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Tommy Smith

MY STATEMENT to the Scottish Parliament – 12 Dec 2007

I’ve just finished a tour of the UK with Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, and we spent many hours discussing the world of jazz. During one of our conversations I was astounded to discover that the Norwegian Jazz Federation was set up in 1953, over half a century ago. Today, at the close of 2006, the Scottish Jazz Federation has finally arrived. Now, some people may think this late arrival is a consequence of uninventive Scots but I beg to differ.

An Englishman enjoys his breakfast of toast and MARMALADE, invented by Mrs Keiller of Dundee (Scotland), reaches for his RAINCOAT, patented by Charles MacIntosh from Glasgow (Scotland), and dashes to the train station on his BICYCLE, invented by James Kirkpatrick MacMillan of Dumfries (Scotland) and whose TYRES, invented by John Boyd Dunlop of Dreghorn (Scotland), run on a TARMAC ROAD by John MacAdam of Ayr (Scotland). The journey by train, whose engine power is calculated in WATTS named after James Watt of Greenock (Scotland), takes him to work at the BANK OF ENGLAND founded by William Paterson of Dumfries (Scotland). While opening his mail, sent with ADHESIVE STAMPS invented by James Chalmers of Dundee (Scotland), he puffs on a CIGARETTE first manufactured by Robert Gloag of Perth (Scotland). He later rings his wife on a TELEPHONE invented by Alexander Graham Bell of Edinburgh (Scotland). She tells him that dinner will be ROAST BEEF from Aberdeen Angus raised in Aberdeenshire (Scotland). He arrives home to find his daughter watching on TELEVISION invented by John Logie Baird of Helensburgh (Scotland) a programme about the U.S. NAVY founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean (Scotland) and his son reading TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson of Edinburgh (Scotland), and on lifting the family BIBLE he finds the first name mentioned is again a Scot, King James VI who authorised its translation. The same King James was also the first MONARCH OF THE UNITED KINGDOM, having become the British King following the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

The Englishman is unable to escape the accomplishments of the Scots. He could turn to WHISKY, but Scotland makes the best. He could stick his head in the oven, but COAL GAS was discovered by William Murdoch of Ayr (Scotland) and most domestic gas is now from the NORTH SEA, piped ashore in Scotland. He could attempt to shoot himself but his antique BREACH LOADING RIFLE was invented by Captain Pat Ferguson of Pitfours (Scotland). Should his suicide attempt prove unsuccessful, he may require a course of PENICILLIN discovered by Alexander Fleming of Darvel (Scotland) or be given an ANAESTHETIC discovered by Sir James Young Simpson of Bathgate (Scotland). So what hope for the poor unfortunate Englishman? Only one. He could sit back, drink his IRON BRU, eat his SHORTBREAD and listen to a deeply moving Negro Spiritual from Alabama, only to discover that Black Music roots and the source of American Gospel music originated in Scotland. But then he pauses and suddenly a grin spreads across his entire face because he remembers that England has 5 full-time jazz courses, in London, Birmingham and Leeds, and Scotland has none.

He ponders more and thinks of the great Willie Ruff, a professor of music at Yale University, a musicologist and jazz man who has played with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, whose surnames, by the way, are Scottish. Their names and religion come from their ancestral Scottish slave masters, as do names like Armstrong (Louis Armstrong), Mitchell (Blue Mitchell), Wilson (Teddy Wilson), McRae (Carmen McRae), Montgomery (Wes Montgomery), Davis (Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis), Lewis (George & John Lewis), Stewart (Rex Stewart), Russell (Luis Russell), Murray (Don Murray), Webster (Ben Webster), McLean (Jackie McLean), Morgan (Lee Morgan), Morton (Jelly Roll Morton), Young (Lester Young), and Oliver, (King Oliver). The Englishman then logs onto the internet and Googles the Harlem telephone book in Georgia, to find that it’s more like the telephone book for North Uist. Black American cultural roots may be more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American, he thinks. The Englishman then imagines what it was like for the 50,000 Gaelic-speaking Scottish immigrants who settled in North Carolina’s Cape Fear region and other parts of the South in the 18th and 19th centuries. While the Scots worshipped in their churches, singing the unaccompanied psalms in Gaelic, their slaves sat in the balcony above. This unaccompanied singing is called “Presenting the line”, in which a designated person sings a solo line from the biblical Book of Psalms, inviting members of the congregation to follow in their own time and with their own harmonies. The result is a radiant, surging, echoing chorus. It is the direct ancestor of “lining out,” a hymnal singing style of 19th century slaves, which is still practised at a dwindling number of black Southern churches.

