A transatlantic cooperation has created a Scottish tribute to Nelson Mandela, writes Rob Adams.
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra is not known as a singles band, having now released eleven internationally acclaimed albums in its 25-year history. So, the release online, on Saturday 18th July, of a new arrangement of Sam Cooke’s Civil Rights anthem A Change is Gonna Come marks an unexpected milestone as well as paying tribute to Nelson Mandela on what would have been the former South African president’s 102nd birthday.
The recording came about when the SNJO’s concerts with San Francisco-based singer Kenny Washington and New York vibraphone master Joe Locke, due to take place in Scotland in April, were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the songs selected for a programme of pop, rock and soul classics was the song Cooke wrote in response to several experiences including his entourage being turned away by a whites-only motel while on tour in Louisiana.
“I spoke to Kenny and we felt that, sadly, the lyrics of A Change is Gonna Come still resonate very strongly, especially with the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the U.S. and here in Scotland,” says Smith. “And with International Nelson Mandela Day coming up, we thought we could present the arrangement of the song that Joe Locke had written for these concerts as a tribute to Nelson Mandela while reiterating the message Sam Cooke sent when he wrote the song in 1963.”
Smith sent everyone in the SNJO their parts and asked them to make videos of them playing the music. Over in San Francisco, Kenny Washington sang A Change is Gonna Come on a Zoom session with Smith. Joe Locke, similarly, sent over a video of him playing his vibraphone part and with some musicians in lock-down in Scotland and others in London emailing their contributions, Smith set about collating the nineteen videos into one performance.
“Initially we were just going to make the video available to view for free as our tribute on International Nelson Mandela Day,” says Smith. “But we then had the idea of adding a donate button alongside it so that people can watch and hopefully make a contribution, with all proceeds going to the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation.”
Smith has had a long association with the Foundation. In his early twenties he took part in a concert it promoted in Mandela’s honour during Glasgow’s European City of Culture celebrations in 1990 and he has kept in touch with it since then.
“I was lucky enough to perform with the Association of South African Students Choir, The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Scottish Philharmonic Singers on what was a really moving and inspiring day. The Foundation has had a long-term aim of creating a statue of Nelson Mandela in Nelson Mandela Place, in Glasgow’s city centre, and if we can contribute towards that with this single, it would be a suitable reward for Kenny and all the instrumentalists’ efforts.”
The video of A Change is Gonna Come will be available to view on the SNJO’s website HERE from 10am on Saturday 18th July and on YouTube HERE and the recording is due to have its first radio broadcast on Jazz FM UK’s Breakfast at the Weekend show two hours earlier.
“I think people will find it a moving experience,” says Smith. “It’s a soul-stirring prayer for freedom and equality and Kenny sings it beautifully. As Kenny says himself, ‘The human race is comprised of many colours — we can all learn from one another.’”
LINKS: SNJO website