Glasgow Jazz Festival

Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year 2015

Rio Club, Glasgow

Rob Adams


In an introductory speech at the civic reception held to usher in the 29th Glasgow Jazz Festival, just before this final, this paper's arts editor paid tribute to the contributions women have made and continue to make to the festival; its current director is a woman and female talents are prominent throughout the five days. It was a prescient point because another woman was about to make her mark.

Helena Kay wouldn't have heard that speech but she possibly would have heard the chair of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year's judging panel, Richard Michael BEM, call for the finalists to show their personalities, not to play too many notes, and to make musical statements. The twenty-one-year-old saxophonist from Perth duly complied to the letter.

Kay has been on this platform before, playing alto, and the naturally larger presence of the tenor saxophone added weight to the talent she's shown previously. She cited Sonny Rollins as an inspiration. Stan Getz's pacing was also detectable and another judge, himself a world class tenor saxophonist, Bobby Wellins would have heard a kindred spirit in the unhurried gracefulness of Kay's improvising.

All five finalists had their merits. Pianist Declan Forde played with both delicate bluesiness and a certain impudent, benign hooliganism. Trumpeter Sean Gibbs showed strong bebop feeling and guitarist John Patton the power to excite. Another pianist, Fergus McCreadie's measured, constructive improvising impressed (the judges nominated him, deservedly, runner-up). It was, however, the marvellously self-possessed Kay's sheer musicality, sure tone and beautifully expressed flow of ideas that stood out above all in a literally winning performance.