Tag Archives: Laura Macdonald

Luca Manning: Rising Star

Luca Manning - When the sun comes out (front cover)

Luca Manning may only have left school two years ago, but the young jazz singer with the soulful, gentle voice already has an award on his mantelpiece (Rising Star at the 2018 Scottish Jazz Awards), a debut CD to sell, a CV that many older singers would kill for, a star-studded roster of admirers, and a dedicated entourage which includes a well-kent face from TV.

Manning, you see, is the grandson of Anita – the colourful Glasgow antiques expert on Bargain Hunt – and over the last few years, she and her daughter, Luca’s mother, have become regulars at jazz concerts in Glasgow. Indeed, from being what she described as a “rock ‘n’ roll gal,” Anita Manning now has an impressive jazz collection (“she has loads of Ella Fitzgerald records”) and has helped her grandson by offering him tips on performance, dealing with nerves and keeping energy levels up. “ ‘Eat bananas’ is her top tip for an energy boost,” laughs Manning.

It was always obvious to Luca Manning that his future lay in music – but he only discovered jazz relatively recently. Born in Glasgow’s west end, he attended Hillhead High School where, initially, he dreamt of becoming a rock star – not that he was very keen on practising his guitar.

“I was in a pop/rock band playing ukulele and writing sad songs with four chords,” he says. “I was in a choir in first year – I had a high voice and had to sing with the sopranos. The school had a fantastic, dedicated music department and there was always an outlet for music.”

At home, Manning’s listening tastes were much influenced by his mother who raised him and his older sister by herself. “Mum, who of course is now into jazz, always liked amazing voices – Sinead O’Connor, Jimmy Sommerville, people like that. Great singers with big voices. I went through a lot of phases but the constants were Amy Winehouse (who I think Anita liked first!), Stevie Wonder and soul music. I bought my first album with my mum in Fopp on Byres Road. It was Bjork – Debut and my mum said: ‘If you don’t get it, I’ll get it!’ I think I was 14 at the time.”

Meanwhile, Manning was taking piano lessons, having given up on guitar, and was encouraged by his piano teacher to sing. “I was actually champing at the bit to get singing lessons but I didn’t get any until my voice had broken”.

When Manning was 16 years old, his school suggested he sign up for the weekly jazz workshops run by the Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra. One of his tutors there was the pianist Alan Benzie, and when the course ended, Manning was desperate to continue learning, so Benzie took him on as a student. It was he who helped the youngster with auditions and prescribed listening material for him. “Until I did the SYJO classes, I knew very little about jazz and didn’t really know what I was getting into,” says Manning. “But the more I immersed myself in the music – the more I loved it.”

Among Manning’s early favourites was the iconic Chet Baker, whose eponymous 1959 album he will be celebrating at The Blue Arrow in Glasgow next month, as part of the club’s 59:60 series of homages to classic albums from that pivotal year in jazz.

“I instantly fell in love with Chet, both his singing and his trumpet playing,” explains Manning. I love that melancholy fragility and vulnerability; I have an emotional connection to Chet. Crooners never resonated as much with me as much. Mark Murphy’s later records are in the same vein as Chet’s – it’s a different style but he’s not afraid to stick his neck out, be himself, take risks. I also love Amy Winehouse – in fact, I think I got into her because my gran Anita was always playing her records.”

The summer school run by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland proved another invaluable experience for Manning. “I just loved learning. Jazz was like a new musical language, and I remember that it was after that summer school that I came back and told my mum I want to be a jazz musician.” Manning returned to the summer school a further two times, and one of those occasions it led to him appearing at the Proms as part of a choir of students from the course.

Along with Alan Benzie, the much-loved English singer Liane Carroll played a huge part in Manning’s development. Not only did she point him in the direction of the vocal jazz workshops run in Scotland by fellow singer Sophie Bancroft – with tutors including herself, Sara Colman and Fionna Duncan – but she also invited him to sing with her at her Christmas show at Ronnie Scott’s in 2017. She is, as Manning says, “a very generous person and musician”.

Carroll has also been a significant influence on the young vocalist. “Her singing is so honest; every word is so true and she just makes you feel something. No matter which genre she’s singing in, you are guaranteed to be told a story and she has so much fun onstage doing it. It’s infectious. She’s a very natural improviser which I love as well.”

It was during a particular listening phase around 18 months ago, that Manning – who is currently midway through the four-year jazz course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London – had the surreal experience of being invited to support the singer in question at a jazz festival gig.

He explains: “I was really getting into Georgie Fame – I love his Portrait of Chet album; he’s an amazing singer – and was listening to him a lot early in 2018. I sang one of his vocalese numbers at the launch of The Blue Arrow club and Jill Rodger, the director of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, heard me and said: ‘Georgie Fame is playing at the jazz festival this year. How would you like to open for him?’”