“Lining out” evolved into the call-and-response of spirituals and gospel music that, in turn, influenced other American musical styles: spirituals, blues, ragtime – everything else that came later has some of this genetic musical DNA. So, if jazz music flows from the blues and ragtime – it implies its origins are from the Hebrides of Scotland. The Englishman is astounded, but why has Scotland not yet established a Scottish Jazz Academy to promote its heritage? Why does England have five jazz schools? Do the English want to steal all the good players from Scotland and boost their own economy? In spite of the proliferation and growth of jazz education in Europe over the past 40 years, why can’t Scottish jazz students study jazz music on their own doorstep? Has it been banned? I thought Scotland loved its heritage. Perhaps I’ll have that whisky after all.

Dizzy Gillespie had no doubt that there was a connection between Scotland and Gospel music, as he told musicologist and bassist Willie Ruff on many occasions during their tours around the world. I’m always saddened when I hear our nation’s leaders bragging about Scotland being at the forefront of music education, because when it comes to jazz, which we may have indirectly given birth to, there is no tertiary full-time jazz education in place. We must be backward to miss such a wonderful opportunity. Are we?

Any university in Scotland has the power to establish a full-time jazz course. Why haven’t they? Why doesn’t SHEFC, the Scottish Higher Educational Funding Council provides funding for the universities in the form of additional music places to establish a full-time jazz academy? Why doesn’t the Scottish Parliament put pressure on SHEFC to put pressure on the universities. Why don’t the jazz musicians put pressure on the Scottish Parliament to put pressure on SHEFC to put pressure on the universities to establish a Scottish Jazz Academy? Why not? Does everybody just pass the buck? It’s a catch-22, between a rock and a hard place. One blames the other: the universities want more music places, SHEFC want the universities to give up already existing music places. The Scottish Parliament has to be impartial and cannot direct the direction. So what happens? Nothing. If only the heads of universities would be more passionate about the most beautiful and challenging of art forms, perhaps we would be celebrating 25 or 50 years of jazz education in

Scotland. You know, jazz is a serious music and is the passport to understanding all musical art forms. When young musicians open their imaginations to jazz music they then have a skeleton key to open the door of any musical genre. It takes talent, dedication and a country’s foresight. Are we blind, or are the music departments of our universities frightened and prejudiced against an art form called jazz?

What do Stu Brown, Martin Kershaw, Aidan O’Donnell, John Blease, Sebastiaan Rochford, Adam Jackson, Fraser Campbell, Lea Gough Cooper, Rachel Cohen, John Fleming, Gail McArthur, Ben Bryden, Jo Fooks, Jay Craig, Calum Gourlay, Alan Blair, Phil Cardwell, Theo Forrest, Paul Towndrow, Konrad Wiszniewski, Paddy Flatherty, Steve Hamilton, and myself have in common? We’ve all studied jazz outside Scotland. For the past 20 years there has been an ever-growing exodus of young Scottish jazz musicians in search of full-time jazz education. If you add the cost of tuition fees, accommodation and living expenses, that is a great deal of money lost to the Scottish economy and given freely to other countries. Jazz education continues to flourish abroad in the face of this estrangement from academia in Scotland. It does prevail….but we can be an essential part of the process. Can’t we?

Tonight, I’ve had to fly Rachel Cohen, Adam Jackson and John Fleming from Birmingham Conservatoire as they have important exams at the full-time jazz course there tomorrow. Our bassist, Calum Gourlay, who is studying jazz at the London Academy of Music, had an important exam today and could not be with us. It would have been easier if they studied up the road or at least had the choice to study jazz up the road. But all these musicians want the best jazz education and unfortunately it ain’t here.

Unlike many of my predecessors, such as Alex Welsh, Jimmy Deuchar, George Chisholm, Sandy Brown, Tommy Whittle, Joe Temperley, Bobby Wellins, Annie Ross, Carol Kidd and Jim Mullen, I decided to return, make my home here and do my utmost to develop the music that I love in a country that I love. Since the mid 1980’s, there have been many improvements, and the Scottish jazz scene is now moving forward through some fantastic initiatives headed by brave jazz musicians who are willing to stay the course. We have terrific jazz musicians living in this country who could spread the gospel of jazz: Steve Hamilton, Konrad Wiszniewski, Colin Steele, Phil Bancroft, Martin Kershaw, Ryan Quigley, Chris Greive, Mario Caribe, Alyn Cosker to name but a few. The only thing holding us back is the absence of a Scottish Jazz Academy.

“Whisky, Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor.” That is what people outside this country know about Scotland. All pretty positive things, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Scotland could be known for its jazz education?

Categorized: TS thoughts