Friday, January 30

Radio Airplay Top 10 Artists/Songs (Week 4 2015)

Week 4 2015 Top 10 Artists
Top Band on Jango This Week
Blvd Marc
Top Band on Jango This Week
Rootz N Creation
Top Band on Jango This Week
Neil Tatar & David Darling
Top Band on Jango This Week
Apes With Hobbies
Top Band on Jango This Week
Possible Jumpers
Top Band on Jango This Week
Top Band on Jango This Week
Digital By Birth
Top Band on Jango This Week
Tom Hedrick
Top Band on Jango This Week
A Cast of Thousands
Top Band on Jango This Week
Strange Voices

Week 4 2015 Top 10 Songs

Manafest - Human

Silver Loves Mercury - suckerpunch

Tommytee - Good Girl

Gasmilk - 2 of Us.

WhiskeyPants - Leave My Heart Alone

Sound Before Black - Sound Before Black Feat. Mona

Hedrick - Good Cup of Coffee

Zeke Cernea - See Ya Later

Unnilhexium - Fulfill the Destiny

Eric Tingstad - The Last Caballero

Center Stage - Connor and Karlee


Our new Center Stage artist are brother and sister Connor and Karlee- A pop-alternative duo from Sacramento, California, whose sound marries acoustic vibes with a youthful energy. Inspired by the integrity and lyrical genius of such artists as John Mayer, Young the Giant, and Sara Bareilles, Connor (20) and Karlee (18) strive to create music that is emulative of their idols but unique to their own experiences.
Stuart Walthall, producer, musician and director for 4U Productions, wrote in an article in the Rio Vista Beacon: “these two performers create a huge wall of sound. Their original works exhibit complex changes in tempo, rhythm, and dynamics usually found in the music of much older and seasoned professional musicians.”

Growing up in a musical household and having solo side projects for much of their upbringing, it was no surprise that when they decided to start playing together on a regular basis, the only logical name for the band was, of course...themselves... Connor and Karlee. Connor and Karlee began playing together in 2010 on a local grassroots level at cafes, wineries, and even a middle-school multipurpose room. As they developed their fan base, they began consistently playing larger venues. 2014 proved to be the biggest year of their young career – their song, “I Swear” was featured on radio show 98.5 Local Licks, they opened for a number of artists including John Foreman, Tyrone Wells, and Brad Corrigan, and they released their self-titled debut album in July.
Following the release of their album, Connor and Karlee headlined shows throughout Northern California for the remainder of the summer. Currently, Connor, studies Audio Engineering at American River College, while Karlee is pursuing a degree in music industry at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. While they may be geographically separated, the duo continues to write songs and hopes to carry the momentum of 2014 into the new year and beyond.

Describe your sound in one ramble-on sentence
Our sound is pop, fun, young, and alternative!
What inspires you to make music?
K: Life in general is really inspiring. In particular though, I’m always inspired when I see people doing what they love and following their passions. I think life is too short to not do what we love. No matter what, I will always be making music.
C: The feeling that music gives me when I listen to it makes me want to create it. There is nothing like being in that perfect place at the perfect time listening to the perfect song. Nothing comes close to that feeling for me.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
K: Writing is the most exciting for me right now. Being away at school I am inspired by new experiences and people. Especially after releasing our debut album, we both really understand what kind of music we want to write and create. More alternative/folk inspired music.
C: I think that every aspect of making music is very exciting but the writing and recording process is really something special. Being creative and letting your mind run with ideas and letting them flow is the best. Seeing the way that people react to the new songs in a live setting brings everything full circle.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a musician?
K: I think the biggest challenge I face as a musician is finding time to completely tune out the world and solely focus on music. When I do get that opportunity, it’s the best feeling.
C: Spreading the word about our music has happened, but it’s not easy. Getting more and more people to listen has been a challenge but the hard work is starting to pay off and we are very thankful for that.
What's one of your all-time favorite recordings?
So hard to choose! …so we each chose a collection of songs.
K: John Mayer: Battle Studies Album
C: Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams Album
Name three people who have influenced your music, and tell us why- Living or dead.
CK: We’ve been influenced by so many different artists and genres and always draw inspiration from our favorites.
-John Mayer for his diverse writing styles.
-James Taylor for his storytelling.
-Young the Giant for their energetic onstage performances.
-Sara Bareilles for her sheer talent.
Do you have any recent or upcoming projects you'd like to share with us? Tell us about it.
CK: We are always working on new and different projects. If we’re not playing shows, we are in the studio working on new material. We are also currently in the process of recording some outdoor acoustic sessions and new singles.
What is your ideal or target audience?
CK: 13 – 35 yrs old split male/female. Anyone that loves music.
Do you write your own songs? Briefly describe your songwriting process.
CK: Yes we do. We do a lot of writing individually but love to write together too! Each process has different outcomes, as we each have our own writing style, but that’s what helps make our songs different from one another. When we write together, we typically take turns writing different parts of the song, like the chorus or verse, and the best idea wins.
What do you like the most about Radio Airplay?
CK: Radio Airplay allows us to reach listeners all over the world. Without it, we wouldn’t have fans in Canada or Korea!
Gone – Connor & Karlee

The Seinfeld Strategy

 "Quite often the biggest obstacle between you and success is inaction." Breaking down goals into small increments and completing one task at a time is a proven and effective way to reach your goals. Take a tip from this recent blog post on the DIY Musician page and Smash any goal for 2015 using the Seinfeld Strategy!

