Tommy Smith Solo Saxophone with support from the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra All-Stars was tonight at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh not only a chance to catch up with Tommy Smith playing solo saxophone, but also to meet a few of the now older musicians who have at one time or another been members of the youth orchestra.
Opening up our musical showcase with a purely acoustic set of at times playful music, Tommy Smith gave us a far too rarely heard display of improvisation and tone that has made him over the years one of the most respected Jazz Musicians to come out of Scotland and perform music at an international level, often with many of the great names in contemporary jazz.
The saxophone may in musical instrument terms still be classed as a “modern instrument”, but when you have a solo performance of the instrument like this, by someone with the talent levels of Tommy Smith playing, and also doing it in the wonderfully natural acoustic space of The Queen’s Hall, something very special happens. Here, you begin to get this feeling of not only the music, but of a sound that is very old, and very part of our instinctive response to music, sound and space.
This was a show of two sets, and the second set gave us a rare opportunity to catch up with musicians who as youngsters had been some of the many who have passed through perhaps the greatest creation of Tommy Smith – The Youth Jazz Orchestra - and this commitment to be constantly creating an environment for young talent to work and develop in is still an ongoing project and commitment from Tommy.
Perhaps the most interesting insight into this evening’s music was why Tommy Smith felt that a Youth Jazz Orchestra needed to be created in the first place nearly 20 years ago. The reasons for this are obviously many, but high amongst those reasons was Tommy Smith never forgetting the help from his local community at the very start of his own musical journey. Here also was the creation of an orchestra where the only way into it was by the personal talents of those hoping to join, and money having nothing whatsoever to do with it as joining the orchestra was entirely free. The only payment anyone had to make once a member was to develop their own talents to their full potential.
The line up on stage tonight featured a mixed group of former youth orchestra members. Some have progressed to playing with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra itself, others have taken quite different musical journeys in their life, but the starting point for everyone has been the same, and one of the many guiding hands behind them has always been the same – Tommy Smith.
Musically, this was a diverse programme featuring work from many years of the youth orchestra’s existence, and that included work written by Tommy Smith, specially commissioned compositions from earlier years now re-arranged for tonight’s performance, classic music from Count Basie (Midnight Blue), and a musical tribute to Miles Davis.
Watching and listening to this evening’s performance from the Tommy Smith Youth Orchestra “All-Stars”. I am left with two thoughts. One, given the musical quality of this performance just how much everyone was able to deliver in such a short period of rehearsal together, and perhaps most importantly, just what a huge hole in creative music, and not just in jazz music, there would be in Scotland now if Tommy Smith had not taken the decision to found a youth orchestra all those years ago.
Review by Tom King