IT was back in 1995 that the saxophonist Tommy Smith founded the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. It has gone on to earn an international reputation.

Its 11 albums to date include ‘Celebration’, for the prestigious ECM Records. The SNJO has reinterpreted revered works by Mozart, Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, has championed new compositions by Smith himself, and has revitalised neglected jazz classics by British-Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and the Glasgow-born tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins.

Among the top-level guests who have travelled to Scotland to tour with the orchestra are Grammy-winning vocalists Dame Cleo Laine and Kurt Elling, leading trumpeter Randy Brecker, top saxophonist Joe Lovano, former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, and guitarists John Scofield and Mike Stern, both of whom worked with Miles Davis.

The SNJO’s 25th anniversary concert, streamed worldwide from Perth Concert Hall, attracted viewers from as far afield as the U.S., Norway and Australia, and it is available online until January 4. ‘SNJO 25 Jazz: Past, Present and Future’ featured two young players of major promise – trombonists Anoushka Nanguy (21) and Liam Shortall (24) - who between them won three of the five recent Scottish Jazz Awards given specifically to musicians.

Both the concert and the previous day’s rehearsals were staged under strict COVID-19 guidelines.

“Everyone arrived at different times. Everyone wore a mask except when playing their instruments or talking about the music to camera, and a one-way system was in operation throughout the concert hall,” said Smith.

“It was the first time we’d played together since we performed Peter and the Wolf, with Norwegian narration, in Oslo – and the first time many of the orchestra had played with other musicians in eight months. So the high standard of performance was quite an achievement and was reflected in the comments made by the audience online, which included arrangers and musicians we've worked with.”

Although it now receives regular financial support from Creative Scotland, the orchestra hasn’t always been in receipt of public funding and for the first 15 years Smith undertook all the administration as well as overseeing rehearsals and performances. He still, even now, drives the van transporting the ensemble’s PA equipment to every gig.

“It takes dedication to keep any band going,” says Smith, who has trained many of the current SNJO personnel through his own youth jazz orchestra and the jazz course he established at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2009. “You just have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to make it work and the musicians who are in the orchestra now, and those who have been with us in the past, have always given everything they have to the cause.”

Alan Morrison, Head of Music, Creative Scotland, said: “For 25 years, the SNJO has put world-class jazz onto the concert hall stage, breathing fresh life into the big band repertoire with daring original compositions and new arrangements of archive classics. Each and every concert is a gem in itself, as virtuosic solos punctuate rich ensemble textures.

"But it’s the body of work, built up lovingly over a quarter of a century, that makes the SNJO such an indispensable cultural institution at home and proud ambassador for Scotland’s music abroad.”

The leading UK jazz magazine, Jazzwise said: “Smith’s SNJO has become one of the great adornments of our British jazz scene, the personnel invariably of the highest quality, their many successful collaborations an apt testimony to their prowess.”

* The concert is available at

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