Jazz Forward is an exciting new live music agency run as a collective. Founded by Scottish jazz musicians Marianne McGregor, Malcolm MacFarlane, Sophie Bancroft and music journalist Fiona Mactaggart, their vision is to showcase some of the diverse musical talent in Scottish Jazz. We spent some time with this exciting and much needed new collective, discussing their plans and vision.
How would you describe the jazz scene in Scotland?
The Scottish Jazz scene is eclectic and constantly evolving. There is a considerable number of talented musicians bringing their own, personal approach to Jazz music, while still paying homage to classic and traditional Jazz.
However relative to, say, the Scottish Folk music scene, Scottish Jazz is small, and yet paradoxically we are ‘unconnected’ with each other somehow. There are lots of little pockets of activity, but there lacks a feeling of there being a cohesive ‘Jazz scene’. This could be to do with Scotland’s geography which means that musicians are spread across a wide area. Live Jazz is mostly but not exclusively heard across the central belt where the larger populations are eg. Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Again, compared to other music scenes such as Folk or Classical, Jazz in Scotland seems overall a bit lacking in organisation. This can lead to difficulties for Jazz musicians in securing regular gigs, and sometimes gigs can fall on the same day affecting audience turn-out to either or both gigs. Additionally, there are few sites, in-person or virtual, for Jazz musicians to get together, which can limit opportunities for collaboration as well as risk impacting mental health or at the very least, job satisfaction. Funding awards and promotion appears to often focus on a small proportion of the musicians/ bands in Scotland, with a number of other first-rate Jazz musicians missing out on such supports. In short, the Scottish jazz scene has great heart, talent, diversity of music and potential but not enough cohesion, venues, promoters or overall organisation.
What do you feel makes Scottish Jazz, well, Scottish?
Some years ago, in the 1990s, the poet and musician Don Paterson had a trailblazing band called ‘Lammas’ which was an extraordinarily successful melding of Jazz and Folk sensibilities – this was not particularly encouraged in Scotland at the time! The saxophonist from this group went on to work closely with Chick Corea – Tim Garland! Today, quite a lot of the Jazz in Scotland is still quite traditional jazz, perhaps partly because ‘Fusion’ and ‘Modern’ Jazz were, as we see it, actively discouraged by most established promoters until fairly recently. Over time this has changed slightly with these same promoters now coming around to a concept of ‘Scottish Jazz’.
Nowadays Scottish Jazz is a very broad church. One of us (Malcolm) would struggle to admit there’s really such a clearly-defined entity, however others in Jazz Forward (Sophie and Fiona) see a definite influence coming from our surrounding geography, nature, history and Scotland-specific culture in its widest sense. There are still a considerable number of Jazz musicians today who are actively looking into indigenous music for inspiration. Similarly, there are Scottish Trad Folk musicians who are embracing the harmonic and rhythmic complexities of Jazz, some, like Lau, with great success. Yet others have a foot in both camps from early stage of their careers, take Fergus McCreadie for example. In addition, from a pragmatic point of view, there may not always be sufficient work here if one were to stick to only one musical genre, so for some musicians, working in say the Jazz and Classical sectors makes financial sense. Scottish Jazz artists, especially the younger generation of artists, have little fear of dipping in and out of differing musical genres or styles.
Can you tell us about Jazz Forward and why you felt the need to create it?
Jazz Forward is a new agency to support and help organise Jazz in Scotland. There are no other agencies in Scotland that focus exclusively on Jazz. JF consists of three established musician/ composer/ educators (Sophie Bancroft, Marianne McGregor and Malcolm MacFarlane) and a Jazz journalist (Fiona Mactaggart). We four all felt that the representation of the Jazz scene here in Scotland was quite narrow and misses a lot of what is actually going on. We wonder if the funding decision-makers may not always be fully aware of all the quality Jazz musicians working in Scotland today. This was a chance for us to set up and maintain a structure to showcase a wider breadth of the exciting music that is being created here, especially new, original music.
We have spent over a year discussing what our joint values and aims are and looked in detail at how we would like to see Jazz Forward developing. We discovered that working in this way we felt encouraged, energized and achieved a sense of being ‘greater than the sum of our parts’! At this point we feel we would like to comment about Jazz Forward’s gender balance. Women working in Jazz in Scotland report having greater difficulties in their Jazz careers than men do: this is probably no different than in any other career in Scotland, except that a jazz career is probably one of the more precarious of careers to start with. Jazz Forward has been addressing this structurally by our collective founders being three women and one man, subverting the norm of males in Jazz usually being in the majority. We function as a collective, acknowledging that we have complementary strengths and make all decisions by consensus.
In essence, with JF we would like to be a positivity-led collective, and inclusive, trying to give a platform to some of those who at the present time ‘miss out’. Encouraging cross-generational and other collaborations, we will ensure there is no ‘headline’ band at a given gig (‘we are all equal’) and aim to take Jazz to parts of Scotland and venues that don’t often get to experience live Jazz. Artist and enthusiast led, we are people who love the music and genuinely want to ‘spread the word’ to Scottish music-lovers and get more of the creative Jazz talent living here in Scotland heard.
The focus is on original Scottish jazz – is this because you feel original jazz is not supported and given the space it deserves?
Absolutely! Original music is the lifeblood of Jazz. Pretty much any musician that you can think of from the past 60 or 70 years has contributed original music to the art. This is partly because the musical concepts they’re working on include melody, harmony and rhythm so the compositions are extensions of, and vehicles for their creative vision on these aspects of the music (Miles Davis, Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, John Scofield, Pat Metheny et al).
