THE SCOTTISH JAZZ SCENE FEATURE
a new Jazz Co-op has just risen from the ashes). and the Dundee Jazz Festival has announced its demise after twelve years. But despite financial setbacks. Edinburgh and Glasgow’s festivals are still alive and kicking. while smaller events like the Isle of Bute. Girvan and Dunoon Festivals have gaitted a firm foothold.
New venues now cater for the previously- neglected level of decent club-style jazz. At Edinburgh‘s Tron Jazz Cellar. visiting soloists who once played for Platform are now programmed alongside local artists — a neat illustration of how the whole scene has moved up several levels — and Basement Jazz in Glasgow, although currently dormant. is seeking a new home.
Assembly Direct, however. remains the prime mover. Roger Spence and Fiona Alexander co- founded the organisation after the demise of Platform and a short interregnum as part of Assembly Theatre itself. In February. they celebrated their fifth anniversary of promoting jazz. with the announcement that they are opening offices in Paris and Cologne.
‘There is no one else operating on a pan- European level in this way.’ says Spence. ‘We hope one of the things it will enable us to do is provide an opportunity to take Scottish musicians onto an international level. If we can get the appropriate support, from promotors or sponsors or funding bodies, that is definitely on our agenda.
‘A lot will depend on how the local markets respond. but if things work as we hope, we will be in a position to go to artists in the USA and offer them a dozen dates in Germany, France. the Netherlands and the UK, instead of three or four here. It is our intention that Scotland should operate on the same level as anywhere else.’
Jazz promotion remains a dicey business and Assembly Direct is still heavily dependent on sponsorship and public subsidy. it receives the lion’s share of the Scottish Arts Council jazz funding, although, contrary to rumour. it did not receive a huge increase this year. Its grant was frozen, but its existing £75,000 revenue funding and £40,000 touring grant was amalgamated into a single revenue grant of £1 15.000.
[TS CURRENT SEASON is at an end. but Assembly Direct willreturn in May with the Kind of Blue Festival. followed by the TDK Round Midnight event in August. both in Edinburgh. This autumn will see a new season of its internationally-bascd Jazz Directions programme. and its expanding Jazz Club touring circuit — in the past. a stage for the likes of Nigel Clark. Russell Cowieson. Kevin Mac Kenzie and the Bancroft twins.
‘Fantastic progress has been made in Scotland. and it’s been in the face of a quite hostile environment.’ explains Spence. ‘If you look at Norway or Denmark. you see a situation where the chance to hear visiting artists has encouraged a significant local scene. I believe that is what is beginning to happen in Scotland.
‘We’ve established relationships with a number of Scottish musicians, but also with artists like 'l‘rilok Gurtu or Michel Petrucciani. which have enabled us to develop an audience for them here. We’re very committed to building on our current policies. We also need to do more to educate people about jazz. and show how accessible it is — the image ofjazz as somehow strange or threatening still persists. both in the media and at a political level. In one sense. I find that encouraging — there is still some dangerous art going on out there.’
There is also evidence of growth at grassroots level. The Edinburgh Jazz Project is now firmly established at The Tron. and February’s Aberdeen Jazz Month and its associated jazz school has given the north—east scene a real boost. The successful Fife and Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestras are a breeding ground for aspiring musicians. and the next generation of Scottish talent is already making its mark in the shape of pianists Steve Hamilton. David
‘The image of jazz as somehow strange or threatening still persists, both in the media and at a political level. In one
sense, I iind that encouraging — there is still some dangerous art going on out there.’
Left: Laura MacDonald, definitely not blowing it. Right, Tony Thomas: making things happen at Edinburgh‘s Beat Dis Jazz Club
Milligan and Robin Laura MacDonald. Gail McArthur and Martin
Kershaw; trombonist Nicol Williamson; drummer Paddy Flaherty and others. Most came through the ranks of one or other orchestra.
it is good to see the names of two female instrumentalists there. indicating a shift away from the traditional role of women as singers - although we have a number of those too. including Fionna Duncan. Sophie Bancroft. Melanie O’Reilly and Suzanne Bonnar.
According to Tony Thomas. bass player and guiding light behind the successful Beat Dis Jazz Club at Edinburgh’s Cellar No]. more needs to be done to encourage venues where emerging talents can really learn to play. sharing a stage with more established musicians like Brian Kellock or Russell Cowieson. Thomas was going nowhere in a South London tower block until he discovered music — he only began to play when he went to Newcastle Polytechnic in l990. Once hooked. he set up the first Beat Dis because there was nowhere else to perform. and has gone down a similar route since moving to Edinburgh.
‘The main objective was to find somewhere to play because I want to develop my own'playing and take it to another level,’ he says. ‘You can’t do that in front of the mirror in your bedroom. To be honest, I was surprised at how well things have gone here. We have the core Beat Dis band three nights a week, really learning how to blow. and a lot of the young players come down to sit in.
‘The place is generally packed, and we did a survey one night which revealed 90 per cent of the people who come in are under 26, but it would be nice to get a bit more support for what we’re trying to do here. This level is a really important step for new players. and maybe for new listeners as well.’
So how is the state of Scottish jazz in 1995? Financially threatened as ever. perhaps, but hearteningly alive and well. and in an encouraging access all areas mood. Compared with a decade ago. it is in a different universe. C]
The List 24 Mar-6 Apr 1995 15