Tag Archives: Laura Macdonald

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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