There is a wealth of original Jazz being created in Scotland these days that is not necessarily having the platform to be heard. Indeed, it feels increasingly difficult to pursue an original path. There has been a sense that those in a position to decide about funding and programming seem to prefer to deal in known quantities, especially if there might also be ‘good’ photographs! The respected Jazz writer in the USA, Ted Goia has recently written about his research into the decrease in air time that original music receives in the US. In the last decade particularly, we in Scotland have noticed a gradual increase in tribute band work. There does seem to be a widespread lessening of interest in original music. We see this trend as concerning, since we believe creativity in music – as well as in virtually all aspects of life – is essential for a healthy society.
The collective has a wealth of experience and energy – how did you all come together and decide to form the collective? What does each individual bring to the collective?
Three of our number (established musicians Sophie Bancroft, Malcolm MacFarlane and Marianne McGregor) met at the Jazzahead! conference in 2021, that is usually held in Bremen, Germany. Due to the covid pandemic it was a virtual conference in 2021, in which some of the wide-ranging conversations had been around Jazz promotion and venues in Scotland. Sharing similar visions, Malcolm, Marianne and Sophie carried on meeting regularly after the event ended. At Jazzahead! it had been suggested that a writer could be a useful type of person to work with in a musician-led Jazz promotion agency. Malcolm and Jazz journalist Fiona Mactaggart had been in communication by email, (discussing the strengths and challenges in Scottish Jazz) and so it came about that we four started to meet regularly on Zoom, believing that sharing ideas, networks, resources and strengths as a team would make for an exciting and productive project.
The three musicians – Marianne, Malcolm & Sophie – between them bring decades of experience in the music industry – performing, composing and teaching. The journalist Fiona brings long years of writing as a clinician in the NHS and more recently as a music journalist, as well as a life-long enthusiasm for Jazz. Marianne McGregor, the youngest member of our collective, was brought up on Orkney, living and breathing music in a very musical family. She won Best vocalist award at last year’s Scottish Jazz Awards 2021 and sings, plays keyboard, composes and teaches, and has an energy, social media nous and understanding of computers including graphics that is unrivalled!
Guitarist, Malcolm MacFarlane started out touring with the late Barbara Thompson and since then has worked in multiple areas of music: in Classical orchestras and ensembles, film score composition, teaching in Universities and Colleagues, the list seems endless! Nowadays while he is in great demand for his all-round guitar skills, he especially delights in playing in his guitar ensemble, ‘Sequence’. His music is probably best characterised as delicate and beautiful jazz – folk. Malcolm’s deep understanding of the history and politics of Scottish Jazz and his acquaintance with virtually every Jazz musician in Scotland, is very helpful for a new collective.
Sophie Bancroft, who like Marianne came from a musical family, has two siblings who also are prominent in the Scottish Jazz scene. She composes music & writes lyrics, sings the most lovely songs often accompanying herself on guitar and is an in-demand teacher in and beyond Scotland. She is a nurturing, calm presence which you can hear in her Podcasts. Last year Sophie completed a series of podcast interviews of the great Scottish jazz singer Fionna Duncan and recently she interviewed each of us for our JF website!
Fiona Mactaggart is the writer/ coordinator/ admin person in the collective. As an amateur musician and Jazz enthusiast she brings a relative outsider’s perspective to the collective. Through her previous career as a clinician in the NHS she has developed an aptitude for organisation, allowing the musicians to focus more on their craft. Fiona is curious about people and interested in group dynamics, which will be useful in a small collective that also aims to enlarge with time.
We each bring a different skill-set and find we support each other wonderfully. Sharing duties, we are lucky to be able to assign tasks that suit each person’s strengths. Adopting an open dialogue for learning and sharing with one another works well, so that the process has been rewarding. It is exciting to now see our hard work bearing fruit.
You managed to obtain funding from Creative Scotland, which is brilliant. How was that process for you?
It was long, involved and difficult at times but we got there in the end, kept going by our regular Zoom sessions and our combined motivation, so as not to feel alone in the process. Sophie did the majority of this piece of work although we all did a share. Although arduous it was ultimately helpful as (a) we were successful in obtaining funding for this, our pilot phase of Jazz Forward (thank you, Creative Scotland!) and (b) it helped us work hard on clarifying who we wanted to be, how we would go about our work in creating an agency, and so on. The process really forced us to establish very clear aims and make meticulous plans.
Now that you have funding and are formed, what’s next for you all? How can we support your work?
Spreading the word about our music and what we are doing as a collective would be immensely helpful. Between the four of us we have a lot of interesting stories to tell, so any features about us would be very welcome. We have our three launch gigs in November (across Scotland’s central belt) so we’re all working very hard towards that. We have a website, podcasts too, and we’ve just signed off poster and flyer designs and commissioned a PR agency to help spread the word. Due to our varied skill sets we’re not only collaborating well but successfully delegating jobs best done by individual members – Marianne on social media, for instance. I think we have the potential to really do some long term good, so getting off on a strong footing would be an amazing help! Thank you!!
There is wide range of ways to support the work of Jazz Forward. Do visit their website or attend one of their three upcoming launch gigs on November 17, 18 and 19, in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Pathhead respectively. Tickets here You can also follow and support via the artists here: Marianne McGregor Malcolm MacFarlane Sophie Bancroft Fiona Mactaggart on Scottish Jazz Space
Last modified: September 22, 2022