Crail doesn’t often appear on saxophonist Tommy Smith’s touring schedule.
This is one reason why the internationally revered musician is so looking forward to playing an afternoon solo concert in the East Neuk town’s Community Hall on Sunday November 13.
Scotland on Tour
In recent months, Smith has visited several venues outside of his orbit as part of the Scotland on Tour project, which aims to revive the live music scene after it was severely impacted by the Covid pandemic.
“I’m sure people in rural communities can – and do – travel to hear live music in cities,” he says.
“But it’s always good when members of the audience come up after these Scotland on Tour gigs and say that they’ve just come from round the corner, or they live two houses down the street from the venue. It just confirms that you’re taking the music to the people.”
Smith has been concentrating on solo saxophone concerts in cathedrals and churches since before Covid and he was particularly taken with the idea of playing in Crail Community Hall when he discovered it’s a former church.
Sound in churches
“That’s a bonus,” he says. “Churches and cathedrals, certainly the older ones, were designed to enable the human voice to carry without amplification, and in solo concerts I’m essentially using the saxophone as my voice.”
The sound in these old stone buildings invariably reverberates, he adds. “Sometimes it can be quite a short echo, sometimes a bit longer. I love to play with and get to know the sound delay. It can make you play quite differently in every venue.”
The Scotland on Tour project has seen Smith play in churches, or former churches, in villages and small towns from Braemar to Crossmichael in Kirkcudbrightshire.
He has also played in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and Dunblane Cathedral and admits to wondering what the concert possibilities might be as he drives past churches on his travels.
Having toured the world with some of the biggest names in jazz, including vibes virtuoso Gary Burton and Norwegian double bass master Arild Andersen, these days Smith is deeply involved in organising and encouraging other musicians.
Scotland’s jazz scene
He is currently artistic director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, which he founded in 1995.
He also directs his own youth jazz orchestra and is head of the jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.
So, he sometimes has to consciously make time for his own career and finds the attraction of going out alone and being at one with his instrument very strong.
Celebration of melody
“I see my solo concerts as celebrations of melody,” he says. “There’s improvisation in there, too, of course, but what I really enjoy about these concerts is that I often don’t know what tune I’m going to play next until I begin playing it.”
For his concert in Crail, he’ll mostly draw on the jazz, folk, classical, praise song and pop traditions.
“I generally have an idea of the first melody I’m going to play,” he says. “I don’t use microphones; I just play with the natural ambience and then musically go where the sound in the venue takes me.”