I first started to record solo saxophone in 1997 on the recording Sound of Love by playing Ellington’s Solitude; the meditative atmosphere of performing alone makes you focus on every breath and through each statement comes an action in contemporary poetic performance. On subsequent albums, I recorded Amazing Grace on Bluesmith 1999, and I Loves You Porgy on Spartacus 2000. It wasn’t until I was to perform a duo concert on the famous island of Malt Whiskeys, Islay that I dared play an entire set of solo saxophone. However, it was out of necessity because my fellow musician missed the ferry to the isle, and I was forced to play alone, and full of fear, in the presence of a packed audience. Knowing this knowledge a few hours in advance I tried to prepare myself mentally for the challenge by recording some sounds from the beach with gulls and ocean waves, etc., A few months later after this terrifying experience, Dame Diana Rigg presented me with one of the first Creative Scotland Awards in 2000 at the Hub in Edinburgh. The award of £25,000 enabled me to play a solo tour of 40 concerts all over the world, and help me with my fear of being alone.
At the same time, I also recorded my solo saxophone recording, Into Silence, on a cold October day, in the ghostly acoustics of the historic Hamilton Mausoleum, playing bells, tenor & soprano saxophones. Into Silence exploits the northernness Scotland shares with the Scandinavian countries; a polar-clean, ice-brittle sonic landscape, related to ECM recordings. It’s a solo album, but it doesn’t sound like one. The Mausoleum has one of Europe’s longest natural reverberation, at 15 seconds. When playing more harmonically intricate pieces, the music unfolds many unexpected harmonies, and you feel like you are conducting a choir of ghosts through folk songs, ballads and improvisations.
“Tommy has a unique sound and approach. I liked it from when I first heard him play as a student at Berklee.”
Spaces are integral to a spiritual solo performance, whether in a mosque, Mausoleum, cathedral, castle, or auditorium. That connection with the acoustic, the silence, and the audience is paramount to the narrative of a live performance. Telling a story with my own personal voice and sounding and rebounding the reverberation, discovering what making music from the different corners of the imagination and spaces into the souls of the listener is a journey through time.
is the most demanding of art forms, whether you circular breath to create a drone of symmetry to improvise over, or searching for possibilities within extended techniques of the horn, or simply play a beautiful melodic line – no matter how you play there is nowhere to hide, especially the space between the phrases and sounds. The basic concepts are important to melt with oneself: becoming the space, comprehending the audience, and being a storyteller through the thematic material that evolves.