Still only twenty and studying on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland jazz course, Fergus McCreadie has been making a big impression on festival audiences particularly in recent months. His trio has won standing ovations at Edinburgh, Islay and Aberdeen jazz festivals and went down a storm at Gateshead Jazz Festival earlier this month.
Twice the winner of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year (Under 17s) title, he gained valuable early experience with the highly productive Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra and then with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland. He went on to play and record with saxophonist Tommy Smith’s youth jazz orchestra (the feeder for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra) and his trio with bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson won the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award 2016. His trio appears at the Blue Arrow on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday this week.
LondonJazz News: What attracted you to jazz in general and jazz piano in particular, and which came first?
Fergus McCreadie: For about five years before I first heard jazz properly, I’d been learning piano normally, just through classical pieces, which was really boring me. It wasn’t until I attended the Fife Summer Jazz Course that I first heard two jazz pianists in the flesh, and it was almost like a eureka moment – I went straight from not really caring about piano to having a big interest in it. From there, listening to Oscar Peterson developed into listening to Bill Evans, which developed into Chick Corea, which developed into Keith Jarrett… and the rest is history.
LJN: There’s a strong sense of Scottish landscape in your music but also a strong sense of the Scottish musical tradition; was traditional music part of your life and listening growing up or has that come from being around the scene in Glasgow?
FMcC: It’s actually slightly a combination of both. When I was quite young, I used to listen to quite a lot of bagpipe music, and I started learning the bagpipes when I was 12. I never got very good, but I always liked pipe music and I think that influence has always slightly been there. I’m maybe guilty though of having buried that for a while, as I just wanted to get good at normal jazz, but the more I was in Glasgow the more folk music I heard, and the more I rediscovered my love of folk music. Eventually it got to the point where I just accepted that I like folk music as much as jazz and classical, and that came forward in my composition.
|Stephen Henderson, Fergus McCreadie and David Bowden|
FMcC: David and Stephen are two musicians that I’ve known for a long time, pretty much since I’ve came to RCS. From the moment I played with them, I felt like there was a really good hook-up, and over the course of my first year we gigged a lot as a rhythm section in other people’s bands. Eventually, when I got offered a gig at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, I decided to ask if they wanted to start a project together, to which the answer was yes – and it’s been easy ever since. They’re both great musicians – David has a beautiful big sound on the bass and he’s always got the right thing to play at the right time, while Stephen brings a really nice easy vibe to whatever he plays, and he’s an absolutely amazing technician. However, it’s the vibe between the three of us that I like the most – it always feels really easy. They’re also well versed in folk music, which helps with what I’m trying to achieve.
LJN: The trio’s arrangements are very varied dynamically; how much of that comes with the compositional process and how much comes from rehearsing the pieces together once they’re written?
FMcC: Usually I have everything planned out before I bring a piece to the band, just to make the learning process easier. So dynamics are usually something that I’ve planned out before a rehearsal. However, I’m always open to suggestions from the others as they’re both really strong composers.
LJN: How did you come to choose Turas for your album title and what feelings and impressions would you like listeners to get from it?
FMcC: The whole album is kind of about journeys in Scotland – all of the pieces are inspired at least in some small part by places I’ve been to in Scotland, either by myself or with the trio. For example, Ardbeg is named after a gig that we played in the Ardbeg distillery, which is still one of our favourites, or Hillfoot Glen is just named after a glen near Dollar, where it’s quite a varied landscape (hence the varied landscape of that tune). So I chose journey as a concept, but that would definitely have been far too cheesy for an album title, so Turas (the gaelic equivalent) worked for me.
Perhaps one of the things I focused most on when I was conceiving the album was the order of the tracks, and how they felt as a sort of story – my favourite albums are the ones that are like stories (Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider, Keith Jarrett’s Vienna Concert, Pat Metheny’s 80/81, etc) so that’s what was most important to me. So when someone listens to the album, I want them to listen to it in full, and I want it to be as much of a immersive journey as possible – it should almost be like a small virtual tour of the landscapes and musical images that I like. Even if someone listened to one track though, and felt they could connect that track with an image, memory, landscape, picture, place or whatever, I would have achieved what I wanted to achieve.
LINK: Fergus McCreadie’s website