Jazz education in Scotland is alive and well.
As a form that spans and embraces a broad array of musical styles, jazz offers diverse music making opportunities, always with the potential for improvisation, while connecting, apparently symbiotically, with your fellow musicians.
These are the qualities that were very much apparent as the Edinburgh Napier university Jazz Summer School reached a fitting and heart-warming conclusion at the city’s Jazz Bar, as part of Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.
The week-long jazz summer school has been running for a quarter of a century now. Musicians of all abilities sign up for a week of non-stop jazziness, where they are tutored by some of the leading musicians around and guided towards the final concert, which provides many of them with a first chance to play in front of an audience.
This year the 40 or so participants, with ages ranging from 14 up to late 70s, were spread across five different performing bands plus a singing group – all graded according to previous experience and ability.
Daily activities at the summer school, based at Napier’s Merchiston campus and its state-of-the-art music facilities, often start with a well-being session that might encompass yoga or stress management.
Course leader, prominent jazz musician, and Napier music lecturer, Haftor Medboe, said: “It might seem odd to include these types of activities but they help to clear the mind and let people focus on their creativity, produce the best music they can, and fully take part in band workshops.
“This helps the musicians to really produce their best work. Some have limited experience of playing with other people or performing, so it is important to get into the right frame of mind. The less inhibitions the better.”
After the well-being session, each day is filled with a variety of workshops with musicians getting the chance to work with a tutor, as well as their fellow band members, and build a couple of pieces for the final concert.
All the music this year came from living British composers; previous years have focused on the work of women composers or Scottish composers.
The course’s artistic director Dave Kane explained: “We have a theme each year; this year’s is British contemporary composers. We put a call out to a variety of composers asking them to submit pieces we could feature. We had a great response and were able to give each band a couple of strong compositions to work on.
“The workshops are really exciting. You can never really predict where things are going to go; that’s why jazz is such a strong musical force. I’m really proud of what the musicians have achieved musically while they’ve had a lot of fun too.”
Dave Kane spoke further to Allan Boughey, listen below:
Gary Simpson (drums) from Kinross and Ruairidh Jamieson (tenor sax) from Leeds agree.
Gary said: “It’s been an amazing week. The chance to play with a variety of different people and really work on just a couple of tunes is an amazing experience.”
Ruairidh added: “I studied music but dropped out of the course and guess I had really lost my interest in music or spark, so I saw the course as an opportunity to reignite my creativity – and it’s certainly done that. It’s been a fantastic experience and the chance to play live in front of an audience with the guys you’ve been with all week, is an absolute delight and pleasure.”
Students come from far and wide. While many are from Edinburgh and its environs, there are others from across the globe, this year including Chile, Brunei, Germany, and Holland, as well as the rest of Scotland and the UK.
It was also striking that a good number of the students were under the age of 20, which affirms the growing popularity of jazz among young people, largely because contemporary artists like London’s Ezra Collective or Glasgow’s STRATA, infuse their music with a wide variety of styles, including hip-hop or rock.
All 40 students were on show at the final two-hour concert at a packed Jazz Bar, which proved a delight. The excitement and joy among the musicians was palpable, even for the more seasoned campaigners, and there were many truly lovely moments in both the ensemble playing and solos.
Each of the five bands played two tunes, interspersed with piano-accompanied solo singers, while proceedings began with a piece for small choir. The audience was largely composed of family and friends while the musicians enthusiastically supported each other.
It was a privilege to be there.
By Allan Boughey