Click Here:

Choosing a music venue

If you're a gigging artist or band, those gigs can be big opportunities, but also a big investment in time and energy, so choosing the right venue can mean everything.

Check out this great informative article about the things you must know before choosing a music venue.

Great news for travelling musicians...

...Flying with a musical instrument just got easier! Our friends at CD Baby recently posted a short, informative article about the new FAA / Dept of Transportation laws regarding air travel with an instrument, along with an official Department of Transportation website link with more information, and another link for a free “Tips for Flying with Your Guitar” guide, with great practical advice on how to travel safely with your instrument.

Check it out here:

Saturday, January 24

HOW TO 💁 Support Links/Tutorials

The links below feature step-by-step guides on how to use the most essential Radio Airplay features.
If you have questions that were not answered through these links we're here to help.
Get in touch with us at

Friday, January 23

Goal setting for Musicians

It's the beginning of the year which means it's an ideal time to set new goals for you and your music. Whether you consider music a hobby or a career, this guide posted on the MTT Blog is designed in helping you by providing a road map for setting and achieving new goals for 2015. 

Click here to read the article:

Tuesday, January 20

Radio Airplay Top 10 Artists/Songs (Week 3 2015)

Top 10 Artists (Week 3 2015)

Top Band on Jango This Week
Blak Berry
Top Band on Jango This Week
Kenichi Tamura
Top Band on Jango This Week
Top Band on Jango This Week
Top Band on Jango This Week
I Like I Like
Top Band on Jango This Week
Lindsey Webster
Top Band on Jango This Week
Top Band on Jango This Week
Lites Out aka L.O.
Top Band on Jango This Week
Anna Zajac
Top Band on Jango This Week

New for 2015, we are now going to be listing the Top 10 RadioAirplay songs of the week too! These songs were chosen by the station managers at out of all top performing PopScore songs in a given week.
Click Here to find out more!

Top 10 Songs (Week 3 2015)

The Middle West - When Summer's Gone

Kelly & The Hermanos - City On A Hill

Chris Hays - 7J7 All But Black

Asteria Lux - You Played Me

JC.B - Mirror

Michigan Bands - Save it for me!

Lighthouse - Inside Oute

Napkin - Up the Stairs

Kerry Wallace - Under the Wyoming Moon

HeadShy - Blue Days

2015 Song Contest - Valentine's Day!

Valentine's day is only a month away…  it's time to enter a love song or anti-love for our Valentine's Song contest. 

All info can be found right here:

Center Stage - Tommy Smith

tommysmith.jpgMeet our new Center Stage artist, Tommy Smith!

Tommy Smith (b.1967) 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-seven solo albums as a leader for Blue Note, Linn and his own label Spartacus Records.

Smith 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.

He also holds three honorary doctorates from Heriot-Watt, Glasgow Caledonian & Edinburgh Universities and a Professorship from the RCS. His last group album KARMA won him his seventh Scottish Jazz Award for album of the year. Tommy Smith is also founder/director of The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra [2001] and has been Head of Jazz of the first ever full-time jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland since 2009.
Describe your sound
Pure, sensitive and controlled but completely uncontrollable.

What inspires you to make music?
I always believed since I was a kid "that to create was to live". To use
your imagination and dream of something, then fight hard for it in
creation, then see it realised - then start the process again. Money
never bought great art. Money never produced a great poem. Art comes
from experience and sometimes suffering. I got into music for music and
nothing else. The willingness to put art before your own humanity. I'd
rather shoot myself than play a wedding or a general business gig. Art
is blossoming because of the suffering we do. Money or reward is another

What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?

Always for the audience - touring, new cities and cultures.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a musician?

Travelling for 24 hrs playing for 1 hour and coming home.

What's one of your all-time favorite recordings?

This piece of music was recorded in 1985; I bought it in 1986 and played it
everyday on my Walkman while touring in Europe with Gary Burton. We had 26
concerts to play in 14 countries in 30 days, mostly by minibus. The conditions were
very cramped and the road journeys very long and monotonous. This repetitive
and slow moving music blended with most of the scenery that passed the dirty
windows. Grey, concrete, speed, lights, fields, blue skies, clouds, wires, people.
Repetitive scenery but in some way I was separated from the reality as the music
played inside my head. I was transported to an open place far from the
claustrophobic confines of the packed minibus. When I play Eberhard’s Chorus
today I still see moving images rolling past my eyes.

