while we are unable to give live performances. But this one, like Courage: Jeep on 35° and its predecessors with the marvellous young Texan Jazzmeia Horn and New York vibes virtuoso Joe Locke, is also a reminder of the resources we have in our concert catalogue. It’s a great performance by Kurt and an illustration of the understanding we have developed together over a series of collaborations.”
Somewhere will be available on the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s YouTube channel from 9:00am UK time, Sunday 8th November.
Kurt Elling (photo by Derek Clark)
27 October 2020Pianist Brian Kellock spearheads new label launch
Award-winning Scottish pianist Brian Kellock spearheads the UK launch on 30th October of New Zealand-based Thick Records, with two of the label’s three initial releases featuring the Edinburgh-born, Glasgow-based Kellock’s talents.
The launch is built around Think About It! - the long overdue follow-up to Kellock and his trio’s 2002 BBC Jazz Award-winning album, Live at Henry’s – and includes two albums by label owner and drummer, John Rae.
Rae’s trio, with Kellock and Kiwi bassist Patrick Bleakley, features on Where the Wild Clematis Grow, whose six tracks include three Rae originals and a highly individual take on Artie Shaw’s Nightmare. Rae, who moved to Wellington in the late noughties, also celebrates his Scottish roots on Uncouth and Without Form, with a new band formed in the cultural slipstream of his popular and critically acclaimed Celtic Feet.
Kellock has earned an international reputation for his work with, among other notable names, saxophonists Herb Geller, Joe Temperley and Scott Hamilton, trumpeters Warren Vache and Red Rodney, singer Sheila Jordan and Australian multi-instrumentalist James Morrison.
His long-time partnership with fellow Scot, saxophonist Tommy Smith has produced three duo albums and work with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra that includes Rhapsody in Blue Live, for which Smith rearranged the Gershwin classic especially for Kellock as the featured soloist, and In the Spirit of Duke, with Kellock taking the Ellington role.
The piano-bass-drums format, and particularly his trio with Rae on drums and Kenny Ellis on bass, has a special place in Kellock’s affections, however.
“I’ve known John since around 1982 or 1983 and we got on really well from the start, both on- and off-stage” says Kellock. “We’ve played in each other’s bands and worked together in other people’s bands and have always had a good musical understanding.”
With bassist Ellis, Kellock and Rae formed the rhythm section of the John Rae Collective, a group that featured trumpeter Colin Steele, saxophonist Phil Bancroft and guitarist Kevin Mackenzie and that, along with their contemporary, Tommy Smith, represented a resurgence in Scottish jazz during the mid to late 1980s.
For John Rae, Kellock is the ideal musician to lead his label’s launch.
“Brian’s such an extraordinary musician and yet, after all this time, he’s still an artist deserving wider recognition,” he says. “It’s no wonder that people like Herb Geller or Sheila Jordan have made him their accompanist of choice. But for me, what makes him so special to work with, apart from his outrageous virtuosity and fantastic knowledge of the jazz repertoire, is that I always know he’ll be committed to the concept, regardless of the consequences.”
The Thick Records releases are all available to download-only. Rae thought long and hard about the “to CD or not to CD” question and arrived at the decision to go digital when he realised that he had no CD slot anywhere – neither in his house nor in his car or computer – and found that a lot of people are in the same situation.
“I have boxes and boxes of CDs in my garage that I don’t play but I’ve probably listened to the music on most of them through downloading or streaming,” he says. “It boils down to the music, not whatever the music’s stored on, being what’s important and I’m happy that the standard of the music we’re making available is high.”
BK3 - John Rae, Brian Kellock, Kenny Ellis (photo by Louis DeCarlo)
27 October 2020Musician Steve Hamilton reveals what lies Between the Lines
Pianist and keyboards player Steve Hamilton has used the enforced inactivity of lockdown to record his first solo album, Between the Lines, with friends including guitar virtuoso, Martin Taylor MBE dropping by to guest on selected tracks.
The album’s release coincides with a period of recuperation for Hamilton following surgery to remove his right kidney after a tumour was found during a CT scan for another problem that has since been cleared up.
“I went into hospital on September 25th and had the kidney removed along with the tumour and hopefully any traces of it from my body,” says the musician who studied at Berklee School of Music and toured the world before returning to live in Stirling. “It seems we found it early enough to hope for a clear outcome moving forward.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic began to take its effect on live music, Hamilton had international tours with his regular employer, drumming legend Billy Cobham, as well as all his other bookings, cancelled. Having appeared on more than forty recordings by luminaries including drummer Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, saxophonists Peter King and Tommy Smith and guitarist Tony Remy, he felt this was an ideal opportunity to release an album of his own.
A hugely experienced musician whose CV also includes work with jazz legends Ray Charles, Freddie Hubbard and Pee Wee Ellis, Hamilton grew up in a musical family. His father, Laurie was a professional guitarist and was always on hand to share advice and musical discoveries.
Between the Lines is dedicated to Laurie, who died in 2013, and features Martin Taylor MBE and saxophonist Paul Booth, whose quartet Hamilton plays in. Guitarists Don Paterson and Davie Dunsmuir, Hamilton’s colleague from the Billy Cobham Band, also made stellar contributions.
Most of the material was written, often on the spot, by Hamilton alone or with his guests. Opening track Awakening explores the textures and tones available with the latest keyboard technology. The ballad Ealasaid, dedicated to Martin Taylor’s wife, Elizabeth, was created spontaneously by Hamilton and Taylor. For the powerful, atmospheric In a Flash of Light, Hamilton invited Davie Dunsmuir to add electric guitar to his keyboard and rhythm track, and Paul Booth’s tenor saxophone brought out the yearning quality of From the Embers.
