Vintage Sound Scotland meeting the demand for jazz

Jazz singer and agency founder 'Alison Affleck. Picture: Contributed
Jazz singer and agency founder 'Alison Affleck. Picture: Contributed
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A COLLECTIVE of performers have formed a jazz agency to meet the rising demand for their music, explains Jim Gilchrist.

As the proverbial joint, the Dirty Martini lounge of Edinburgh’s Le Monde hotel was indeed jumping last Sunday night for the launch of a new jazz agency, Vintage Sound Scotland, which its founder, award-winning singer Alison Affleck, claims as “Scotland’s only dedicated jazz collective”.


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Specialising in the kind of classic jazz which appears to be enjoying a revival of interest among a far younger generation than one generally associates with trad jazz events, the launch night hosted a succession of first-rate bands, opening with trumpeter Colin Steele with the Campbell Normand Trio, performing some ebullient Satchmo material, as well as the muscular and deceptively titled Chet Atkins classic, Softly as the Morning Sunrise. Next the convincingly Django-esque gypsy jazz of the quartet Rose Room, led by violinist Seonaid Aitken, went down a storm, not least with the youthful jive dancers birling around the floor.

Also on the bill, vocalist Stephen Duffy delved into the Nat King Cole back catalogue as well as delivering Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me over Jay Kilbride’s nicely stalking bass line, while Edinburgh’s “Little Jazz Bird”, Victoria Bennett, arrived late off a plane but nevertheless gave a brief but impressive performance, her silky huskiness impassioning Miss Otis Regrets and My Funny Valentine.

Affleck herself seemed totally in her element as she and her band bounced along in a Fats Waller classic or the louche drag of Ella Fitzgerald’s Come Love.

Affleck, voted Best Vocalist of the Year in the 2013 Scottish Jazz Awards, hopes to make evenings like Sunday’s a monthly event at Le Monde, which hosted short-lived jazz seasons during the Fringe. “I’d like to bring it back,” she says. “It’s a beautiful venue for jazz and it does have space for dancing, which is cool.”

As a long-time swing dancer as well as singer, Affleck knows what dancers want, and reckons that many jazz musicians don’t cater for them. She agrees, however, that the popularity of classic or vintage jazz has “grown exponentially over the last five years. I’m fortunate to work with a lot of people in the swing dance community, and with great live bands, and I just feel that people who have been playing this for so long should really be getting the opportunity to be heard.”

And that’s the aim of Vintage Sound Scotland. “It’s like a collective. Essentially I’ll take bookings for bands, and the idea is to give the customer exactly what they’re after.”

Now resident in Edinburgh, Affleck is a Dundonian who spent ten years in California and New Orleans. She started performing in the States with folk bands – “being Scottish with red hair” – but the Crescent City got her hooked on jazz. Since her return to Scotland, she has zealously championed the classics, but found, when dealing with agencies, that there was a distinct lack of understanding. “A lot of agencies don’t understand jazz and they particularly don’t understand vintage. They’re supplying music to venues that a lot of the time – and I hate to say it – is a watered down version.”

Her new venture, therefore, is first and foremost an agency that understands jazz. And while its emphasis may be on “old school” jazz, she stresses that it can cater for a wider range of styles. It was notable that many of the musicians playing in the evening’s band roster – guitarist Graeme Stephen, trumpeter Steele, trombonist Chris Greive and saxophonist Scott Murphy, to name a few – are equally involved with Scotland’s highly creative contemporary scene.

Like Affleck, swing and bebop vocalist Stephen Duffy, who presents BBC Radio Scotland’s weekly Jazz House (and who, like other of Sunday’s performers, is on the agency’s books) reckons the time is right for such a venture.

“There’s a need for this and Ali’s got the brass neck to do it. Venues often want to put on live music like this, but they don’t always know how to do it,” he says.

Duffy is in no doubt that a revival is underway. He’s just returned from performing at swing balls in Bristol and London – “800 swing dancers, barely one of them over 40. I’ve never had so much fun in my life.”

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