Scots-Canadian jazz giant Jim Galloway remembered in new film

For the late Jim Galloway, every tune he played was an adventure, with live performance the very essence of what the Ayrshire-born, Toronto-domiciled saxophonist did. “I never know what I’m going to play,” he declares in a fine new documentary about his life. “Very often I find it’s like plunging into water.”

Jim Galloway

However, director James Cullingham’s film about the charismatic saxophonist, Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz, which receives its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival next Thursday, is more than just a screen biog; it is a celebration of what Cullingham, who will attend the screening, describes as “jazz’s capacity to bring people together across cultures and oceans”.

Galloway, who died in Toronto in 2014, was an eloquent master of clarinet and particularly soprano sax (he favoured the dinky-looking but, in his hands, powerful, curved model), while his energy as a promoter, as well as an articulate and witty broadcaster and writer, made him an ambassador for Canadian jazz. As well as leading numerous bands, he was a co-founder and artistic director of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, his services to international jazz being recognised by the French Government, who made him a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He was born in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, in 1936 and grew up in neighbouring Dalry, where he rigged up an old Philco radio and became hooked on the jazz he heard on American Forces and other international stations. Studying graphic design at Glasgow School of Art, he worked as a graphic artist and teacher, but all the while was developing his playing skills. In the film, he recalls the impact of hearing the great Sidney Bechet in Glasgow: “It was electric. I left that concert changed.”

He emigrated to Toronto in 1964, and Cullingham’s film is rich in Canadian archive footage and interviews with Galloway, colleagues and friends, and two of his wives – bassist and long-time collaborator Rosemary Galloway, and his third wife Anne Page Galloway.

Scots drummer Ken Mathieson, whose Classic Jazz Orchestra will celebrate Galloway at Glasgow’s Blue Arrow immediately after the screening, recalls: “Jim was a few years older than me and by the time I took my first tentative steps on to the Glasgow jazz scene, he was already established as one of the city’s finest reed players.

“He had progressed swiftly through the better trad jazz bands and his interest in other jazz styles, particularly the music of Duke Ellington, inevitably led to him setting up his own band, Jimmy Galloway’s Jazzmakers, with some of the best mainstream players around town. He and I knew each other to say hello, but we didn’t play together in the years before he emigrated to Canada.”

They became firm friends after the expat started returning to tour the UK and Europe in the Seventies, with Mathieson playing at his Scottish gigs: “Jim’s playing was always intelligently structured, full of invention, always swinging and lyrical, delivered with a rhythmic concept and glorious tone that derived from the playing of Johnny Hodges.”

The transcendent power of the music that Galloway loved is echoed in the film by drummer Leroy Williams, who states “We’re not just fooling around up here; we’re messengers.”

Galloway’s rapport with black musicians such as Williams and, from an older generation, fellow reedsman Buddy Tate and pianist Jay McShann, becomes evident in the film. As Cullingham says, “I think Galloway’s life is a tremendous lesson for us all in that he not only worked with but became close friends with people like Jay McShann and Buddy Tate.

“So, yes, the film is a contemplation, I hope, of the importance of jazz in world culture and how Jim Galloway is a prime example of how that operates.”

Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz is screening at the CCA, Glasgow on 21 February, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra plays the Blue Arrow after the screening. For more information, see