The power of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 2 is mighty and so progressively harmonic
for its time. When I experience those sounds, it reminds me of my time living in
Paris in 1991 studying composition. While I was supposed to be listening to Satie,
I'd play Prokofiev and when I was supposed to be listening to Ravel or Poulenc, I 'd
listen to Prokofiev. Perhaps I should have spent more time in St Petersburg. What a
genius Prokofiev was. He was certainly more harmonically advanced than that
frustrated jazz musician Stravinsky; although, Prokofiev’s orchestration was weaker;
at least in his youth. Unfortunately, his musical imagination was soon suppressed
by Stalin and you can hear that in is 7th Symphony but his 2nd Symphony is up
there with Stravinsky's Firebird and Le Sacre du Printemps, Debussy's La
Mer, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Not many
orchestras plays Prokofiev's No. 2, it's long forgotten. Perhaps it's just two difficult
to understand. Music for music's sake. Just like contemporary jazz.

Name three people who have influenced your music, and tell us why- Living or dead.

I've not always been a fan of Coltrane. I remember taking his Ascension LP back to
record shop when I was 13 and demanding my money back. They wouldn't
reimburse me so I left the record with them anyway. Trane's two iconic
improvisations on Transition inspire me to try and reach new levels of evolution in
my saxophone playing. Here, Coltrane is in between two worlds - swaying from
one to the other. I've used this recording a few times to inspire the musicians in my
band before we press the record button in the studio. It certainly works wonders.
Coltrane's thematic development is awesome and he's totally in the zone. The
group communication is outstanding. Every time I need some inspiration this track
will do do the job. At least a few times a year. I wish I could have seen him live but
he died the same year I was born and it was never to be.

I bought Raga and Sagas before touring to Pakistan in 1993 but I usually bought all
of Garbarek's records - I wanted to hear what was possible when you mixed
different musical cultures together that contained masses of improvisation,
melody, rhythm, story, and interplay. It’s tremendous, humourous and fun. My
owns experiences in Northern Pakistan will never leave me and every time I hear
this music I'm reminded of the month I spent touring this amazing country and
interacting with the wonderful people and musicians: Peshawar, Rawalpindi,
Khyber Pass, Islamabad.

Here's the first tune that inspired me to play the tenor saxophone age 12. It was
the shape of the instrument on the cover that got me hooked - then the
mesmerising sound of Stan Getz. The record was part of my stepfather's small jazz
collection; he wanted me to be a tenor man. I thought that was someone who
handled money. Anyway, I patiently transcribed Getz’s melodic improvisation from
And The Angels Swing and played along everyday with the scratchy record, albeit
poorly. This process was like learning a language. I'd had no idea how to write or
read music, only feel it, listen and imitate it. I guess that's similar to how traditional
musicians begin learning their art form? Today, the tune is still imprinted on my

Do you have any recent or upcoming projects you'd like to share with us? Tell us about it.

On the weekend I fly to Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua for 3 concerts then back again.

So far, I've 85 concerts this year in the diary for 2015 and several big commissions, etc., also just landed our funding for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra over three years to do more projects bringing in big stars like
Kurt Elling, Benny Golson, Mike Maineri, Mike Stern, and many more, etc., and commissioning 70 new arrangements/compositions from those starving composers across the planet.

I'll am releasing Makoto Ozone's Mozart performance later this year on CD on my own's a fantastic vision and version.

My youth orchestra will also be back in action touring and recording. Kids only get in if they're great. They can't buy your way in.

Our full-time jazz school in Glasgow has gone from strength to strength and we've also have increased our numbers.

What do you like the most about Radio Airplay?

New listeners leaving commenting from all over the globe.


TOMMY SMITH (Part One) – Trios, Duos &  Karma

Tommy Smith must be one of  the busiest musicians in jazz. Not content with running his own groups, he also runs his own record label, Spartacus Records, is the director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and is a member of the stellar trio led by Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen. It was therefore a real bonus to be able to catch up with the saxophonist and to talk to him about his current  projects.

We were barely into the New Year when I first broached the subject of an interview for Jazz Views with Tommy and there was already plenty to talk about. By the time this article hits the web pages this most prolific of artists will already have no less than three albums under his belt for 2014.

With such heavy work commitments in both the UK and abroad I was most grateful to Tommy for giving up so much of his valuable time, and as a result this is the first of a three part interview in which Tommy talks about his work with Arild Andersen and Paolo Vinaccia, his duo album with pianist
Brian Kellock and the SNJO’s tour of the United States and Canada that produced the superb American Adventure recording from the SNJO and a coterie of US guests.


January 2014 saw the release of the new Arild Andersen/Paolo Vinaccia/Tommy Smith album Mira
released on ECM (see our CD Reviews or click on the album cover), and follows up the hugely successful set Live at Belleville  recorded in 2008, but Smith’s association with the bassist goes back much further. “I first played with Arild in 1985 when we were on board the vast SS Norway, the world’s largest ship at the time, and as part of an exciting international Jazz Festival at sea, in the beautiful turbulent Caribbean. Mega stars like Dizzy Gillespie, Al Cohn, Mel Tome, Dick Hymen, Scott Hamilton, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Doc Cheatham, Ruby Braff, Gary Burton, Makoto Ozone, Benny Carter and many more I can’t recall, were also onboard performing 3 concerts per week. During the 2-week luxury festival, jam sessions were prevalent and much sleep was lost to the waves and inspiring improvisatory encounters, " recalls Smith.