Long-time friend Don Paterson, who is better known as one the UK’s leading poets, contributed his trademark filigree guitar picking to Look Up. Paterson’s evocative composition Nijinsky, which first appeared during his time with Celtic-jazz group Lammas in the 1990s, has always fascinated Hamilton and inspires a searching improvisation here. Paterson was also the source of the arrangement of Robert Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss which closes the album with a mood of poignancy.
“I really enjoyed the process of making the album,” Hamilton says. “I didn’t set out with any particular aim or sound in mind. Of course, I didn’t expect to be undergoing life-saving surgery once the recording was finished but I’m beginning to do some exercise, like slow walking, and I’m looking forward to getting back into some kind of musical action again. I’m just so grateful to my NHS consultant and the whole team who looked after me. They were all amazing.”
You can donate to the GoFundMe campaign that’s been set up to help Steve Hamilton here
Between the Lines is available on Bandcamp
19 October 2020The Scottish Jazz Awards 2020 winners announced
The Scottish Jazz Awards 2020 have honoured musicians across the generations, with Glasgow’s young scene winning the Best Album, Best Instrumentalist, Best Vocalist, and Best Band titles, as well as the Rising Star Award.
Trombonist Liam Shortall’s corto.alto won Best Band and Best Album (for Live from 435 Vols 1, 2 and 3, Katie Doyle. Who sings under the stage name Kitti, took the Best Vocalist prize. Pianist Fergus McCreadie won Best Instrumentalist and trombonist-singer Anoushka Nanguy was voted Rising Star of the year.
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to drummer and band-leader Ken Mathieson, whose contribution to the scene includes his internationally regarded Classic Jazz Orchestra, programming the inaugural Glasgow Jazz Festival in 1987 and playing a crucial role in bringing top-flight American musicians to Scotland through his involvement in the Black Bull Jazz Club in Milngavie during the 1970s and early 1980s.
The full list of awards and sponsors is:
Rising Star Award sponsored by Musicians’ Union - Anoushka Nanguy
Best Vocalist Award sponsored by Whighams Jazz Club - Kitti
Best Instrumentalist Award sponsored by ESP Music Rentals - Fergus McCreadie
Best Band Award sponsored by Love Supreme Festival - corto.alto
Best Album Award sponsored by Birnam CD – corto.alto Live From 435 Vols 1, 2 & 3
Services To Scottish Jazz Award sponsored by Ticketmaster – Rob Adams
Lifetime Achievement Award in association with Help Musicians Scotland – Ken Mathieson
The awards are organised by Glasgow Jazz Festival and supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.
02 October 2020Edition Records announces pre-order exclusives for new Fergus McCreadie album
Leading European record label Edition Records has opened a mailing list for fans of outstanding young Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie to sign up for pre-order exclusive offers in anticipation of McCreadie’s second album, Cairn.
The album, which follows McCreadie’s Parliamentary Jazz Awards and Scottish Jazz Award-winning debut, Turas is due for release in January and fans are being given the opportunity to reserve signed and numbered copies of the CD and LP.
McCreadie signed to Edition Records this spring and the album has been recorded and photo sessions for the artwork have taken place.
“We're so excited to share this new music,” says McCreadie. “We're very proud of the result.”
Fergus McCreadie Trio (photo by Dave Stapleton)
10 September 2020Pianist McCreadie's trio returns to live performance with Leeds gig
Multi-award-winning pianist Fergus McCreadie’s trio returns to live performance in front of an audience with two concerts for Leeds Jazz, at Seven Arts at 7pm and 8:45pm, on Thursday October 29.
The trio, like musicians around the world, had live concerts curtailed in March and although McCreadie has been giving live-streamed concerts, he has missed the interaction with an audience on which musicians thrive.
“Our last gig was on March 5 in Altrincham and we didn’t think for a minute for that we would be inactive for this long,” says McCreadie, who signed to leading European label Edition Records earlier this year and will release the follow-up to his Parliamentary Jazz Award-winning album, Turas, in January. “We managed to do a live-stream together from our drummer, Stephen Henderson’s house, before stricter rules came into force. I think that one caught some of the spirit we create on actual gigs but there’s no substitute for being onstage and feeling the audience’s presence and support.”
McCreadie went on to play solo live-streams, including one for the massive Love Supreme festival, where the trio was due to appear in July, and another for Sheffield Jazz, which hosted one of the trio’s last gigs before lockdown. His Tuesday solo streams also attracted a strong following.
“It was good to keep in touch with people that way, even if you could only tell they were out there from the comments feed on Facebook,” says McCreadie. “Part of the Love Supreme stream was broadcast on Jazz FM, so that was also good from the point of view of reaching an audience.”
Ahead of the Leeds concerts, the trio will play a live-stream as part of Edinburgh jazz collective Playtime’s new online concert programme on Thursday September 17. Broadcast from Pathhead Village Hall, just outside Edinburgh, this will enable the musicians to play together in the same room with social distancing and as it’s part of a weekly series, including fellow pianists Dave Milligan and Brian Kellock, there will be a sense of being involved again in the jazz scene.
“We’re really looking forward to both the Playtime and the Leeds concerts,” says McCreadie. “We’ve had to postpone a lot of gigs this year – everyone has – so we’re hoping that it won’t be too long now before we can get back to playing live regularly.”
Fergus McCreadie (photo by Dave Stapleton)