Notes on Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, The Tolbooth, Stirling 5 November 2017 #jazz

Seeing this orchestra is always inspiring. The talent of the young people always blows me away. I am inspired by the orchestra’s encouragement of young people to attend by letting them experience these concerts for free. Often there are teenagers in the audience but this time it was encouraging to see quite a few under 10s in the crowd as well.

The programming of these gigs is always varied. Some crowd pleasing tunes mixed in with different pieces that allow the musicians to perform more challenging work. There is something for everyone. In this concert we heard Witchcraft and All Or Nothing, confidently sung by Luca Manning. An assured bass introduction led into Norwegian Wood by the Beatles. We also heard Black Friday by Steely Dan, Love For Sale by Cole Porter and Yes or No. There was a saxophone solo by Eve Bolars (sp) on Michelangelo. I was so happy to see quite a few young women in the orchestra this time including a drummer.

I’ve wanted to hear Luca Manning sing live for some time after watching various YouTube clips and hearing him on the radio and I was not disappointed. This concert was a great showcase of new talent who showcased their improvisational skills and played with verve and exuberance.

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David Bowden’s Mezcla, A Review, #GlasgowJazzFestival, 21 June 2017


Mezcla, brought to us by award winning bass player and composer David Bowden, were recently described as encompassing “a bubbling broth of influences, from West Africa to Latin America, soul to folk” by Jim Gilchrist of the Scotsman. This gig took place on the first night of the Glasgow Jazz Festival in The Hug and Pint* on Great Western Road. It was the evening of the summer solstice so I was expecting there to be magic in the air. The first sign of magic was that there were more musicians crammed onto the tiny stage than I had imagined there could be. The second was that one of them was Steve Forman with his cabinet of percussive delights. Thirdly Mezcla had guest vocalist Rachel Lightbody sprinkle some vocal magic over the evening.

The band were launching their first EP and they featured all 4 tracks on the night.  The venue was busy and the band started with Sami’s Tune followed by Knockan Crag which took us on a musical journey from Scotland to South America with some latin sounds coming in as the piece developed. Michael Butcher gave us a sax solo on Chrysalis but he really came into his element after the break when we were treated to some beautiful tenor sax playing. On Mindsweeper we heard an excellent guitar solo from Ben MacDonald. The first set finished with Auckland Hill.

The second half of the night really showcased each musician’s skills. Everyone did solos, communication was excellent and we heard  how the music of Oumou Sangare from Mali had influenced David’s composition on a track named Oumou. This tune also featured a percussion solo from Steve (see video here). This was followed by Shoot the Moon and then the final three tracks were Malarone Dreams, North Cape and Happy Monkey Dance. During the last track Stephen Henderson and Steve Forman had a good natured, energy filled percussion and drum battle and the night definitely finished on a high.

You can read more about Mezcla in a short interview I did with David Bowden below:

How do you feel about playing at Glasgow Jazz Festival this year?  What’s your experience of the festival?  Since I moved to Glasgow in 2011 I’ve been going to things at the festival every year and it’s always been inspirational. Particular highlights have included seeing Fly Trio last year and performing with Square One at the Old Fruitmarket supporting Joe Locke, also last year. This is my first gig as a leader at the festival so it feels like significant step up and I’m looking forward to it!

What opportunities has winning Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year brought to you? Part of the award was a recording session at Edinburgh Napier studios, which I used to record the Mezcla EP. The other parts of the prize were this gig at Glasgow Jazz Fest, a gig at the Blue Lamp in Aberdeen in August (part of the Aberdeen International Youth Festival) and a gig at London Jazz Festival in November. The award has definitely come in useful for me as far as launching this new band, as it’s immediately put some great gigs in the diary which has forced me to get everything together (compositionally and organisationally) to a tight deadline. I’ve been wanting to put a band like this together for a while, so the award has been a great catalyst for that! I also feel like the award has also been useful in my freelance career –  since winning I have played in the Konrad Wiszniewski Quartet at Aberdeen Jazz fest and this weekend I am playing on Gordon Macneill/Malcolm Macfarlane’s new record.


You have just launched an EP , does Mezcla have a recording contract? The EP is self titled and it is available to buy on (download and physical copies available). It’s a 4 track EP which showcases a lot of different sides to the band’s sounds from the heavily West African influenced ‘Malarone Dreams’ and ‘Chrysalis’ to the rock influenced contemporary jazz ‘North Cape’ to the upbeat party track ‘Happy Monkey Dance’ The EP is a self-release.

How did you chose the band’s name? Mezcla means mixture in Spanish. I could come up with a load of reasons why it’s relevant but basically I just like the word – I have done ever since doing Spanish in school. I also figured it kind of works because the music has a diverse mixture of infuences – jazz, latin, African, funk/hip hop, rock, soul etc.

How would you describe your sound?  I would describe the band’s sound as a blend of soulful jazz fused with energetic grooves from West-Africa and Latin America. I listen to a lot of pop music and to me it’s very important for music to have strong melodic hooks and I hope that the music will stick in people’s heads after they leave the gig. I’d like the music to appeal to everyone – not just Jazz fans.