"A few years later, in 1989 I invited Arild to appear on my BBC television show called Jazz Types, where we played our first duet; something I’d had composed especially for our meeting titled, ‘The Painted Word’, which featured Arild’s creativity, glorious sonorous sound, ostinato loops and digital effects. Then in 1990, Arild reciprocated and invited me to the land of the free, Norway, to interact with his fantastic group for a short tour, which I enjoyed immensely. The memory that stands out for me was the incredible stage sound the Norwegians engineer, as well as the calm and relaxed attitude towards touring Arild has.

After that, there was a spell of silence. Then, out of the icy blue fjord, in 2004, we performed at a festival, where we played an entire concert of duets, which was as challenging as it was rewarding. It was after this experience that Arild was commissioned to compose his epic suite ‘Independency’ for Keith McCrae and the Norwegian Consulate in Aberdeen, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the independence and dissolution of the United Kingdoms of Norway and Sweden in 1905. We premiered the new material in 2005, at the Blue Lamp in Aberdeen; a fantastic little pub with a beautifully intelligent audience. After the premiere, we went on to tour the suite throughout England and Scotland.

After a few years of playing as a duo, Arild thought it was time to add another musician to the organisation. It was felt that we needed a creative colourist to paint the rhythmscapes with us; an intrepid adventurer. We needed an explorer who could play any style of music, so we could journey near and far. Italian drummer, Paolo Vinnacia is that true kind of musician; an artist of extraordinary scope and depth.”

In the five or so years since Vinaccia joined Tommy and Arild, the trio have toured extensively and maintained a stable personnel throughout. I suggested to Tommy the benefits of this must be immeasurable in establishing distinctive sound an improvising group such as theirs. “Touring nomadic groups like ours experience many colourful settings and environments throughout their sometimes-short explosive careers and if they’re lucky, the experience rare and grey longevity. Arild, Paolo and I have been extremely privileged to venture to some remarkable and memorable locations and cultures, travelling to France, Argentina, Turkey, North America, Switzerland, Romania, Germany, Japan, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Russia, Italy, India, Egypt, England, Nicaragua and my beloved Scotland. What has grown in that time is our friendship, musicality and mutual respect for each other. Our group identity and sound is the same as it was during our first encounter, which was filled with intrepid expectation. When we play together, it always feels like the first time but also the last time.”

The two recordings for ECM are very different; with the obvious difference being that the first album was recorded live whilst Mira is a studio recording. So I ask Tommy if he felt that as a group, did they  approach the music differently, and did the studio environment change the dynamics of the band?  “Our first album, Live at Belleville recorded 2008, was our first ever performance together and the interplay we experienced during that concert, which we didn’t know at the time, became the essence and backbone of our future focus. It really was an unexpected and welcome outcome for our first encounter as a group. The main reason why we hit it off so creatively was the by-product of listening with our ears, eyes and hearts. We were also not afraid of the unexpected, and not afraid to venture into the dark and into the world of
possibilities or altered realities. So in answer to your question, no, we didn’t change our approach because of the studio environment. We basically set out to make a ballads recording. That was the purpose and the direction Manfred and Arild wanted to explore. We obliged. Arild had written most of the music whilst in France at his place in Nice. The music he composed was for a new tour we were going to play with the recording at the end of the process, so we already had the material go through its metamorphosis before the record button was pressed.”

Renowned for his tenor playing we often overlook the multi-instrumental side to Smith’s work, albeit fairly infrequent. On some of his albums for Linn Records in the nineties he can be heard on soprano saxophone on Azure (with the great Kenny Wheeler) in the ensemble on Misty  Morning & No Time, and on a superb solo on ‘Gannett’ from Beasts Of Scotland. As far back as his first LP, Giant Strides as a 16 year old we heard Tommy playing tenor, soprano and flute, and it is the flute like shakuhachi we get to hear on ‘Raijijn’ and ‘Kangiten’ on the new album. “An old friend of mine, Wally Evans, presented it to me as a gift around 1996, and in the instrument box were instructions in Japanese. Obviously, I could not understand any of the beautiful foreign symbols but over many years I eventually taught myself some of the endless possibilities and
still continue to work on learning the exotic instrument today.” Of his soprano playing though, the saxophonist says “Arild likes to hear me play soprano. I personally, don’t think I sound that great, so I rarely, play the instrument. We’ll see what happens in the future. If I fall in love with an instrument I usually take it further and explore its potential.”

