Glasgow's online Jazz Festival aims to bring Scottish talent to an international audience

The Glasgow Jazz Festival may be taking place in cyberspace again this year, but as its director Jill Rodger tells Jim Gilchrist, this allows it to reach a truly global audience

Laura MacDonald
Laura MacDonald

Ancient stones in Edinburgh have been resounding to very 21st century music and pandemic-age technology. Earlier this month saw the magnificent interior of St Giles’ Cathedral host an extraordinary exercise in spontaneous creation when the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra collaborated with the Edinburgh-based Russian painter Maria Rud. While the big band, under the direction of saxophonist Tommy Smith, tapped into the free jazz revolution of the 1960s, Rud, in her multi-media “Animotion” live-painting mode, responded directly to the music, her ever-evolving images being projected on to the darkened cathedral’s west window and the whole performance being live-streamed.

Among other repertoire Smith had chosen an Albert Ayler piece called Ghosts – appropriately enough for a venue so steeped in history, the music coursing from free-form sturm und drang, through – somewhat unexpectedly – the largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, to a jubilant climax involving When the Saints Go Marching In. During a prolonged drum solo from Alyn Cosker, Rud’s brush strokes sometimes seemed as syncopated as the music to which she was reacting and, yes, the image that took shape was of a huge, decidedly Gabriel-esque horn, curving across the window.

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If the SNJO collaboration involved interaction with a very specific environment, the Rebellious Truth lecture that closed Edinburgh’s Tradfest, delivered online by Karine Polwart from the 18th-century Saint Cecilia’s Hall, concerned itself with humankind’s interaction with the natural environment at large. She illustrated it – and beautifully – by singing Burns’s much loved Now Westlin' Winds, its condemnation of “man’s tyrannic dominion” flagging up the Ayrshire bard’s 18th century green credentials.

Streaming from perhaps not quite so venerable but indubitably popular venues, St Luke’s and the Blue Arrow, will be the digital Glasgow Jazz Festival, running from 18-20 June. The recently announced programme for the former Victorian “chapel of ease” of St Luke’s particularly spotlights Glasgow-based but increasingly internationally celebrated performers, kicking off on Friday 18th with the Fergus McCreadie Trio, who have been receiving widespread plaudits for their second album, Cairn.

The weekend programme at St Luke’s continues on the Saturday with acclaimed saxophonist Laura MacDonald and her quartet, followed by the dynamic, hip-hop infused sound of young collective corto.alto, led by trombonist Liam Shortall. All three acts will premiere a new work commissioned by the festival.

Sunday 20th sees the award-winning young vocalist Georgia Cécile, followed by Mama Terra, a new collaboration between multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Marco Cafolla and saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski.

Still to announce its online festival programme, the city’s Blue Arrow jazz club promises “pop-up” sets, a “Women in Jazz” interview series and a session featuring London-based Scots musicians and specially commissioned music being assembled by trumpeter Ryan Quigley.

This 35th Glasgow Jazz Festival festival may be considerably down in scale from previous iterations, when it brought illustrious international names to the city, but such are the times in which we live. The irony is, however, that as the festival discovered when forced online by Covid last summer, these digitised (and ticketed) performances reach global audiences which traditional live gigs would not. As festival director Jill Rodger puts it: “Going online allows us to continue supporting the city’s rich and diverse jazz ecosystem, including musicians, local venues and an array of industry specialists, such as production, sound and lighting, who work tirelessly to bring audiences the best live music.”

The festival has been far from idle since last year’s event, streaming a succession of winter and spring shows, the last two of which, from its Spring Sessions, can be enjoyed later this month (www.myplayer.uk/jazz). Guitarist Allan McKeown and his quartet, inspired by late Sixties soul-jazz, stream on 2 June, while vocalist and jazz historian Ali Affleck and her Bedlam Swing band declaim the feisty delights of vintage jazz on 9 June.

For full Glasgow Jazz Festival programme and details of its “all-access” festival pass, see www.jazzfest.co.uk Performances will be available to view on demand for seven days following broadcast.

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