Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

Formed in 1995, under the tirelessly committed and confident direction of saxophonist Tommy Smith, SNJO has developed into a world class ensemble capable of playing the classic big band music of Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Kenton and Herman with tremendous style and authority.

Celebrations of jazz masters from Mingus, Monk, Miles and Coltrane through to Wayne Shorter, Oliver Nelson, Chick Corea, Ray Charles and Pat Metheny have underlined the orchestra’s ease of mobility across the broader jazz canon. And commissioning and creating bold and ambitious new work such as the visionary English composer Keith Tippett’s Autumn and Smith’s own World of the Gods, the world’s first collaboration between jazz big band and Japanese taiko drumming, have confirmed SNJO’s determination to continue jazz’s spirit of adventure.

Smith’s re-orchestration of Rhapsody in Blue took George Gershwin’s Jazz Age concerto on a previously unimagined twenty-first century adventure, providing a platform for the irrepressible Scottish pianist Brian Kellock’s flamboyant skills and unleashing the fiery individual creativity that comes as standard in a SNJO performance. It has since been followed on CD by Smith’s own composition Torah, originally written for Joe Lovano but featuring Smith in a tour de force of saxophone expression within an orchestral framework of outstanding quality and vigour.

The many internationally regarded musicians and composers with whom SNJO has worked have endorsed The Times’ assessment. Vibes virtuoso Gary Burton, Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine, top American saxophonists Joe Lovano, David Liebman and Bobby Watson, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, drummer Gary Novak, and guest directors including the Gil Evans of our times, Maria Schneider, German composer Florian Ross and American pianist Geoffrey Keezer have all heaped praise upon the orchestra.

A Scottish national jazz orchestra was mooted and indeed might have been possible long before SNJO came into being. Since the music’s early days Scotland has been producing jazz musicians capable of working in refined circles but forced by economic realities to move beyond Scotland. In 1938, a young trombonist from Glasgow called George Chisholm recorded with Fats Waller and unwittingly began a supply line that has continued unabated.

From Chisholm’s bandmate, Ayrshire-born trumpeter Tommy McQuater, who worked with Benny Carter shortly after Chisholm’s experience with Waller, through to Fife-born Joe Temperley, who currently occupies the baritone saxophone chair in Wynton Marsalis’s renowned Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, having previously worked with Duke Ellington, Woody Herman and Buddy Rich, Scots have made their mark in jazz.

Tommy Smith himself had joined the exodus that had also included trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar, saxophonists Bobby Wellins and Tommy Whittle and guitarist Jim Mullen when he went to study at Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music as a teenager and wound up touring the world as a member of Gary Burton’s group.

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