Turing our thoughts away from the Trio, Smith has also been continuing his long time association with Brian Kellock, and the duo recorded a new album together.We’ve recorded a new album called Whispering of the Stars, featuring the great American and European songbook, which will be our third record together, to accompany our previous recordings Bezique and Symbiosis. The new title comes
from a phrase that is a common cliché in the Arctic Circle, which describes the exhalation of air on an icy cold night where the breath turns into sparkling crystals that float off into the air. The tunes we play are: You Must Believe In Spring, Stardust, It Could Happen To You, Ballad Medley (including In A Sentimental Mood, The Peacocks, Sophisticated Lady, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,
Moonlight In Vermont, Pure Imagination, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Come Sunday, Round Midnight, You Without A Song, & Alfie ) , Warm Valley, The Summer Knows, Moonlight Serenade, When You Wish Upon A Star, You’ve Changed, Taking A Chance On Love, Tenderly, I Apologise and I’m In The Mood For Love.”

With Tommy being so busy touring with Kellock to promote the new recording, touring with Arild Ansdersen and Paolo Vinaccia along with his ongoing and long term commitments with the SNJO, Smith has little time left to lead his own band. In fact, the last few years has seen him perform only and record only intermittently with his own band. There was the Forbidden Fruit album and quartet in 2004 and then nothing until Karma hit like a bolt out of the blue. With its electric bass and keyboards and hard hitting no nonsense approach the band was quite a departure for Smith and came as a bit of a shock to some of his followers. However despite receiving favourable reviews, and picked up his seventh Scottish Jazz Award , it appears that the group may have come to an end. “I don’t think I’ll play or promote Karma again; although, I did work on new music, which we played and added to the repertoire during our last tour. The musicians are wonderful and exceptional. The band was semi-successful, at least in Scotland, where the recording won Best Album of the Year at the Scottish Jazz Awards, but honestly, the group really didn’t take off through the UK, Europe, etc., which is always important for future tours, as there are only a few concerts in Scotland and you always need to expand outwards. I did invest £18,000 into the project but lost some money, which doesn’t really bother me. The band didn’t get going with touring primarily because I didn’t have an established agent with good connections. Additionally, maestro David Liebman said I shouldn’t really pursue that musical direction. He was very disappointed that I recorded that project and said that avenue was a dead end street
musically. I tend to agree with him, as I found the rhythmic structures incredibly difficult to improvise with; although, I did enjoy the global aspect of the music, the colours and dynamic contours.”

In Part Two Tommy Smith takes us on the journey to the United States and Canada with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with details about the tour and recording American Adventure at Avatar Studios in New York.

TOMMY SMITH (Part Two) - On The Road With The SNJO: The American Adventure  

As well as his work with his own band and the collective Trio with Arild Anderson and Paolo Vinaccia, Tommy Smith is the founder and artistic director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Since its formation in 1995, under Smith’s direction the SNJO has performed repertory works by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and celebrated the work of Gil Evans and his associations with Miles Davis. The orchestra has also commissioned arrangements and original works that have been performed by some of the leading jazz musicians from all across the globe, including Makoto Ozone, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano and Branford Marsalis.     

Not content with this, in 2013 Smith realized his ambitious plan to take the SNJO on tour in the United States and Canada, and whilst there the orchestra spent two days in New York’s Avatar studio, and the resulting album, American Adventure shows once and for all that the SNJO are now a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

Smith is quite rightly proud of the orchestra’s considerable achievements, and what follows is Tommy’s own words on how the tour and recording came about.    

“Everything began to roll on the lush green fairways of Oak Hill Country Club golf course back in June 2011, while I was in the USA touring with Arild Andersen. I recall walking up the 8th fairway with Rochester Jazz Festival director John Nugent, muting the idea that the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra would be an ideal band to play at his festival; I then slipped him a couple of SNJO recordings, we then putted out and went to get our sandwiches that our playing partner, Marc Iocona, had ordered from using the phone in the tree, as you do, next to the 9th tee. A month after the Rochester Festival had finished Nugent emailed me to say he’d love to have the SNJO come over and play in 2012. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the financial support in place necessary to fly over that year, so I took my small group Karma to tour USA and Canada with the help of Nugent and an old friend, Joel Chriss, who manages many of my US friends, and while playing Rochester Jazz Festival, I had time to tee it up again, early one morning, with Nugent and ascertain if he still wanted the SNJO to come over, as the SNJO were now in a better financial position. He said yes and gave me advice on expanding the tour to other jazz festivals in Canada.

Upon my return to Scotland in July 2012 I set to work to coordinate a short SNJO tour of the USA and Canada. Writing to over 30 festivals, the first to commit to the tour were Rochester, Toronto and Ottawa. I gave the task of finding a New York concert to agent, Joel Chriss. Dizzy’s Jazz Club, where I had just played with Karma didn’t have a free date; although, Lindsay, our manager, found out we could hire the place for the price of a luxury car. No thanks. Birdland, Blue Note and numerous other places were all dead ends. Lindsay enlisted the Andrew Carnegie Society but they ended up wanting more from us then we could give. Joel finally, after much deliberation, found an opportunity for us to play the Iridium Jazz Club; a place I knew and had a good reputation.

Lindsay then went in search of a rehearsal space, an acoustic bass and more practical things like hotels and coach hire. She had great success getting a space for us to rehearse at New York University and talked the director of jazz music, Dr. Dave Schroeder, who knew me from the old days when I used to sit-in with Jaco Pastorius at the Blue Note and Randy Brecker’s club Seventh Avenue South, into hosting a concert for us.

