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The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO) is considered by many to be one of the UK’s foremost contemporary big bands. Founder/Director and leading saxophonist Tommy Smith established the SNJO in 1995 with a crystal clear artistic vision and core values of versatility, discipline and expression.

Since its inception more than twenty years ago, many of the leading lights in world jazz have enthusiastically shared the stage with the SNJO. People like Gary Burton, Arild Andersen, Branford Marsalis, Joe Locke, Makoto Ozone, Mike Stern and Kurt Elling have all joined the orchestra to explore virtually every room in the house of jazz.

The SNJO’s diverse repertoire has included re-imaginings of works by the great, the good and the gigantic, including Basie, Mingus, Monk, Miles and Coltrane. They have also recorded vivid interpretations of Gershwin, Miles Davis, Mozart, and Duke Ellington.

They have also played the music of Chick Corea, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, Weather Report, Steely Dan, Pat Metheny, Keith Tippett, Oliver Nelson, Benny Golson, Jaco Pastorius, Dave Brubeck, Mike Stern, Steps Ahead and many others.

The SNJO is completely committed to inclusivity, especially where young people are concerned. They have also produced wonderful concerts for young people including, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, and Jazz Toons, which featuring some of the best-loved cartoon, television and movie themes ever scored.

Several gifted arrangers have been commissioned by the SNJO to re-imagine many iconic works in a wide-ranging repertoire. Names such as Michael Abene, Geoffrey Keezer, Florian Ross, Christian Jacob, Bill Dobbins and Fred Sturm have all contributed to the SNJO’s evolution as an innovative musical force.

The SNJO have made several recordings both live and in the studio, often with notable special guests who work at the highest level in jazz. The first recording to appear was Miles Ahead in 2002 followed by a stunning re-arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue (2006). Then came Tommy Smith’s biblical epic Torah (2010) and the ECM-tinted Celebration (2011). These successes were followed by the critically lauded In The Spirit of Duke (2013), American Adventure (2014), Jeunehomme (2014) and Beauty and the Beast (2016).

The most recent SNJO releases (available in CD and digital download formats) are the specially commissioned Sweet Sister Suite, composed by Kenny Wheeler, and featuring Laura Jurd on trumpet and the singing voice of Irini Arabatzi; and the astonishing Scots language version of Prokofieff's 'Peter and the Wolf'.

Over the past twenty-one years, the SNJO has provided a platform for startling original works such as The Wheeler Suite (1998), The Edinburgh Suite (2001), A Day in the Life (2002) The Orcadian Suite (2003), What If? (2005) The Alaskan Suite (2005), Torah (2010), Beauty and the Beast (2010), The World of the Gods (2010) and The Culloden Moor Suite (2011), and Spirit of Light (2017)

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Radio & Podcasts

Honouring the Pioneers

Read "Honouring the Pioneers" reviewed by Bob Osborne


On this weeks show new releases from Craig Taborn and Farnell Newton plus some classic '70s jazz from Britain with a recent release from Mike Gibbs. There is also a look at the new album from The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra which includes music influenced by pioneering saxophonists. I am also featuring tracks from the musicians they honour on that release, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. Playlist The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra “Lonely Women" from Where Rivers Meet ...

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Live Review

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Plays Ayler at St. Giles' Cathedral

Read "Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Plays Ayler at St. Giles' Cathedral" reviewed by Martin McFie


Scottish National Jazz Orchestra St. Giles' Cathedral Where Rivers Meet Edinburgh, Scotland May 15, 2021 Albert Ayler was an expressive and accomplished voice in the free jazz movement who was greatly respected by his peers. None other than John Coltrane encouraged the tenor saxophonist to join Impulse! records and even to play for his funeral, which Ayler did alongside fellow free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Ayler focused on the music and rarely strayed into ...

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Album Review

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Beauty And The Beast feat. Bill Evans

Read "Beauty And The Beast feat. Bill Evans" reviewed by Dan McClenaghan


The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, SNJO, under the leadership of saxophonist Tommy Smith, has proven itself to be one of the premier large ensemble outfits out there. They have released a series of uniformly excellent recording, beginning with 2002's Miles Ahead, featuring Ingrid Jensen, a remake of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans gem; an expansive take on Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue; a big tip of the hat to Duke Ellington with In the Spirit Of Duke, all of these on Spartacus ...

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Album Review

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Makoto Ozone: Jeunehomme: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9 K-271

Read "Jeunehomme: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9 K-271" reviewed by Dan McClenaghan


It's Mozart, so you expect genius to jump out of the speakers, and it does, on Jeunehomme: Mozart Piano Concerto No 9 K-271. And it's not just the genius of the composer, it's also a brilliant showcase for pianist Matsuko Ozone's arranging and conducting skills, and for the hearty magnificence of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was twenty-one years old when he wrote this piece, and it is often considered his first true masterpiece. Taking ...

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Extended Analysis

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: American Adventure

Read "Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: American Adventure" reviewed by John Kelman


Sometimes an idea seems great on paper, but in execution doesn't exactly work out as planned. Other times, that same idea doesn't just look great, it actually exceeds already high expectations. When saxophonist Tommy Smith--almost single-handedly responsible for rebuilding a modern jazz scene in his home country of Scotland, where he returned after studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music in the 1980s and releasing a couple of well-regarded albums on Blue Note--brought his Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to the ...

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Album Review

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: In the Spirit of Duke

Read "In the Spirit of Duke" reviewed by Dan McClenaghan


Another tribute to bandleader/composer/pianist Duke Ellington? Is this necessary? Pulling from the archive a few recent nods to one of America's musical icons reveals 1997's elegant Count Plays Duke (Mama Records), by the Count Basie Orchestra; Don Sebesky's unabashedly gorgeous Joyful Noise (RCA Victor, 1999); and pianist Ted Howe's excellent trio affair, Ellington (Summit Records, 2005). Each album explores Ellington deeply, while offering its own idiosyncratic twists to the music.The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra--and let's put it up ...

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Album Review

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Miles Ahead

Read "Miles Ahead" reviewed by Jack Bowers


If you’ve ever wondered how those classic Miles Davis / Gil Evans collaborations from the late ’50s might have sounded had Miles laid aside the mute and played open trumpet, here’s a proximate likeness from Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, accompanied by the excellent Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. These are Evans’ groundbreaking arrangements, performed in concert with only one brief pause, between tracks five and six. Jensen, to her credit, makes no attempt to imitate Miles, but in keeping ...

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Tommy Smith’s tenor sax bewitchingly opens the more sombre Andantino before a simmering tango emerges; and the quirkily punchy third movement becomes a bebop tear-up for the SNJO soloists, and a flying classical stride from Ozone at the close. It’s a clever, sympathetic and truly musical example of the treacherous art of jazz/classical cohabitation. —John Fordham reviewing Jeunehomme for THE GUARDIAN.

“Aesthetically and artistically, a jazz version of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is a risky venture. But hats-off to Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra for pulling off this convincing jazz corollary.” —Stuart Nicholson JAZZWISE

“The entire performance (of Peter and the Wolf) tears up the rulebook in the best possible way

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Concerts

Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Sweet Sister Suite

Spartacus Records
2018

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Peter and the Wolf

Spartacus Records
2018

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Beauty And The Beast...

Spartacus Records
2016

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Jeunehomme: Mozart...

Spartacus Records
2015

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Scottish National...

Spartacus Records
2014

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Culloden Moor Suite

Spartacus Records
2014

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