DOOM, gloom and some welcome rays of sunshine permeate the prospect of 2013, particularly so far as the Scottish jazz scene is concerned.
The Scottish Jazz Federation was recently moved to hold “crisis talks”, prompted by what it sees as the lack of regular gigs and general playing opportunities for Scotland’s burgeoning jazz talent.
The award-winning Jazz Bar in Edinburgh still manages to host jazz and other music genres every night of the week, and Glasgow’s 78 cafe-bar has its weekly session and resident trio of pianist Tom Gibbs, drummer Stu Brown and bassist Euan Burton. However, the Jazz Bar recently lost out on Creative Scotland funding for its Bridge Music agency, which ran top-flight jazz gigs both at its Edinburgh base and at Glasgow Art Club.
There are, of course, numerous other small pub venues, but not nearly enough to sustain the number of jazz musicians looking for gainful employment.
And as we career into 2013, the question of when is a venue not a venue, but someone’s home, has become something of a cause célèbre in Edinburgh, where photographer Douglas Robertson has been holding regular house concerts for years in the converted Co-op store which is his home and studio – much to the delight of audiences and of the folk, jazz, bluegrass and other performers who love playing there (and receive all takings), but not, it seems, to Edinburgh City Council, who have asked him to desist.
With the London press and even the BBC World Service all taking an interest, Robertson is in negotiation with the council and while “our situation is more than a little uncertain”, he insists that gigs will continue into the New Year. With messages of support from the likes of Michelle Shocked, who played there last year, Robertson argues that the debacle is occurring at a time when house concerts should be expanding to help support struggling musicians as other more conventional venues go by the board.
On a brighter note, the Scottish Jazz Federation and partners, including six Scottish venues, are involved in The J-Word project, which aims to “overturn the ‘beards and beer bellies’ image of jazz” (although, as with folk, I thought such tired old clichés were long and happily buried), and is promoting two very welcome tours this year. One has the renowned US jazz-fusion outfit the Yellowjackets touring with Scots drummer Tom Bancroft’s Trio Red in March, taking in Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glenrothes. And in April the effervescent global fusion of Cuban pianist Omar Sosa keeps the splendid company of Sardinian trumpet virtuoso Paolo Fresu and Indian percussion star Trilok Gurtu – sharing the bill with the fine home-grown duo of Fraser Fifield and Graeme Stephen – taking in several Scottish venues (for dates and details see www.j-word.co.uk).
Fresu also joins forces with the ever-crusading Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in February, to celebrate Miles Davis’s seminal Birth of the Cool, playing Dundee’s Caird Hall, Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall and the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall on 21, 22 and 23 February respectively.
Glasgow’s City Halls Recital Room is hosting 6pm “Rush Hour Jazz” concerts, with pianist and BBC Scotland Young Jazz Musician winner Alan Benzie performing on 19 February, Strathclyde University jazz students on 5 March and the Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra on 12 March.
As this paper went to press Jazz Scotland was about to announce the Fife Jazz Festival, which kicks off the jazz festival calendar on 1-3 February, with key guests including the Norbotten Big Band playing Mingus, the Arctic Youth Jazz Orchestra resuming collaboration with their young counterparts in the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra, and Mud Morganfield, son of Muddy Waters, celebrating his father’s centenary.
Next up is the Aberdeen Jazz Festival on 13-17 March, with Courtney Pine billed and the rest to be announced (for details, see www.jazzscotland.com).
Turning to folk and beyond, the year kicks off with the biggest of bangs as Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival celebrates its 20th anniversary, with some 250 events at over 20 venues between 17 January and 3 February (see www.celticconnections.com). A characteristically eclectic bill ranges from Galician piping star Carlos Núñez to west African singing star Salif Keita and Americana from such as bluesman Eric Bibb, Transatlantic Sessions co-director Jerry Douglas, Southern roots multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and old-time champion Bruce Molsky.
There are many pages more in the compendious Celtic Connections programme, including a profusion of Scots, Irish and English stars, but while the largest winter music festival of its kind celebrates its 20th anniversary, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college and cultural centre on Skye, marks its 40th with a special Celtic Connections concert on 19 January including such luminaries as Julie Fowlis, Margaret Stewart, James Graham and Allan McDonald, as well as the Irish pianist and academic Mìcheal O Suilleabhain.
The Sabhal Mòr Ostaig programme of concerts, courses and tours continues through the year (see www.smo.uhi.ac.uk). And still on the Gaelic front, celebrating its 40th birthday is Runrig, the band that, in the Eighties and Nineties in particular, became strongly identified with Gaelic – and Scottish – cultural resurgence. Expect anniversary concerts throughout the year but especially on 10 August, when the band hosts a very big party indeed on the Black Isle (see www.runrig.co.uk).
At the essential grassroots end of traditional music making, the Traditional Music and Song Association, while aware of the financial constraints facing everyone in the cultural sector, has also expressed dissatisfaction at current funding options, which impact on its work in fostering general music-making and learning. As things stand, it seems unlikely, for instance, that the “Trad Traills” sessions the TMSA organised in 2012 in conjunction with Fèis Rois will be recurring this coming year.
Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, the annual municipal Ceilidh Culture programme is being superseded by Tradfest Edinburgh/Dùn Èideann which, we are assured, will embrace Scots and Gaelic culture as well as Scotland’s other diverse communities. Running from 24 April to 6 May, Tradfest is run by the umbrella organisation TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland), formed last spring to bring together different strands of the traditional arts and based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Venues will include the Queen’s Hall, Usher Hall, Dance Base and the Storytelling Centre.
As yet, publicity hasn’t got any further than a “call for participation”, although the response has apparently been encouraging. Any further bright ideas have to be in to the organisers (Donald@scottishstorytellingcentre.com) by 15 January.