Live review

Tommy Smith and the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra All Stars at The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Tommy Smith and the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra All Stars
(The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. 19 December 2019. Live Review by Patrick Hadfield)

As part of the Queen’s Hall’s 40th anniversary celebrations, Tommy Smith curated a series of concerts; this, the last, featured two contrasting sets. Each highlighted a theme of Smith’s contribution to jazz in Scotland.

Tommy Smith. Photo © Patrick Hadfield

The first set was a solo performance by Smith. Building on Into Silence, his solo CD from 2002 recorded in the Hamilton Mausoleum, Smith worked with the Queen’s Hall’s acoustics, playing with its reverberation to build up his sound. Moving from one part of the stage to another for different pieces, taking advantage of particular acoustics in different parts of the hall, he held the audience enthralled.

Whilst most of the set was improvised, he played an extended version of ‘Round Midnight (which might have started as an improvisation, but certainly ended up with Monk) and The Peacocks. There was also a long, mournful blues. Smith’s playing was forceful, the sound of his saxophone bouncing around the hall.

The second set featured the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra All Stars. Smith set up the TSYJO in 2002, a junior partner to the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, which he also directs. The All Stars was made up of alumni of TSYJO, brought together for one night only. The clue was in the name: the All Stars featured a roster of excellent musicians, gathered together from Britain and further afield.

Each one was a band leader and soloist in their own right, and they used their opening number to prove it. In a fast-paced Moose The Mooch, all 19 members of the band took a solo, each queuing up to set the microphone for their chorus. This may have set the standard, but it didn’t fix the tempo: other tunes were slower and more thoughtful, though no less exciting, allowing the band to shine in different ways.

Michael Murray. Photo © Patrick Hadfield

Smith sat on the sidelines, introducing each number but essentially letting the band get on with it. They had clearly put the work in – they were very tight, but not constrained. They were helped by the arrangements, many of them from the SNJO repertoire, which brought out the best in the musicians; Smith appreciates the importance of the arranger to a band, and made sure they got a mention.

Even within such a well drilled band, there were some notable performances. Pete Johnstone‘s piano playing was exemplary: subtle at times, with just a nudge here or there; brash and sparkling at others. Ruaridh Pattison‘s solo on Numbers, from Smith’s suite Torah was spine-tingling. Both the altos, Leah Gough-Cooper and Michael Murray, shone.

Before the closing number, the band’s bassist, Calum Gourlay, a member of the first iteration of TSYJO in 2002, expressed his and his colleagues’ heart-felt thanks for the formative experience that Smith and theTSYJO had provided. The audience seemed pretty appreciative, too.

And then, with the only only nod to the festive season, the band finished with Ernie Wilkins’ arrangement for Count Basie of Jingle Bells, a rousing close to a very impressive show.

Full Line Up:

Alto Sax 1 Michael Murray

Alto Sax 2 Leah Gough Cooper

Tenor Sax 1 Ru Pattison

Tenor Sax 2 Matt Carmichael

Bari sax Bill Fleming

Trumpet 1 Joshua Elcock

Trumpet 2 Sean Gibbs

Trumpet 3 Cameron T Duncan

Trumpet 4 Christos Stylianides

Trumpet 5 Loïc Guenneguez

Bone 1 Liam Shortall

Bone 2 Kevin Garrity

Bone 3 Patrick Kenny

Bass bone Michael Owers

Piano Pete Johnstone

Bass Calum Gourlay

Drums Dominyakis Snarskis

Drums Stephen Henderson

Guitar Joe Williamson

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

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