Adventures in Cyberspace with Scotland's Quarantine Big Band

Lockdown has forced Scotland’s jazz musicians to embrace the internet, with some dazzling results

The Quarantine Big Band in action

Arias from Italian balconies, piping for the NHS from Scots pavements... the urge to perform is finding intriguing outlets during this weird and worrying time, as the image of the backroom musician evolves from solitary noodling into widespread online streaming. Even so, the 17-piece “quarantine big band” assembled by Glasgow-based trumpeter Joshua Elcock takes some beating.

Elcock recruited his pals from Glasgow’s hotbed of emerging jazz talent, including drummer Stephen Henderson, bassist David Bowden, guitarist James MacKay and hefty brass and reed sections, “to bring some happiness to everybody out there” with a smoothly funky account of Jacob Mann’s Baby Carrots. The end product, which received its broadcast premiere on Radio Scotland’s Jazz Nights two Sundays ago, is suitably tasty and neatly accomplished, given that each player was recording and videoing themselves at home on a random variety of devices.

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Elcock dispatched the music first to Henderson, who laid down the beat, then to the remaining rhythm section (including keyboardist Dan Brown who video-edited the recordings) then to the rest including, finally, tenor sax soloist Matt Carmichael. These strands were then mixed into a seamless whole by trombonist Liam Shortall.

In this dismal time of shutdown and the evaporation of all live gigs, online broadcasting has gone, dare one say, viral (witness, for starters, this paper’s Scotsman Sessions). And the website of the aforementioned Jazz Nights, hosted by Seonaid Aitken, is another useful source of home studio tracks and video clips.

Elsewhere, pianist Euan Stevenson has been live-streaming some of his highly engaging jazz-classical Mikrovisations, inspired by Béla Bartók and Erik Satie, on Chamber Music Scotland’s YouTube channel, where his video is still available, along with much else by other artists. He’s planning another live-streamed recital on 6 May.

Another noted pianist, Fergus McCreadie, who recently streamed Over the Rainbow in tribute to SNH personnel, is broadcasting every Tuesday evening on his Facebook page. McCreadie has also released a live EP from his trio’s recent concert in Abergavenny, which he regards as one of their best performances to date. The CD is purchasable from his website for the next three months, complete with handmade sleeve.

This summer’s Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival having been cancelled, the organisers have been presenting on its website “an online blues extravaganza,” running until tomorrow. They state: “In these difficult times... we will do our best to re-schedule the many artists who were due to be involved in delivering the Festival and Carnival.” Also in the capital, the normally industrious Soundhouse Organisation has opened a fundraising facility to assist the artists it would have hosted over the current period, including the Tenement Jazz Band and Simon Thacker’s Ritmata.

Edinburgh’s irreplaceable but locked up Jazz Bar, meanwhile, is contemplating a non-Fringe August, normally a period that sees it present a packed programme, quite apart from the 22-plus bands it habitually hosts every week. There are regular blogs and clips of cancelled artists on the bar’s website, which also solicits donations – through buying “a virtual pint” – and album sales. Programme director Edith Kyle comments: “It’s impossible to tell what the world is going to look like in a week, let alone a few months, so while we do plan to run programming during August (as much as we are allowed to), we won’t be able to really organise anything with certainty until July.” Edinburgh swing chanteuse Ali Affleck has been collating pre-recorded tracks donated by musicians for a forthcoming digital album celebrating the bar’s current 15th anniversary.

Another sadly silenced Edinburgh jazz fixture is the monthly Playtime sessions at the Outhouse, hosted by the creative core of guitarist Graeme Stephen, drummer Phil Bancroft, reedsman Martin Kershaw and bassist Mario Caribe. Steven and Bancroft, however, are planning duo streaming via Zoom on the Playtime Facebook page.

Steven, meanwhile, has been streaming solo improvisations from home via Facebook. It seems that, in the wired world at least, you can’t keep a good musician locked down.