And so it was that Manning and the similarly youthful pianist Fergus McCreadie came to be the support act for Fame last year, and then Ruby Turner this summer. (The pair have now, separately, been nominated in the Newcomer category of the prestigious Parliementary Awards, taking place in London in December.) Understandably, this was a pretty daunting experience, but Manning took his cue from his more experienced, then 20-year-old, musical partner. “We decided not to tailor the music to the person we were supporting. Fergus reminded me never to compromise as a musician. He said: ‘Let’s just do our thing unapologetically’.”

It’s little wonder, given the trust he has in McCreadie, that Manning chose to record his debut CD, When the Sun Comes Out, with him earlier this year. The original idea was not to record an album, but just to make some recordings together. “Sara Colman, my mentor and tutor at Guildhall, and I had spoken a lot and she suggested we go in and record enough material so I could make a CD if I wanted. We recorded at the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland’s HQ – a room that we were already familiar with – and that was a great way of minimising stress, by being in familiar surroundings. Sara sat in on the recording and helped produce which also helped me feel more comfortable and confident.”

His confidence was further boosted by the involvement of leading alto saxophonist Laura Macdonald, who had given him sax lessons at school before he took up singing. “I love her energy and her playing. We’ve always stayed in touch, and she has been a really good mentor to me. I wanted to have a duo on the CD – but then I thought it would be nice to have a guest and Laura was the first person to come into my head. And it was the idea of having her, rather than the idea of a sax. It turned out just as I envisaged: she came in on the second day and completely changed the energy. I was almost pinching myself. Everyone in the room loved it. Fergus hadn’t played with her before. We had a quick run-through. It was very much of the moment.”

The bottom line for Manning was that this debut CD was an accurate reflection of what he does in a gig. “All I wanted was honesty. I didn’t want multi-tracking or mixing, and I wanted a maximum of two or three takes. Some of the songs were new to us; some we’ve done before. There is no theme to the album but the songs are connected in a way because there are themes of home, identity and love. I was thinking about how there is pressure to release ALL new music that’s innovative and new, but I didn’t want to write ten new tunes – I wanted to do what I’d do on a gig.

“At the end of the day, it’s an honest snapshot of who I am. And I just love great songs.”

*When the Sun Comes Out is available now; Luca Manning – Chet Baker: Chet is at The Blue Arrow, Glasgow on Thursday October 24; www.thebluearrow.co.ukLuca 2 solo pic.jpg

Text (c) Alison Kerr, 2019; album cover artwork by Irenie Blaze-Cameron; portrait by Delilah Niel

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Eliot Murray Big Band

Eliot Murray Big Band: 1947 Tommy Sampson and Edwin Holland, West Princes Street Gardens Spiegeltent ****
 
It may have been the jazz festival show with the longest title but that title still doesn’t explain what Tuesday lunchtime’s West Princes Street Gardens gig was all about. The short-lived big band formed by Edinburgh-born trumpeter Tommy Sampson (who died in 2008 at the age of 90) just after the Second World War is considered by many to be one of the best British big bands of the era. 
 
Sampson, who became known as “Scotland’s King of Swing,” founded the 17—piece band for the 1947 season at the El Dorado ballroom in Leith, and, playing arrangements by Sampson and his right-hand man Edwin Holland, it was an instant hit and soon made a big impact on the British music scene, thanks to numerous tours and BBC broadcasts.  
 
Just as the Sampson orchestra saw the likes of future international star Joe Temperley pass through its ranks, so Tuesday’s concert, under the direction of the affable Eliot Murray, a longtime associate of Sampson, boasted the cream of the current crop of Scottish jazz musicians (including Laura Macdonald, Konrad Wiszniewski and Allon Beauvoisin), several of whom are having a busy festival juggling different musical personalities for different projects. 
 
Martin Kershaw, for example, was last seen playing the part of Lee Konitz in the Birth of the Cool concert at the weekend, but on Tuesday he slipped elegantly into 1940s swing mode, playing some hot, sweet clarinet a la Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. His storming solo on Herman’s Apple Honey added an extra level of excitement to what was already a sensational number.
 
* First published in The Herald, Thursday July 20th

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Sandy Taylor Obituary

Sandy Taylor picSandy Taylor, who has died at the age of 92, was a popular and elegant Scottish jazz pianist and the music director for singer Carol Kidd’s first three albums. A familiar face to anyone who attended jazz concerts at the Glasgow Society of Musicians in the 1980s, and the resident pianist in various west of Scotland hotels over the decades, he was also something of a mentor to such younger musicians as the saxophonist Laura Macdonald and the singer/pianist and BBC radio presenter Stephen Duffy.

Born at the family home, Dumfin Sawmill, Glenfruin in 1922, Alexander Wilson Taylor attended the Vale of Leven Academy in Alexandria before serving in the RAF as a radio operator on a Halifax bomber during the war. His family operated Dumfin Sawmill, and Taylor followed in his father’s footsteps by taking over the mill, while also working as a self—employed joiner and playing piano gigs. He married Marjorie in 1958, and they had two children, Sanders and Joyce.

