2017 Arts Preview - The Year Ahead in Folk & Jazz

Jazz anniversaries at home and abroad prompt some celebratory gigs for 2017
Sean GibbsSean Gibbs
Sean Gibbs

Such things are always open to debate, but it seems generally agreed that 26 February 1917 saw the first ever recording by a jazz band – the joyous sound of the Dixieland Jass Band. Jazz would go on to have a global impact far beyond anything that trombonist Eddie Edwards, clarinettist Larry Shields and their colleagues could ever have imagined as they let rip in that New York studio.

As 1917 also marks the centenaries of Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, expect plenty of celebrations, kicking off, so far as Scotland is concerned, with the Fife Jazz Festival, from 3-12 February, which among other things will feature Rose Room singer and violinist Seonaid Aitken fronting the Groove Merchant Jazz Orchestra in a programme of Fitzgerald hits at the Rothes Halls in Glenrothes.

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The festival also sees the Big Chris Barber Band at Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall, which also hosts a “Jazz at Carnegie Hall” event on the 12th, with bands including trumpeter Colin Steele’s Quintet, who will be showcasing their forthcoming recording, Even in the Darkest Places, due out in March. Steele’s band also plays the Blue Lamp, Aberdeen on 9 February, while the following month (15-19 March), Aberdeen hosts its own jazz festival.

It’s also the 70th anniversary of Scottish jazz – at least according to the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival (14-23 July), which is taking the 1947 debut of Leith’s celebrated Tommy Sampson Big Band as its cue, and will host concerts marking the jazz centenary as well as events charting the development of the music in Scotland.

Orchestral jazz is sometimes seen as coming of age in 1959 with Miles Davis’s reinterpretation of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with arranger Gill Evans. The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra will revisit that, and the equally rich Sketches of Spain, in Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow, featuring their long-time trumpeter Tom McNiven as well as guest trumpeter Laura Jurd. Before that, however, over the weekend of 24-26 February, the orchestra performs with vibes virtuoso Joe Locke and vocalist Kenny Washington to celebrate Songs of Mancini and Mandel in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Tommy Smith Youth Orchestra, run by the SNJO’s director, greets the New Year with a new album, Effervescence, and a tour planned for May. Meanwhile, the SNJO’s most recent member, trumpeter Sean Gibbs, plans to record with his group Fervour and hopes to tour with it later in the year. Another rising star is pianist Fergus McCreadie, recently selected by Jazzwise magazine as “one to watch” in 2017.

Recovering from the recent passing of its proprietor, drummer Bill Kyle, it’s business as usual at Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, with notable guests including prog-jazz trio NeWt on 18-19 January, the Australian trio Trichotomy on 8 February, and Pat Kenny’s London Groove Collective on 16 February (also playing at Swing, Glasgow, the following night).

Also in Edinburgh, the popular Sunday evening jazz spots at Wighams Wine Cellar continue, with guests in the New Year including singer Kate Peters and her quintet and Danish guitarist Jacob Fischer in duet with pianist Brian Kellock.

Meanwhile pianist Euan Stevenson, as well as touring with his New Focus partner Konrad Wiszniewski, plans to release an album of his own compositions and arrangements for piano, cello and chamber ensemble.

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The musical year, of course, kicks off with the roots music behemoth that is Celtic Connections (19 January- 5 February) with some 300 events at venues across Glasgow, encompassing everything from Senegalese dance rhythms to Gaelic psalm singing. Highlights include an opening concert by Laura Marling with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the re-convening of Jim Sutherland’s pan-European folk orchestra La Banda Europa, a show from percussion virtuosi Trilok Gurtu and Evelyn Glennie, and Shooglenifty hosting a night in celebration of their fiddle player Angus R Grant, who died in October.

The capital’s folk year gets underway with Edinburgh Folk Club featuring East Lothian singer-songwriter George Machray on 4 January and subsequent guests including Tannara, the Friel Sisters and the Rachel Hair Trio, while the Royal Oak’s Wee Folk Club starts on the 6th with the Dog House Roses. Also championing live music, Soundhouse recommences its Monday night gigs in the Traverse Theatre Bar, with Blueflint on 16 February and later acts including the Furrow Collective and the fiddle quartet Rant.

The city’s TradFest (26 April – 7May) marks its fifth year with a Battle of the Folk Bands, while its hub, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, in conjunction with Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland and Edinburgh University, hosts the Folklore Society’s conference over the weekend of 31 March-2 April.

In Perthshire the Bard of Butterstone, Dougie Maclean, has announced that, after 12 years, his popular Perthshire Amber festival will not take place this autumn, as he takes time “to reflect and project”. Happily, however, that other Perthshire musical celebration, the Niel Gow Festival, will once again celebrate the legacy of the 18th century fiddle master around Dunkeld from 17-19 March.

Forthcoming folk albums include releases from Mànran, Laura-Beth Salter, Blair Douglas and an album of Burns songs from Stapleton while fiddler Ryan Young, named “Up and Coming Artist of the Year” at this month’s Scots Trad Awards, will release his debut album. A recording is also due from the intriguing-sounding Far-Flung Collective, involving musicians from Benbecula and Dorset.

And to end with yet another anniversary, Glasgow’s ex-pat Highlanders’ haven, the Park Bar, will celebrate 50 years of hosting live music early in the new year with an album featuring Trail West, Gary Innes, Skerryvore and other ceilidh heroes. ■