2005-12-07

All That Jazz

Scottish jazz lovers have never had it so good -- that, at least, is the claim of a new 'BBC Radio Scotland' programme, 'All that Jazz'... Broadcast next week, the show began life when guitarist Mr.Martin Taylor was in Shetland with an Aberdeen-based producer, Ms.Claire White. The pair were making a documentary about the islands' famous guitarist, Peerie Willie Johnson, when the conversation turned to jazz.
'Martin got talking about the how vibrant the jazz scene in Scotland was,' Ms.White explains. 'My main interest is in folk music, but I could see what he was talking about. 'The more we thought about it, the more there seemed to be to going on -- "The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra" has never been better, there were lots of really good young musicians coming through, and the crossover between the folk and jazz scene was continuing. 'It seemed an ideal subject for a programme at this point.'
'All that Jazz' will feature interviews with Mr.Tommy Smith, Mr.Tom Bancroft, Mr.Richard Michael (director of the long-running 'Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra'), jazz promoter Ms.Fiona Alexander and London-based jazz critic Mr.John Fordham -- included to provide an outside perspective on the phenomenon.
'It does seem as though the jazz scene is where it is all happening creatively at the moment, and we wanted to try to reflect that in the programme,' says Ms.White.
Mr.Taylor, born near London but based in Ayrshire since 1980, is enthusiastic about developments on his adopted home turf. The emergence of a group of young Edinburgh-based musicians -- Mr.Smith, Mr.Brian Kellock, Mr.John Rae, Mr.Colin Steele, Mr.Kevin Mackenzie and twins Messrs.Phil and Tom Bancroft on to an otherwise rather moribund Scottish jazz scene in the mid-1980s sparked a creative rebirth that has gained momentum. With the exception of John Rae, whose recent departure for New Zealand is a big loss, all of them are still in Scotland and Taylor sees them as role models for musicians such as saxophonists Mr.Konrad Wiszniewski and Mr.Paul Towndrow, trumpeter Mr.Ryan Quigley or guitarist Mr.Graeme Stephen. The picture isn't all rosy. London remains a lure, and bassist Mr.Aidan O'Donnell and drummer Mr.John Blease have already made the move there. 'The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra' has compiled a remarkable list of musical achievements under the direction of Mr.Smith, both in classic jazz repertory projects and in commissioning exciting new music. The growth in jazz education, and the impact of groups such as 'The Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra' and 'The Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra' have all played a role in nurturing and developing raw talent. Kellock and Steele have won BBC UK Jazz Awards, and the creative side of Scottish jazz has been undeniably exciting, but there are still problems -- funding, venues, and performing opportunities for emerging players -- to address. One of the most important developments was the launch of 'Caber Music' in 1998, the record label run by Tom Bancroft which provided an outlet for a range of innovative musicians to spread their music beyond Scotland. Sadly, 'Caber' has foundered, and no longer functions as an active recording outlet. Smith has his own label, 'Spartacus Records', but, apart from two discs by his former wife, saxophonist Ms.Laura Macdonald, it is dedicated to his own music and that of the SNJO. The situation for live music is also patchy. 'Assembly Direct', Scotland's leading jazz promoters, have recently moved to 'The Lot' in the Grassmarket. Mr.Roger Spence, the co-director with Ms.Fiona Alexander, says that the venue has not really taken off. 'Bill Kyle's Jazz Bar' is now back in business in the capital, and the new Mr.Jools Holland-backed 'Jam House' will also have an impact. Aberdeen has a regular jazz club and a good annual jazz festival, but activity is more sporadic in Glasgow, which still lacks a venue that would provide a focal point for jazz. All of that points to something of a lull in the upward progress that Scottish jazz has enjoyed, and it may be that we will look back on the past five years or so as a vintage period. Then again, optimists will take the view that it is merely the prelude to further progress.
'All that Jazz' is on BBC Radio Scotland, 2005-12-13, Tuesday 11:30am, and again on 2005-12-14, Wednesday 12:30am. 'It does seem the jazz scene is where it is all happening at the moment...', Kenny Mathieson, The Scotsman, 2005-12-07

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