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The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra hit Linlithgow on Saturday with verve and a tight panorama of jazz from the last 90 years. Directed and led by Tommy Smith, the boy from Wester Hailes who now graces the international jazz world, they covered work by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis,Randy Brecker, Smith himself and an array of other jazz greats.
An audience at the Linlithgow Arts Guild, more used to chamber music than jazz, was blown away by the talent Smith had gathered.
The gig started with a sharp rendering of Basie’s April in Paris and the audience was hooked. Hay BurnerIn a Mellow Tone and Mood Indigo displayed the bright, confident, seemingly inexhaustible style of the orchestra.
The individual skills of both the sax section and the trumpets shone through in spontaneous improvisations on Ellington’s Cotton Tail. The second half maintained the momentum with Miles Davis’s Splatch, Dexter Gordon’sCheese Cake and Cole Porter’s Love for Sale, and the impish Sean Beggs on trumpet belting into Molten Swingwith grace and confidence.
These young musicians, late teens to early twenties, improvised with style and a fine-edged competitiveness, teetered creatively on the artistic edge, but never descending into chaos. Indeed, there was a powerful discipline and cooperative ethos at the core of production.
Smith introduced his own Torah Suite, the only piece in which he played (and the assured magic of the Smith saxophone hit home), by stating that you don’t need a director when you have empowered musicians.
These were indeed empowered young musicians, playing with a precise, assured and imaginative style, a credit to the understated Smith’s skills as a teacher and to his musical leadership.
The above article was first published in The Caledonian Mercury on 26 October 2011:

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