How have you been shaped as musicians?  All of the guys in the band have varied influences, which is part of what gives the band such a diverse sound. I write all the music but all of the musicians bring their own elements to the table as far as shaping the overall end product. Personally I’ve been very influenced by a lot of the musicians in the Glasgow Jazz Scene but also very much by pop music – compositionally I like to make sure that my music has a singable ‘song-like’ quality to it. At the beginning of this year I spent a month in Ghana studying the traditional music of the Volta Region (Borborbor, Agbadza) etc, which has been a big influence on some of the music I have written. It was also significant in terms of my outlook – all of the musicians there play simply because it’s what they love to do and it’s totally entrenched in their culture. I try and draw from that by simply playing in the way that I want to and not to prove anything – just playing and writing in the way that feels most natural and in the way that I think will be most fun for myself and those around me.

What do you hope to achieve when you play live?  I want the music to be fun for the audience to listen to. I think the music is very groove based and hope to get some dancing going in the crowd! I hope that the music will appeal to all music lovers and not just those that have studied jazz specifically.

I think the jazz audience is getting smaller partly because a lot of music seems to be written to appeal solely to other musicians. What I hope is that this music will connect with a wide range of people and hopefully convert some people who may not think of themselves as jazz fans!

What are the bands plans for the future?  We have a slot at Mugstock festival (in Milngavie) at the end of July – I’m looking forward to seeing how the band goes over in a non-jazz setting, it should be fun! We’re also playing the Blue Lamp in August and London Jazz festival in November. I’m hoping to book a series of dates around Scotland/possibly the UK in the run up to the LJF gig. We are also planning a double bill gig in the autumn with Graham Costello’s Strata band, who are contemporaries of ours from the RCS, although this is TBC at the moment.

What are you listening to currently? Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of singer songwriters – artists such as Lianne La Havas, Kwabs, Tom Misch and Ady Suleiman. What I like about all these artists is that their music is a combination of all the things I like the most – great melodies with nice grooves and interesting harmonies.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of music from around Africa, artists like Thomas Mapfumo, Toumani Diabate, Tinariwen, Oumou Sangare and others. I’ve also been listening a lot to a band called Susso which is a collaboration between London based jazz/electronic musicians and traditional musicians from the Gambia.

In terms of Jazz, I always come back to Hank Mobley’s Soul Station along with the classic Miles Davis Quintet albums (Relaxin, Cookin etc.), they’re the albums that got me into jazz in the first place. In terms of contemporary jazz – I love Aaron Parks’ music as well as Brian Blade Fellowship and Jonathan Kreisberg. I’m also a big fan of Snarky Puppy.


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*The Hug and Pint is a vegan bar, eatery & music venue and since it opened two years ago they have aimed to provide a friendly atmosphere and have regular gigs of well-established and up-and-coming local artists.


Phil Bancroft plays #SonnyRollins at #Playtime, Edinburgh, 15 June 2017

I enjoyed listening to some Sonny Rollins CDs a friend lent me recently so I thought I would go and check out this live gig which is part of Playtime, a weekly platform for writing and performing jazz in Edinburgh. The upstairs space in The Outhouse was pretty full and struck me as a great space for this kind of gig. The audience was comfortably close to the band and the place had a relaxed feel to it.

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Phil Bancroft was a powerhouse on tenor sax and played with Mario Caribe on bass, Graeme Stephen on guitar and Tom Bancroft on drums.


I have never seen Mario Caribe play up close so it was great to see how expressive he was.  They started the night with Strode Road followed by Joe Locke’s arrangement of No Mo’ before tantalising the audience with the Freedom Suite. Phil explained that he felt this was the piece of music which summed up Rollins for him. What a piece of music, it stopped, started, circled, explored, hypnotised and then returned back to the beginning.

I love a bit of Calypso so when Phil explained they were going to play a South African calypso piece he’d written called Hubert and Cowboy Pete I was intrigued. He wrote it in South Africa after doing his medical elective there during which he met and busked in the townships with a couple of local musicians (one of whom had a tiny cowboy hat).

The audience (including a couple of wee dogs) enjoyed the music. It is fair to say that many people knew each other, the banter was good and the chat from the band also informative and amusing. Phil let us in on a secret; John Coltrane is the sax player he wants to be but Sonny Rollins is the player he is.  I will take that.

You can find out more about Playtime here and the Outhouse here.




New Focus Quartet, The Tolbooth, 26 May 2017

After playing in a barn on the Isle of Skye New Focus came to Stirling’s historic Tolbooth to play tunes from their latest CD New Focus On Song. Billed as “one of the most appealing, most beautifully realised projects to emerge on the UK jazz scene in recent years”, the Tolbooth’s main auditorium was set up cabaret style and we were treated to an intimate, acoustic set by the band.

The band opened with three melodic tracks from On Song;  Air in D Minor, Green Park and Sophia’s Song.  Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson then introduced the theme of family inspiration into the evening.  Next we heard Leonard’s Lament (a tribute to Leonard Cohen) and Dziadzio (Grandfather) which was inspired by Konrad’s Polish family heritage.  During this tune we heard a skillful solo from Andrew Robb on double bass. Both of these tracks are from their first CD the self-titled New Focus. The final tune of the first half was Corea Change. We heard and saw some amazing brushwork by Alyn Cosker in a short drum solo.

