By Alison Kerr

IT’S amazing what can be achieved when you’re hacked off. In 2018, jazz lovers in Fife were left high and dry when Jazz Scotland – which organises festivals throughout the country and has a remit to provide regular concerts – pulled the plug on the Fife Jazz Festival after seven years. So, one of them – the irrepressible Grace Black – took it upon herself to organise a brand new series of concerts and festivals in Kirkcaldy to cater for the existing jazz audience while trying to attract new listeners. And this month, the second Langtoun Jazz Mini Festival takes place as the climax of a year of smaller gigs which have featured musicians from home and as far abroad as South Africa.

Black, a 59-year-old grandmother from Glenrothes, is not your stereotypical music promoter. She’s not a businesswoman; she’s a part-time telephone operator at the University of St Andrews. But what she lacks in business experience, she makes up for in enthusiasm for the Langtoun Jazz project and for jazz itself. When we meet, just before one of the final fundraisers for the mini festival, she is manning the ticket desk at a Saturday afternoon concert featuring two international quartets, selling the raffle tickets for the prize draw and keeping an eye on the clock so that she can grab the microphone and take to the stage to introduce her musicians to the audience assembled in Kirkcaldy Old Kirk.

Black’s active involvement in jazz dates back to 2006 when she began singing, having been introduced to George King, a then Edinburgh-based pianist who often helped singers get started by sorting out their keys and putting a repertoire together with them. Everything went on hold when, in 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I had to have seven months’ of treatment and after that, I wanted to fundraise for Cancer Research,” says Black, “so we did a concert in Rothes Hall and that got me started.

“Then, five years ago, Kirkcaldy Radio Station was set up and I was asked if I’d like to do a programme, The Jazz Lounge. I said ‘yes’, thinking it would be older styles of jazz I’d be playing since that was what I liked, but because I share the show on social media, I’ve been contacted by musicians from all over the place and from all different styles of jazz, so now it’s a real mix.” Black now has two shows, one of which goes out on Pure Jazz Radio in New York State twice a week. “They love the Scottish accent!” she laughs.

Along with Black’s radio work, the Fife Jazz Festival undoubtedly helped create interest in jazz amongst locals whose options for hearing live jazz were otherwise extremely limited. Black explains: “You can go to Edinburgh for jazz but it’s difficult because of the times of the last trains. For example, I can’t go to Whighams, where many of the bands I like play on a Sunday night, because I can’t get back home by train on the same night.”

When it became clear that the Fife Jazz Festival would not run again after the 2017 event, Black was one of a number of people who took to social media to bemoan Jazz Scotland’s decision. “The idea for Langtoun Jazz grew out of our discussions. From the festival, we knew there is an audience out there for live jazz music, and we talked about putting on an event in St Andrews. I said I’d run Kirkcaldy if someone else would do St Andrews but nobody wanted to take it on – so Kirkcaldy it was!

“We initially got together last April and had the first festival last October – we managed to put a programme together of some of the acts we wanted to see, and we secured some funding from Fife Council, Kirkcaldy4All and Fife Charities Trust. Richard Michael from Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra did a free concert for us to help our fundraising, and we also had fundraising from concerts by the American vocalist Andrea Carlson and gypsy jazz band, Rose Room. We did it on a shoestring and it went fine but maybe not as successful as we had hoped, so we are having a mini festival this year, and are working towards a a bigger one for 2020. We have an application in with Creative Scotland.”

Black says “we” a fair bit but is Langtoun Jazz basically a one-woman show? “Yes!” she says. “It’s my baby. I do have helpers though. My husband helps out, he gets drafted in to help – he’s my roadie.” What about their sons? “Well, they just say: ‘Mum’s away doing her music again ..’ When I’m not working, I’m doing music stuff – it’s taken over! We’ve now done 14 gigs so far this year – so with those and my radio shows, it keeps me busy.”

Thanks to her work putting together the radio shows, Black has been exposed to genres within the jazz spectrum that she would never otherwise have sought out, and this was reflected by the programme for last year’s inaugural festival which included piano wunderkind Fergus McCreadie and the funk band James Brown Is Annie. “I’ve really got into the funkier side of jazz. I would love to have Fat Suit play here but it would be expensive as there are so many of them – it would need funding.”

And what about her dream gig? Who would she book if money was no problem? Black doesn’t hesitate. “Gregory Porter. I’m actually going to see him at the Royal Albert Hall next year – for my 60thbirthday.” It would come as no surprise to many on the jazz scene if she had him perform in Kirkcaldy for her 65th….

Langtoun Jazz Mini Festival runs from October 25-27. For information visit the Langtoun Jazz page on Facebook or email

The Edinburgh Scene

In the last couple of years, frustrated jazz fans in Edinburgh have been organising private house concerts – in much the same DIY spirit as Grace Black and her Langtoun Jazz events. Taking inspiration from The Soundhouse’s Douglas Robertson and Jane-Ann Purdy who had been holding house concerts – mostly Americana and roots music gigs - for a few years, one Edinburgh businesswoman, who prefers not to be named, decided to try her hand at hosting jazz versions. That was back in 2012. Fast forward to 2019 and the same person – let’s call her Ms E – has now hosted so many successful concerts in her home that she has begun helping other like-minded enthusiasts to do organise their own gigs, and she has a guest list of over 100 names from which to draw her audiences.

So what inspired the decision to try a house concert in the first place? Ms E says: “It was an opportunity to hear first class jazz musicians in an intimate setting and at the same time provide them with a realistic fee that represented their talents. The main reason for hosting such parties is to hear talented musicians in a congenial setting with no distractions and know they are being correctly remunerated – guests are asked to make a donation, and 100% of the money raised goes to the musicians.

“In Scotland there are not enough well-paid gigs for jazz musicians. It upsets me when I hear that musicians are asked to travel to another city to play for two sets and be paid less than £50. How can they possibly survive on that level of income? The funding available to this music genre needs to be more evenly distributed: there are certain bodies who receive a continuous flow of funds and other bodies’/individuals' applications are not given a chance. I know this from first-hand experience with Arts funding. Some of these individuals are regulars on my party schedule and deserve greater recognition.

“I have encouraged other jazz enthusiasts to host similar parties in the hope that soon there are many more events taking place where jazz musicians can be paid above the minimum wage. The level of talent here in Scotland is fantastic and I was disappointed at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival line-up this year where, in my opinion, lesser talented musicians were brought in and much of the talent on our doorstep was overlooked.”

That’s a sentiment shared by many jazz fans whose taste veers towards the tuneful, swinging jazz often dismissed as “mainstream,” which the jazz festival used to have at its heart. Isabella Ferguson, a regular guest on the house concert circuit in Edinburgh and, recently, Glasgow, says: “This year's Edinburgh Jazz Festival would have been pretty underwhelming for anyone who enjoys jazz with a heart and soul plus good tunes. Too much emphasis on blues and weird music. This was reported to me by many people I met at the festival, who were disappointed in the programme. Many local jazz musicians were overlooked and we felt it was nothing to do with Edinburgh. Feedback is also ignored.”

Not only do the regular private events offer the chance to hear out-of-town musicians, such as one of Ms E’s most popular house concert headliners, the London-based clarinettist and saxophone star Alan Barnes, but they offer a much more informal, relaxed and intimate way of listening to the music. Indeed, Ferguson credits the phenomenon with enriching her experience of live jazz. “These concerts have developed and encouraged my enjoyment of jazz. It can also be an opportunity to hear a select group of musicians that I may not have heard before, and encourages me to hear them in future performances. I tend not to like large concert halls so this is perfect. It’s very sociable and fun.”