I was still in conversation with Montreal Jazz Festival about the sixth and final date, but they were much harder to convince and the director was unsure we could pull off a concert in the spectacular venue he had in mind for us. John Nugent and I managed to persuade him with conjecture, videos and CDs. It wasn’t until we played Montreal in June 2013 with 12,000 people cheering us on that I fully understood exactly what he meant.

After most of tour fell into place, I suggested to the SNJO board that while we’re in New York City, we don’t we make a record and invite some of America’s greatest musicians, since we’re on their doorstep. As we still had recording funds and Lindsay had made considerable saving elsewhere a green light was given to me. I then proceeded to get in touch with many of my friends in the business. Gary Burton, Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Jerry Bergonzi, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, John Patitucci, Clarence Penn, Joe Locke, Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, Dave Kikoski, Mike Stern and Kurt Elling. Seven of these fourteen musicians were available for the two dates I had booked at Avatar Studios, a place I knew well. The engineer I hired was my old colleague James Farber, who had recorded many of my records at Avatar. So we were in trusted and capable hands, all we needed was music to record and a well-rehearsed orchestra able to cope with the pressures of such an intimidating job. I also, wanted to hire a saxophonist to sit and play my parts, as I didn’t want to make the same mistake of playing and producing at the same time, as I did on the Bobby Wellins session we did a month earlier in Glasgow. So I called an old friend of mine, Donny McCaslin and he could only record one day, so he suggested Joel Frahm for the other day. I didn’t know Joel personally but his playing was excellent on the various recordings I’d heard. My plan was to give Donny and Joel my solo improvisations and all written parts so I could concentrate on producing the session. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice, the thing you really want to do for the good of it all.

Unlike most countries I visit, America is especially difficult to enter as a worker due to their strict immigration concerns. John Nugent kindly offered to pay and deal with the visa petitions for our whole entourage, which included 15 musicians, manager and live-sound technician. Unfortunately, for everyone, except me, all the SNJO had to visit the US embassy in London to be interviewed early in the morning. This process, not only involved, everyone completing a tedious 10 page application, telephone interview, traveling to and staying in London but leaving their passports for a week, plus paying for the privilege. American artists coming to Scotland only need to give Lindsay their passport information and everything else is taken care of; a very unfair system, making traveling to America with a large entourage challenging and expensive.

Apart from this major hassle, we set off for America on June 21st, from Glasgow and Edinburgh via London, as Lindsay had landed a deal with British Airways, giving us all an allowance of 3 bags each. Bill Fleming brought his Baritone in a new hard case and other musicians not carrying so much hand luggage kindly carried the various extra instruments. We landed in New York and met our coach to take us to the hotel. The driver got lost. The first night was free so most of the musicians went to hear music at New York’s most famous jazz clubs. For me, I went to have dinner at Kurt Elling’s house on Central Park West and I made sure to buy this connoisseur an excellent bottle of wine.

The next morning, Calum and Lindsay went to pick up the bass at David Gage’s place, while the rest of the orchestra ventured down town, in blazing heat, to New York University. Their facilities were top class, grand piano, drum kit, music stands and good acoustics, what else could you want? Dr. Dave Schroeder could not be more accommodating. I was very impressed with tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm’s playing and he quickly gained fans in the band for his blistering improvisations.

After the first three hours rehearsing we took a break and Brian Kellock, Alyn Cosker, Tom MacNiven and I went for some lunch across the street, where we sat outside enjoying then sun. Alyn and Brian thanked me for my contribution to setting up the tour, which meant a lot to me. After the second 3 hour session I headed with my golf clubs to Grand Central Station, where I took a train an hours ride north of the city to meet my friend Bill Evans. We went straight to a driving range to practice for the next day. It’s always great hanging with Bill hearing his stories of Miles and talking about the golf swing. Next morning was the day of our first concert in New York City at the Iridium but first I had time to squeeze in an ultra-early round of golf with Bill. I was gracious in defeat, as he beat me on the 18th hole when I hit my drive out of bounds – entirely, my fault for not judging the end of the fairway. Afterwards, Bill drove me back to NYC where I joined the guys for the sound check.

The club had kindly put on food for the orchestra so we ate, changed into our tuxedos and played the 1st of 2 full concerts to a rather stellar audience, which included Kurt Elling, Randy Brecker and Bill Evans. I’m sure some of the musicians were intimidated but we all had fun. The end of the set included my reworked version of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, which I had rewritten especially for the trip, condensing the 53 minute work into 24 minutes; changing many passages, backgrounds, re-voicing the whole piece for 3 trombones instead of 4, deleting the guitar and incorporating its phrases, and eliminating all the sections that bugged me since 2006. The shows were a great success and the musicians managed to keep their energy up against the jet lag. Next morning, was our first day in Avatar Studios. We walked the few long blocks across the avenues and into the hallowed ground where many great legends have recorded. There, waiting outside, was my old friend Paul Thorburn from Bishopbriggs, who I hadn’t seen for 13 years. He had won the Fuji photographer competition earlier in his career and was now living permanently in New York. Paul agreed to shoot the sessions for a third of his normal fee, as did many of our guest stars. The studio was set up perfectly by our engineer James Farber with all microphones, chairs, stands, headphone mixers, etc., all in place. Unlike the studio in Glasgow, the previous month, where they had set nothing and we had to wait 4 hours before recording anything, and when you’re paying by the hour it’s not so funny to wait.

