FEATURE THE SCOTTISH JAZZ SCENE
Jazz in Scotland has been in expansionist mode since the lean years of the early 80s. Kenny Mathieson senses an optimistic mood on the upwardly-mobile Scottish scene.
that they are copycats. Of course you have to start out playing like someone else. You have a model, or a teacher, and you learn all that he can show you. But then you start playing for yourself. Show them that you’re an individual. i can count those who are doing that today on the lingers of one hand.’
To anyone with even a casual acquaintance with the jazz scene, that will be a common complaint. The current generation of jazz musicians is frequently accused of being neo4 traditionalist, content to recycle the work of its elders and betters, and this is just another attack on the Marsalis generation, right?
Wrong. The speaker is the great Lester Young. sounding off to Downbeat back in 1949 about the generation which included Charlie Parker. Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk. Bud Powell - well, 1 hardly need go on. What it proves is that in jazz, some things never change and hindsight might take a very different view of the current generation and its achievements.
If the tendency to talk down the present has not changed, the same cannot be said of the Scottish jazz scene itself. When i returned to Scotland in 1982, it was to a very different climate. The Edinburgh Jazz Festival was in its infancy as a pub-based traditional event, the Glasgow Jazz Festival was not even a gleam in the district council’s eye, and the principal jazz-promoting
‘Fantastic progress has been made in Scotland, and it’s been in the face of a quite hostile environment.’
organisation, Platform Jazz, was still booking itinerant soloists to play with local rhythm sections. The number of young musicians interested in playingjazz at all, far less in trying to develop themselves as individuals, could just about be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The 805 saw some remarkable developments, from the resurgence of interest at grass roots level - led and largely inspired by the example of Edinburgh’s Tommy Smith — through to the regular provision of a platform for the biggest names in international jazz. it’s hard to think of a current major name not heard on a Scottish stage at that time, either at our major festivals, or on a year-round basis from Platform Jazz and its commercial descendent, Assembly Direct.
While Smith remains the musician most likely to fulfil his early promise and establish himself as a genuinely world-ranking artist, Scotland now boasts a talent pool spanning generations, with real depth and variety. it involves the mainstream swing and bop-derived music of leading younger players like Brian Kellock, Russell Cowieson and Colin Steele, through to the more experimental directions explored by Tom and Phil Bancroft, or the kind of cross- genre explorations of Savourna Stevenson, EH15 or the Cauid Blast Orchestra.
There have been setbacks along the way. Platform Jazz had to be wound up, the Scottish Jazz Network came and went, Glasgow’s venerable Society of Musicians closed (although
6 he trouble with most musicians today is
Tommy Smith: Still Scotland’s musician most likely to?
14 The List 24 Mar-6 Apr 1995