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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

Jazz sax man Tommy Smith enjoys precious moments.

Tommy Smith is renowned the world over as a world-class hornsman with serious chops and swagger to match, with an eloquence on a saxophone all his own.

Tommy responded to my request to share what creatives are up to with a fascinating insight into what really matters when our lives are reduced to their fundamental essence.

‘Unfortunately, my response to your email may not be what you're looking for.

All my life, I've been creating, ever since I was a young lad.

Now, since I'm home for an extended period - the last thing I want to do is practice the saxophone or create music.

Since I'm usually not home for long stretches, for me, this time is precious, and I don't want to waste it on creating more unneeded music. We have a few great musicians like Makoto Ozone and Kurt Elling, keeping everyone comfortable with beautiful music and stories.

What am I doing?

Well, this could be a monotonous passage.

I'm teaching my kids piano and playing chess with them.

Creating a web portal for my students for online assessment. Cooking food. Spending time with my family. Rereading the same books and learning something new. Watching the odd movie. Reading a poem or two. Editing some SNJO video performances and mixing the sound too. Talking with friends from my youth. Cleaning my office and making the space more zen. Scanning all my old compositions and finding new ones I have never performed. Collating 25 years of photos from the SNJO library. Reorganizing the 25 years of SNJO arrangements, parts and scores. Building a new website for Spartacus Recordings. Yes, monotonous indeed but required.

For me, music is for a live arena, a sacred place where there is a connection between people. Presenting a sound and allowing the air to take it to the ears and imagination of the listener. I fear this phenomenon might reveal itself earliest next year. I was looking forward to touring Japan in duo with Makoto in Sept. '20 and with Kurt next April, but I fear those kinds of gatherings will be tainted with profound prejudice and restrictions.

When I was 18 years old, I live in Gary Burton's basement for a year, and one thing that he taught me about music was its ability to tell a thematic story while making that unique connection with the audience as they follow the ideas developing. Gary never practised nor performed outside the circle of the live arena. He was a master improviser and never was set in a mechanical motor memory of routine.

I'm a very patient person, so I will enjoy these precious moments with my family that has been a long time coming, keep them safe, and make sure our friends and family are well.’

Tommy Smith is a leading light in European jazz, first and foremost as one of the finest saxophonists of his generation, and latterly as the founder and current director of The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO). These career-defining achievements are framed by his status as an international recording artist; a composer and arranger of extraordinary ambition; and not least, as a jazz educator.

His prolific career began in earnest when, aged only sixteen, he recorded his first album Giant Strides. He was rewarded with a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, an experience that has shaped his affirmative approach to jazz. Since then, he has made twenty-six solo albums as a leader for Blue Note, Linn and his own label Spartacus Records.

Tommy has also earned the regard, support and friendship of the many respected jazz figures with whom he has collaborated and created great jazz. They include, but are not limited to, Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny, Barron, Arild Andersen, John Scofield and Trilok Gurtu. His tenure with the SNJO has seen critically acclaimed performances and recordings of programmed and commissioned works including hugely popular treatments of Ellington, Gershwin, Weather Report and Miles Davis.

Tommy is also founder/director of The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and is current Artistic Director of the first ever full-time jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He also holds three honorary doctorates from Heriot-Watt, Glasgow Caledonian & Edinburgh Universities and a Professorship from the RCS. His latest album KARMA won him his seventh Scottish Jazz Award for album of the year in 2012.

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