In a busy schedule of touring, writing and recording, Smith found the time and energy to launch the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in 1995, and remains its director. SNJO has presented programmes of both repertory classics and more contemporary works, often specially commissioned.
The repertory programmes have included Duke Ellington’s extended suites, celebrations of Count Basie and Benny Goodman (with special guest Ken Peplowski) and the collaborations between Miles Davis and Gil Evans – Porgy & Bess, Sketches of Spain (both with Gerard Presencer as trumpet soloist) and Miles Ahead (with Ingrid Jensen). SNJO has also presented the music of Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Benny Carter, Kenton, Monk, Steely Dan, Astor Piazzolla and Pat Metheny (with guitarists Jim Mullen, Phil Robson, Mike Walker and Kevin MacKenzie) and premiered special commissions by Keith Tippett, Florian Ross, and Geoffrey Keezer as well as specially commissioned arrangements of John Coltrane, Chick Corea (with drummer Gary Novak), and Wayne Shorter (featuring Gary Burton as soloist) compositions.
In addition, SNJO has performed music by contemporary jazz creators. These include Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Sister Suite; Joe Lovano’s Celebrating Sinatra, with arrangements by the late Manny Albam; a programme of the music of Maria Schneider, conducted by the composer; and Smith’s own Planet Wave, an adventurous large-scale composition made possible by the Arts Foundation/Barclays Bank jazz composition fellowship prize which marries Smith’s music to poet Edwin Morgan’s text to great effect. The concerts with Joe Lovano also featured the premiere of Smith’s acclaimed Torah, a work based on the first five books of the Bible, in which a titanic struggle between good and evil is vividly enacted. Written over seventy days, the fifty-minute composition was created specially for the phenomenal American tenor saxophonist and SNJO. The same evening Torah was being premiered in Scotland, Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth premiered another work by Smith and Edwin Morgan, The Morning of the Imminent, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
SNJO has also provided a platform for jazz musicians and composers based in Scotland to write for big band in concerts devoted to suites comprising contributions by orchestra members and external contributors alike. These include The Solar Suite, Great Scots Suite and The Edinburgh Suite.