Jim Gilchrist: Jazz world mourns the passing of Bill Kyle

Bill Kyle at the opening of the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh in 2005
Bill Kyle at the opening of the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh in 2005
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There is a terrible irony in the fact that Bill Kyle, indefatigable jazz drummer and proprietor of Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, should pass away suddenly just as Scotland’s only dedicated nightly jazz venue should be in celebratory form, having released a double album to mark its tenth anniversary, while its Bridge Music initiative had just recommenced weekly concerts and sessions in Glasgow.

In creating and maintaining the Jazz Bar’s vibrant platform for contemporary jazz from Scotland and often well beyond, Bill, who succumbed to a heart attack, aged 70, on 30 October, had surmounted obstacles that might have deterred many others. When, in December 2002, he contemplated the smouldering ruins of what had been his Bridge Jazz Bar following the devastating Cowgate Fire, after only seven months of its existence as a venue, he might have been excused for giving up in despair. Instead, encouraged by public support, he found another venue, just round the corner in Chambers Street.

The new bar opened its doors in July 2005 and Bill enhanced the venue’s popularity by augmenting its core jazz programme with acoustic folk, blues, soul and funk. Since then it has scooped a clutch of gongs, including two Scottish Jazz “Venue of the Year” Awards and “UK Jazz Venue of the Year” in the 2010 Parliamentary Jazz Awards – and it has also been labelled “one of the world’s top jazz venues” by Downbeat magazine.

Last year’s celebrations resulted in the newly released Jazz Bar 10th Anniversary double album, while at the same time, Kyle’s non-profit promotional operation, Bridge Music, which hosted leading UK and international performers at the Edinburgh bar and in Glasgow Arts Club, re-started Glasgow operations on a trial basis, with Tuesday jam sessions and Friday programmed gigs at Swing, in the city’s Hope Street. Glasgow events had been in abeyance following a hiatus in funding from Creative Scotland and the temporary closure of the Arts Club, and Bill hoped that if the two-month trial went well, an application to Creative Scotland might be successful in establishing a more permanent Glasgow programme.

The legion of stunned musicians who crammed into the Jazz Bar the night of Bill’s death was testimony to the regard in which he was held. Whether maintaining an unflappable onstage presence on drums or carrying on essential backroom administration, attracting international names such as Joe Locke or Lee Konitz or encouraging emerging young Scottish talent, he and his establishment were indispensible on a Scottish jazz scene which remains all too short on venues.

Trumpeter Colin Steele, a familiar figure on the Jazz Bar stage, put it simply: “The Scottish music scene has lost a true legend.

“The amount of energy he put into the Jazz Bar was astonishing. The results were astonishing too – three gigs a day, seven days a week, probably giving work to about

100 musicians every week for the last ten years. So many musicians played their first gig because of Bill, he influenced so many lives.”

Such single-minded energy may be hard to replace, but the uncompromising message from the Jazz Bar is that it will carry on. So far as Glasgow gigs are concerned, at time of going to press, trumpeter Colin Steele’s Mercy Mercy Mercy quintet are billed at Swing this Friday and pianist Chick Lyall’s quartet on Friday 25 November.

What has proved a melancholy autumn also saw the revered veteran Scots saxophonist, Bobby Wellins, pass away on 27 October. The show, as they say, must go on, however, and this weekend is no exception as the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, which has championed Wellins’s music, celebrates the legacy of one of jazz’s towering innovators in The Legend of Charlie Parker at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall tonight and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow tomorrow.

The orchestra’s musical director, saxophonist Tommy Smith, also appears, in partnership with pianist Brian Kellock, at the Dundee Jazz Festival, which runs from 16-20 November. They join a bill which includes gypsy jazz from Rose Room plus saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and the Cappella

String Quartet; MOBO award-winning saxophonist Soweto Kinch and American soul-rocker Nikki

Hill. ■

*For Jazz Bar and Bridge Music programmes, see www.thejazzbar.co.uk and www.swingltd.co.uk

*For more on the SNJO and the Dundee Jazz Festival, see www.snjo.co.uk and www.jazzdundee.co.uk