REPORT (UPDATED): SNJO 20th Anniversary Celebration in Edinburgh

The SNJO at the celebratory dinner.
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow

MICHAEL CONNARTY, Chair of the Board of SNJO, was one of the main speakers at the 20th Anniversary celebratory dinner of the orchestra, in Edinburgh on Sunday night November 1st. His speech, paying tribute to Tommy Smith’s unique musical and leadership skills was improvised. However, having received glowing reports of the occasion, and of his speech in particular, we asked Michael to piece it together again, and also to give his own account of the rest of a special evening celebrating one of the great achievements of jazz in Europe in the past twenty years. We are very grateful that he accepted our invitation. Michael Connarty writes:  

Genius or Genie?

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Tommy Smith, the founder and Artistic Director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO) is a Genius,” I was pleased to tell a packed dinner to celebrate 20 years of the Orchestra, held in the Hub, beside Edinburgh Castle. Between musical sets from both the SNJO Duke Ellington repertoire and their elite youth band, the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra (TSYJO) displaying their jazz ‘chops’ on hot arrangements by the late Fred Sturm, Tommy and I laid out the key elements that had contributed to the Jazz Orchestra’s progress to the point where it was recognised in the UK and internationally as one of Scotland’s high quality cultural assets.

“It has been the growing breadth of support from many sections of Scottish society,” I said, “for the contribution of SNJO and TSYJO that has been most heartening. It is a pleasure to name and thank the many hotel, transport, restaurant, music and sound instrumentation and retail companies who have given support in kind. All Nippon Airways even transported Makoto Ozone while Yamaha provided and transported a special piano with its own technician for his SNJO tour. That kind of support, together with the financial support from Shell (Scotland), the Carntyne, the Robertson, the Hope Scott Trusts and the Foyle Foundation, doubled by Arts & Business Scotland sponsorship has been a real boost in the recognising the cultural contribution to Scotland in touring and recording the orchestras.

John Wallace, the former Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland deserves a special thanks for his commitment to introducing a full time degree and postgraduate Jazz music course with Tommy Smith now Professor of Jazz Music. Creative Scotland music officers had been supportive throughout the growth of jazz in Scotland and the SNJO in particular, with its 3 year funding agreement. Special thanks are due to Ian Smith the music officer who had recognised the quality of the SNJO music and strongly supported the role of jazz in Scotland’s culture. The UK Secretary of State for Scotland’s attendance in support was welcomed. I singled out as a special guest the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop for special praise for her willingness to attend concerts and events, and to speak out in the media in recognition and support for jazz music and the SNJO/TSYJO contribution to the present and the future of Scotland’s culture.”

Ian Smith also spoke to stress his view that the SNJO should be fully recognised as a one of Scotland’s ‘National’ Orchestras alongside the classical orchestras and guaranteed funding in the same way. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture Fiona Hyslop then made a strong speech in support of the success of the SNJO and TSYJO, but also underlined her view of the important role that jazz had to play in the development of the widest breadth of Scotland’s culture in the modern world.

Tommy Smith wound up the proceedings by asserting that he would rather be thought of as Genie than Genius. He related how, after his 9 years sojourn in the USA, touring with Gary Burton and other jazz greats and with a Blue Note recording contract, he had started the SNJO by working ‘Genie magic’ with a total grant of £18,000 per year. As the tours and the recordings of the SNJO and TSYJO illustrated, he had continuously called on the support of his long standing jazz friends to contribute for ‘friendship price’ fees. They in turn had really enjoyed their participation and had been full of praise for the quality of musicianship of the SNJO. Tommy listed some of the Scottish, UK and International concerts they had presented, including the recent tour of 10 island venues in Scotland, previous performances in London, Norway, France and 9 concerts in the USA and Canada.

I then recalled that when TSYJO had performed at the Toronto Jazz Education Showcase in Toronto in 2008, Fred Sturm had stated that he had not seen anything as good as the performance of the TSYJO anywhere in the Youth jazz circuit in the USA – a compliment indeed. As at the dinner, Tommy rehearsed the youth orchestra earlier and then merely called the tunes and let the musicians play the numbers without further interference, a technique which directors of other youth jazz orchestras might follow.

To end the evening a presentation was made to Lindsay Robertson, who has been the manager of SNJO (and the TSYJO) for five years, following her former position with the Scottish Clarsach Society. Every speaker and the members of both orchestras praised her fantastic contribution to the success of their efforts, and accorded her a deserved ovation.

Now supporters and musicians look forward to the Sound of Glenn Miller Tour in November and the next 20 years.

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow

LINKS:SNJO website
 Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra 
CD Review – American Adventure 
CD Review – SNJO/ Makato Ozone –  Jeunehomme 
CD Review – SNJO – In the Spirit of Duke
CD Review – SNJO/ Bobby  Wellins – Culloden Moor

Categories: miscellaneous

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