Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s At Last isn’t in the set-list for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s return to live performance at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on Friday 24 September. But it could be the orchestra’s founder-director, saxophonist Tommy Smith’s theme song as he prepares to celebrate both a real gig with an audience and the SNJO’s 25th anniversary.
“We had a celebration gig online towards the end of last year but it didn’t feel the same without an audience,” says Smith. “So as we’re still in our quatercentenary year and – fingers crossed – restrictions have been lifted, we wanted to underline the orchestra’s longevity with a birthday concert that we’re calling LIVE at 25, just to emphasise the long-awaited in-person nature of the event.”
LIVE at 25 will feature music from across the orchestra’s lifespan and highlights the continuing emergence of jazz talent in Scotland. The award-winning young trombonists Anoushka Nanguy and Liam Shortall take their places as soloists and section players in a programme drawn from almost 100 years of jazz history as well as the classical and Scottish music traditions.
Nanguy, from Newton Mearns, won the Rising Star title at the Scottish Jazz Awards 2020 and Dumfries-born Shortall won the Best Band and Best Album prizes, with his group corto.alto, at the same awards. He also won the 2021 New Music Scotland Innovation in Jazz Award (sponsored by LJN writer Mark McKergow) with the group. Both products of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s acclaimed jazz course, Nanguy and Shortall typify the zest and enthusiasm of the youthful Glasgow jazz scene that has attracted international interest.
“There are talented young jazz musicians materializing all over Scotland,” says Smith. “When the orchestra began, we wanted to showcase the high quality of Scottish jazz and having established a reputation as one of the world’s leading large-scale ensembles over the past twenty-five years, we want to reward ability and hard work among those young players by giving them a platform. It’s great to have their creativity and imagination, as well as their diligence, onstage with us.”
The LIVE at 25 concert programme includes music by Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Neal Hefti and Leonard Bernstein. It also encompasses pieces by groups including Weather Report, Steps Ahead and Yellowjackets. Scottish elements, including an arrangement of Robert Burns’ My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose and an extract from Culloden Moor Suite, which the orchestra recorded with its composer, the late Glasgow-born saxophonist Bobby Wellins, also feature.
“We can’t wait to play together with an audience in the same room,” says Smith. “It’s been eighteen months since our previous live concert and although we’ve played online and recorded videos to keep in touch with everyone in the interim, nothing beats the physical thrill of performing with – and listening to – a big band in person.”