School bands miss full flavour of jazz

30th June 2006 at 01:00
he inaugural Glasgow Schools Jazz Competition at the city's International Jazz Festival produced a surprise win by King's Park Secondary. Its big band edged the more accomplished sounding band of Jordanhill, the only non-council school in the contest, into second place.

This ensured the first presentation of the Chic McCafferty Cup went to a school within the education service he once convened.

Margaret McCafferty, who now holds her late husband's post, presented the cup that she has bestowed in his memory. She commended the efforts of the pupils and teachers involved in the competition, which will become an annual event, she said.

It attracted a healthy crowd of supporters to the Old Fruitmarket on Sunday. The Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, along with the festival, opened the concert with an assured performance under the direction of Stewart Forbes, who has taken over from its founding director, Bobby Wishart. They set a mood and standard of improvised solos that none of the school groups came close to achieving. That was not entirely surprising. Those qualities are the cornerstones of jazz and do not come easily.

The judges felt moved to ask the presenter, jazz singer Stephen Duffy, to suggest to all the competitors that they listen to more classic jazz on record, not to copy exactly what they hear, but to grasp that elusive feel.

The panel of judges was chaired by David Sanderson, a former convener of Strathclyde regional council, and featured Mr Forbes, who directs the jazz component of the music degree course at Strathclyde University, saxophonist Paul Towndrow and bassist Michael Janisch and the arts editor of The Herald, Keith Bruce.

They heard performances from five school bands, opening with the 21-piece band from Jordanhill. It was followed by two small groups, from Rosshall Academy and Hillpark Secondary. The latter was a quintet featuring only two pupils with three teachers. The King's Park big band performed next, and a 12-piece band from Smithycroft Secondary closed the competition and featured the only vocal performance.

Each school played two pieces, mostly drawn from the classic jazz repertoire. Selections included tunes by Fats Waller (Hillpark), Duke Ellington (Smithycroft), Benny Goodman (King's Park), Miles Davis and Horace Silver (both Rosshall). King's Park also played a version of the Sex in the City theme music, while Jordanhill included an arrangement of Michael Jackson's "Thriller".

The standard was competent, but there was clearly potential for development among both the bands and many of the individual musicians.

The fact that the festival organisers could hold this competition at relatively short notice is testimony to the growth of jazz in schools since the formation of the Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra. It, along with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland and the more recent elite Youth Jazz Orchestra directed by saxophonist Tommy Smith, has set a performance standard for young musicians to emulate.

The musical proceedings closed with an excellent set from the Strathclyde Jazz Orchestra, made up of students on the applied music degree course at Strathclyde University. Mr Forbes also led this band. They were joined by a promising young singer, Stefanie Lawrence, for three songs mid set, and displayed both the ensemble precision and developed improvisation skills missing from the school bands.

It was a reminder that jazz is a difficult art to master and any one wishing to develop their expertise has to work as seriously as any would-be classical musician.

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