First up, was Randy Brecker, who we all knew from the Michael Brecker Celebration tour, was to record Geoffrey Keezer’s beautiful arrangement of John Coltrane’s ‘Dear Lord’. It was clear from the beginning of the session that the musicians were slightly nervous but they eased into the job as time ticked on. Pianist David Kikoski, who I had gone to Berklee with, was our other featured guest and played three wonderfully improvised introductions to this song. Randy nailed a cracking solo at the end of the tune.

I had first met Mike Stern in 1983 when I lived for a week in NYC below his apartment with my school-mate’s father who was an influential man on the jazz scene, and we’d sit-in with Mike at the 55 Bar. Stern, however, blew everybody away with his outstanding playing on Fred Strum’s arrangement of Marcus Miller’s ‘Splatch’, and his over-the-top personality traits had everybody in stitches of laughter. By this time I could sense Alyn Cosker was really loving it, as he got to rock-out and play duets with Stern. The arrangement features Stern taking two solos like Coltrane does in ‘Transition’ and there’s some great writing behind the first improvisation leaving the second for some amazing interaction.

Drummer Clarence Penn had recorded several of my records and had even toured the UK with my band. Here, with the SNJO, he was featured in an arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Pinocchio’ by 18 year old, Jacob Mann, from LA, a student of Peter Erskine. His chart featured other guests: Michael Dease on trombone and Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone, two astounding players that left their imprinted duly on the session.

My dear friend Kurt Elling was last up, on the first day, and he had chosen to tackle ‘Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love’ by Charles Mingus; a tough melody that I heard Gary Burton play hundreds of times with Makoto Ozone when I was in the band. I had recorded the song in 1998 with Kenny Barron and found it to be particularly challenging, especially the phrasing and harmonic progression, so I knew Kurt was pushing himself on this one with all the leaping and its range. I had arranged the song in consultation with Kurt over a few weeks and we were happy with the outcome but to hear it recorded and able to hear all the inner parts was a revelation. His voice is majestic on the track, which also featured my only playing on the recording; a solitary 16 bars. We started at 10.00am and finished the first day at 1.00am. Lindsay had made sure we were all watered and fed throughout the day, as most of us hadn’t seen daylight.

TOMMY SMITH (Part 3) - On The Road With The SNJO: The American Adventure

“The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Tommy Smith, is truly phenomenal. When you hear the SNJO for the first time, you may think you know what the band is all about, but usually you're only getting a part of the picture. That is because their scope is so amazingly broad. This band can swing as hard as any American jazz orchestra. It is also capable of eliciting every ounce of beauty from a pastoral piece with a decidedly European aesthetic. On the day I recorded with the SNJO, the orchestra almost melted the sound tiles in the studio as they burned through a hyper-modern performance of Richie Beirach's Pendulum. Less than two hours later, they were on stage at New York University, in tuxedos, playing an Ellington program which would have made Duke himself proud.

Yes, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra has the scope to play such a wide variety of music. They also have the sheer talent to be able to pull it off. And in Tommy Smith they have the creative dynamo to keep things forging ahead well into the future. To say it was a pleasure to record with this band would be a wild understatement!”

The above quote from Joe Locke goes just some way to showing the high esteem in which Smith and the SNJO are held not just on these shores but also across the pond, and on the international stage. Locke’s comments about the orchestra and the sessions at Avatar are also borne out by arranger Fred Sturme’s reference to the SNJO’s recording of his arrangements of ‘Splatch’ and ‘Yes or No’, which he described as “FANTASTIC. I love the solo performances, the playing by the band, and the mixes. The ensemble on both charts is so wonderfully clean, precise, powerful, nuanced. Bravo to you and to all of your musicians for your artistry and attention to detail. As you no doubt know from your own experiences, it's rare for composers and arrangers to get precisely what they envisioned into a recorded performance, and you've gone a step better with these two tracks. I'm especially blown away with what you and Mike did with "Splatch" -- in the wrong hands, a chart like that can be dated, corny, big band 'boogaloo' at its worst. Not yours — and his blowing killed me. That track will long be one of my most treasured recordings of my charts. Bravo and thank you!”

With these plaudits ringing in our ears we conclude our interview with Tommy, in this third and final part of The American Adventure, as the saxophonist describes day two of recording at Avatar studios, and the subsequent dates that brought to an end the SNJO’s Stateside trip.


The second day began at 9.00am with my great long-time friend Joe Locke, who I had known since the age of 16. He was to play Fred Strum’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Yes or No’. This was one of my favourite tunes to play in the world, I played it from the age 14 and recorded once for GFM but it was never released. Fred’s arrangement is brilliant and Joe delivered his outstanding best and played beautifully, as I know how he likes to prepare for such an event.