In 1968, after two storms in quick succession both devastated the dam, lade and waterwheel on the Fruin which powered the machinery in the Taylor premises, the mill stopped operating as a sawmill but Taylor continued to live at Dumfin until he went into sheltered housing in 2012, two years after Marjorie’s death.

In the mid-1970s, Taylor joined the band led by saxophonist/vibraphonist Jimmy Feighan which had a long-standing Saturday afternoon gig at Glasgow’s Lorne Hotel. The band’s singer was Carol Kidd, newly returned to singing after a decade-long absence. She and Taylor hit it off immediately, and their musical rapport soon began to inspire enquiries from promoters who wanted to book Kidd plus Taylor, and the rest of the rhythm section – Alex Moore on bass guitar and Murray Smith on drums. Before long they were regulars at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and playing three fortnights a year at Ronnie Scott’s in London.

For Kidd, working with Taylor was the closest musical relationship she had had. “He knew exactly the kind of songs that would suit my voice and he knew how to accompany a singer – which is an art form in itself.” David Newton, the then up-and-coming pianist who succeeded Taylor as Kidd’s accompanist, credits the older player with providing him with a Eureka moment about the art of accompaniment.

“In the late 1970s I played piano in a club called Aphrodite in London. The singer Karen Kay, who had been on a talent show like Opportunity Knocks, came and I was her accompanist for six weeks. At the end of it she said: ‘Thanks very much, but you’re the worst accompanist a singer could have.’

“So, bearing this in mind, when I came up to Scotland and started working with singers I watched Sandy Taylor in action. He knew when to play and when not to play – when to leave space for the singer to do what she or he does. None of this footling about.”

Kidd describes Taylor’s style as minimalist, adding: “Another thing I loved about him was that his sense of humour came through in his playing – and that’s not often the case with musicians. He had a lovely way of making things light and quite funny and then very serious –
and that’s what his personality was all about too. He had a wonderful personality.”

Indeed, Taylor was known in the Scottish jazz scene as a raconteur par excellence, who would tell long-winded tales and reel his listener in before walloping them in the face with a devastating punchline. Drummer and bandleader Ken Mathieson, who played regularly with Taylor at the Duck Bay Marina, recalls: “Sandy was a genuine one-off: he could be a prickly character who wouldn’t tolerate fools at all, but if he decided you were a friend, you were a friend for life with no reprieves or paroles. He was fantastically entertaining company.”

For Laura Macdonald, the renowned alto saxophonist who, in her late teens and early twenties, played a weekly duo gig with Taylor at the Inn on the Green in Glasgow for a few years before she went to study in the USA, the age difference between her and the then septuagenarian pianist didn’t get in the way of their instant friendship.

She says: “He had the spirit of a young man and we just clicked. He was always totally mischievous and would crack me up on the bandstand and off. Musically, he was a soulmate – we couldn’t believe how often we both played the same thing at the same moment in an improvisation. We’d come off the bandstand and sit and stare at each other and and say ‘How did that happen?!’. He gave me confidence, and freed me up musically.”

Sandy Taylor is survived by his younger twin brothers Bill and Joe, his son Sanders, his daughter Joyce as well as two grand-daughters and a great-grandson.

Sandy Taylor, pianist, born November 28 1922; died April 21 2015

* First published in The Herald, Saturday May 11Nice Work cover

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: The Piano in Jazz

The Piano in Jazz, The Hub, Edinburgh
****
The days of the old Pianorama concert (in which most of the pianists in residence at the jazz festival would each play a 20-minute set, one after the other) may be gone, but the Piano in Jazz gig on Friday afternoon was the next best thing. As with Pianorama, it offered an eclectic mix of pianists – two very contemporary and one mainstream – but unlike the earlier format, they didn’t all play solo.
First up was the hot young London pianist Zoe Rahmann who didn’t chat, but let the piano do the talking, playing continuously throughout her allocated 30 minutes. Rahmann let one piece flow seamlessly into the next, and revealed a graceful, elegant style in the process. She ended with a masterful interpretation of the beautiful Ellington number Single Petal of a Rose before handing the stage over to American pianist David Berkman who was featured in a duo setting, with Scottish alto star Laura Macdonald.
Their wide-ranging programme highlighted their rapport and the pleasure they get from playing together. Highlights included the mesmerizing Ornette Coleman number Voice Poetry and and energetic take on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps which gave Macdonald especially something of a work-out both musically and physically.
The inclusion of local pianist Tom Finlay provided a contrast since his trio set had more appeal to the swing-oriented jazz fan. Accompanied by Americans Eric Harper (bass) and Ed Metz Jr (drums), Finlay dished up a hugely enjoyable and varied set including such gems as the jaunty Delaunay’s Dilemma and an eloquent What’s New which made great use of Metz’s classy drumming.

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