The second half opened with Flora followed by Fourths Ostinato, a jazzier number which is great to hear performed live.  Then to mark the occasion of the hottest day of the year we enjoyed a sweet, laid back, quiet version of Lovely Day by Bill Withers. The filmic sounding tune Braeside also from New Focus On Song lead onto the joyful, upbeat tune Parson’s Green. During Parson’s Green Alyn Cosker played one of his tremendous solos where he combines precise, engaged and defined playing with a huge amount of energy that never fails to astound the audience. (Yes, there was wooping and whistling!)  It is always a treat to see Cosker play up close and personal, you can actually see all the stick changing and the tiny nuances he fits in between larger beats.

New Focus should be seen live. Much of the work on their CDs is recorded with strings for a bigger more complex sound but seeing the musicians play live really lets you understand the essence of their music, enjoy its well-tuned richness and appreciate the skillful playing of the musicians.  The musicians work well together and have cultivated their own sound, they speak to the audience and each other which is something that I love. Euan explained during the gig that their second CD was titled New Focus: On Song because they were exploring the type of songwriting that makes people happy. Judging by the round of applause and the smiles on faces at the end of this gig that idea was definitely well translated into the music we heard.


New Focus (Duo) are playing a free lunchtime concert this Friday, June 2nd, from 13:00-14:00 at Glasgow University.

The New Focus Quartet:  Konrad Wiszniewski – Tenor and Soprano Saxophones, Euan Stevenson – Piano,  Andrew Robb – Double Bass,  Alyn Cosker  – Drums and Percussion



New Focus

Here is another review of this great album…

The Rest is Jazz

On Song

There is on Corea Change a glorious double bass run by Andrew Robb intertwined by the machinations of Konrad Wiszniewski’s sax, brought to an abrupt conclusion by Euan Stevenson’s piano, which in fact bookends the number, encapsulating all that is magnificent about this second release from New Focus.

Throughout there is pure jazz, both sax and piano trading blows while knitted by a phenomenally paced bass, with Wiszniewski playing out of his skin. Now listen to the tracks on either side of Corea Change, Ascension and Braeside.

Ascension opens with a funereal violin before it is elevated by The Glasgow String Quartet, a tune that wouldn’t be out of place on an Ealing Studio soundtrack of the 1940’s, plaintively atmospheric and distinct from Corea Change.

Braeside is quintessentially chamber music, not dissimilar in tone or pace to Ascension, but the hallmark of On Song, with 13 original compositions…

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Bobby Wellins Obituary

Alison Kerr's Jazz Blog

Bobby_Wellins 2 Bobby Wellins (c) Trio Records

Bobby Wellins, who has died at the age of 80, was not only Scotland’s first great jazz tenor saxophonist but also an icon of British jazz whose influence would have lived on even if he had never played again after 1965, when he featured on the iconic album of Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood suite. 

His gorgeous and evocative solo on the track Starless and Bible Black has regularly been named as the single most memorable British jazz solo ever recorded – and his haunting, Celtic-tinged sound was undoubtedly a huge inspiration on generations of young musicians, among them fellow tenor saxophonist, composer and educator Tommy Smith who was responsible for bringing Wellins’s own Culloden Moor Suite, to life five years ago when the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Wellins recorded it and performed it to considerable acclaim. Its concert performance at the Royal…

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The SNJO & Arild Andersen play Mingus

One, Two uh uh uh…No one starts a tune like Mingus.  His music is often meaty, frenetic and occasionally oddly named.  The tunes contain humour, nods to classical music and they have a bluesy swing.  It only took about 3 seconds for my head to start bobbing to the beat at the SNJO concert on Friday night.  It was great to see Allon Beauvoisin join the orchestra on baritone sax alongside special guest Arild Andersen from Norway on the acoustic double bass. As a lover of the lower notes and deeper toned instruments Mingus is a favourite of mine as he seems to explore these sounds a bit more than some other jazz composers.

Notable tunes of the night were Song with Orange, All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother, Moanin’ and an encore rendition of Ecclesiastes.  The orchestra vocalised and wooped (as they had promised they would), they clapped and laughed. The talent of the orchestra shone through the various and numerous solos played.  It was a particular treat to hear and feel Beauvoisin on the baritone in Moanin’ (short clip here) and Smith and Wiszniewski play their tenor saxes on Ecclesiastes.  Arild has played with the SNJO before and there seems to be a very good vibe when they play together.  His melodic bass lines fit well with the band’s style and he really looks like a musician who enjoys playing with the SNJO. I love hearing him play.

The Queens Hall was well attended with an enthusiastic audience who cheered and gave a round of applause when we were informed, by Tommy Smith,  that he had taken a call that day from Lothian Council who explained they would not be cutting the music funding for music tuition in their schools. I love a bit of chat at live gigs and there was a lot of positive, good humoured chat at this one. Great tunes, great vibes, great audience. The night was a success.

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