I met Bill Evans on a flight to Arendal in Norway, in 2009, where I introduced myself, as he was sitting with Randy Brecker, who I already knew. We hit it off immediately, and talked the rest of the night about golf and Miles Davis. Bill was to play my arrangement of ‘Quartet No. 1 part 2’ by Chick Corea that I had arranged for drummer Gary Novak in 2004, as part of our Chick tribute. Bill had worked hard on getting in shape for his performance and the playing speaks for its self.

The master, Dave Liebman, was our final guest, and the only player to do one take. He had just toured with the SNJO earlier in the month, so we were still hot from those dates. My Berklee school buddy, saxophonist and flutist Donny McCaslin played a wonderful solo along with David Kikoski but it was Liebman and Alyn Cosker that really shone on this arrangement by Jim McNeely of Richie Beirach’s ‘Pendulum’. And there ended the Avatar Sessions at 6.00pm, we said our goodbyes, grabbed our tuxedos and took taxis downtown to play a concert of Ellington and Gershwin at New York University.


The next morning, I walked back to Avatar to pick up the master tapes, and then we headed by coach to Rochester, which was 6 hour drive. We arrived rested and I headed straight to the golf course for some practice before the next morning’s early game with festival director John Nugent at Oak Hill. Alone on the practice ground, hitting shots into the sun, I felt the most relaxed I’ve felt for a long time. Afterwards, I went into the clubhouse for some dinner and wait on the ride back to the city. They asked me if I was a member and I said no but Marc Iocona is my friend. I ordered food and asked for the bill. The waiter, whose mother was Scottish, said, “We don’t accept any money here sir, it has to go on Mr. Iocona’s account.” I was embarrassed and mortified but the next time I see Marc I owe him dinner. That evening I heard some music and went to bed early.

The next morning John picked me up in his Porsche at 7.00am – I said, where do I put my clubs? He replied, “on the roof, where else!” I quickly got in and squeezed them between my legs. John played an incredible round and beat me by 5 shots. I was firmly put in my place. By 4.00pm the SNJO were sound checking at the Xerox Auditorium and were ready for two full shows. During the first concert 2 ladies began to dance in the aisle near the front of the stage. We ignored them and continued. After the last note of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ at the end of each set the audience erupted onto their feet, something we’re certainly not used to but enjoyed the same. Throughout the concert the audience’s applause inspired us to new heights. After both shows, we all retired back to the hotel and the jam session where a majority of the SNJO played in various forms. I jammed with the festival director and out of musical courtesy I trust I behaved like a gentleman.

The next morning at 5.00am we were on the bus on our way to Canadian border and Toronto for a lunchtime concert out doors in the main stage. We stopped at the border and went through customs greeted by the moodiest border guard I’ve met, apart from the one in Yemen, Kazakhstan and Russia. We then awed at the Niagara Falls, during which our bus driver, Tony, got a parking ticket. Incidentally, Tony kept getting lost and that aggravated the hell out of me but Martin Kershaw and Chris Greive helped the guy find our various locations, eventually. I just don’t understand, when you drive a coach you should at least do your homework. However, it was raining very badly when we began to play in Toronto but the audience again was in fine form and propelled us to new places where we forgot about the weather beating down on the tent. That evening was free and most musicians hung out in their various groups. I had dinner with Lindsay, where we mostly talked about SNJO business.

Ottawa came next and again Tony got lost, I’m surprised this guy could find his hotel room. Finally we made it to the hotel and then the venue where we sound checked. Before our concert a few of us ventured off to hear the first few pieces of Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, who were on astounding form. We returned to our smaller venue and played our set, under whelmed. The audience again was terrific.

Finally, we set off for Montreal and the final concerts of our short trip across the pond. During the afternoon I had gone to see the venue and was awestruck by its sheer size and scale. I immediately, sent texts to the orchestra and told them to prepare for a concert of a lifetime, implying that they shouldn’t have too much of a liquid lunch. The first concert was at 9.00pm to a sea of 12,000 people who screamed and cheered their way through the music of Ellington and Gershwin. What an amazing buzz! Kellock and the band were on fire! I introduced most of the concert in French and told them that we preferred to wear tuxedos instead of kilts, as we all admired Sean Connery so much. Screams of adoration came for 007. I also told them that our whiskey was better than the Canadian variety, which was followed by silence and then booing. Afraid of losing the audience I immediately told them that we wore no under-wear, which set them off in the right direction again.

At the end of the tour we made new friends and played some great music. For myself, I was proud to be leading such a fine group of musicians through the 9 concerts at 6 venues and 2 days at Avatar.

The European Adventure may be next with guest artists like John Taylor, Terje Rypdal, Nguyen , Miroslav Vitous, Evan Parker, Courtney Pine, Jim Mullen, Paolo Fresu, Hans Bennick, Trygve Siem, Lars Daniellson, Wolfgang Pusching……who knows; just use your imagination.” |