Tommy Smith

Tommy's Thoughts

In his own words - Tommy's blog

Instrumental Tuition

December 30, 2015

Ten thousand thanks for all your tremendous support.

TSYJO Hub CFR 282ColinRobertson2

As we hit 10,000 signatures that emphatically oppose the proposed Edinburgh City Council destructive cut of 75% to our Instrumental Tuition Service, we step significantly closer to eventually hearing from a senior Council officer and the evidence they may communicate at a public meeting to whether they will expunge their apathetic overture.

The Edinburgh City Council Petition Committee, which consists of 10 members: 3 Labour; 3 SNP; 2 Conservative; 1 Green; and 1 SLD, all congregate on Thursday 21 January 2016 and trustingly will discuss and debate our petition with philosophic wisdom.

The committee is:

Councillor Jeremy Balfour [Con] Telephone: 0131 529 4083 E:

Councillor Chas Booth[Green] Telephone: 0131 529 3182 E:

Councillor Denis Dixon [SNP] Telephone: 0131 529 4988 E:

Councillor Marion Donaldson[Lab] Telephone: 0131 469 3841 E:

Councillor Paul Edie [Lib] Telephone: 0131 529 3172 E:

Councillor Nick Gardner [Lab] Telephone: 0131 529 3282 E:

Councillor Karen Keil [Lab] Telephone: 0131 529 3261 E:

Councillor David Key [SNP] Telephone: 0131 529 3260 E:

Councillor Alex Lunn [SNP] Telephone: 0131 529 4956 E:

Councillor Lindsay Paterson [Con] Telephone: 0131 529 4970 E:

Scottish singer, songwriter, musician and actress, Shirley Manson has written this heartfelt letter to the council, which I encourage you to read.

“Dear City of Edinburgh Council

It has been brought to my attention that you are proposing a 75% cut to the budget that funds Edinburgh’s instrumental music tuition and all of the Edinburgh Schools Orchestras and ensembles.

It is difficult at this time in our culture, where everything is weighed, measured and valued in financial terms or by how popular it is, for music education to be considered important or necessary.

However it is crucial as a society that we safeguard as many of the beautiful, wonderful, nebulous things that bring joy and happiness to people all across the globe, that are of cultural importance.

The difficulty being that the cultural importance and the impact of music is often impossible to evaluate in simple monetary terms.

Unless music is presented in the particular form that generates massive amounts of money for the corporate world and proves itself wildly popular to an international pre-teen audience, it becomes so easy to dismiss.

I understand you are in a tough position. Setting budgets to run a city cannot be easy.

But I beg you to rethink your position on this proposal.

We are living in dark times. The news is at best depressing, at it’s worst, terrifying.

Music is an art form that transcends terror. It is the exquisite and beautiful opposing force to everything that is cruel and frightening in this world.
Please do not rob the school children of Edinburgh of the opportunity to engage with music, learn from it, fall in love with it, master it.

As a former pupil of Flora Stevenson Primary School and Broughton High School in Edinburgh, I have personally benefited directly from the musical tuition that was offered up to students in Edinburgh as part of our educational curriculum.

As a result apparently of displaying an aptitude for music I was picked out by my teachers for both violin and clarinet tuition. I played in my school orchestras and sang with both choirs.

I have gone on to enjoy a career in music that has lasted over 30 years. I’ve played all over the world and been exposed to so many experiences that I am so fortunate and grateful to have had.

There is not a day goes by when I don’t think how lucky I am.

Everywhere I have travelled I have spoken of the immense good fortune of being born in Edinburgh where I received a musical education that I quickly came to realize was exemplary.

I hope that the pupils of Edinburgh schools with an aptitude for music continue to be as fortunate as I was.

That is what I hope for them and for the great city of Edinburgh.

Finally…..I hope that anyone in Edinburgh with a love of music will repost this story of these proposed cuts, protest in their own voice where possible and lend their name to the petition of protest on Change.Org

I also urge any Edinburgh based papers to report on this story.

Perhaps if we all push together, we can make a change to this proposal.
After all, in the words of the mighty Patti Smith,
Love all, hate no one.”

Here are some other quotes from individuals who signed the petition:

“Free music tuition is a lifeline of help to so many children from very mixed backgrounds. It enriches life and broadens horizons.”
Michael Holton, Haddington, United Kingdom

“I don’t want school instrument tuition to be the exclusive preserve of the affluent middle class in Scotland. As if it wasn’t a big enough deterrent already for poorer households that families have to pay for a child’s musical instrument, this move will make it even less likely that a child from a poorer household will have the opportunity to play an instrument.”
Rebecca Reid, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

“My daughter has benefited immensely from free music tuition, both at primary and secondary school. Our primary school’s parents association regularly buys more instruments to allow the wind and brass band to grow.
Private music tuition is unaffordable and a luxury for many families. If this extreme cut goes through, so many kids won’t get a chance to receive music lessons and schools will be left with a pile of instruments and no one to use them!

The music tuition service is so much more than just weekly lessons – there are numerous performance experiences throughout the year, the experience and challenge of dedicated practice and the rewards that brings, boost to self confidence and positive impact on mental health… there will be children who may struggle with other aspects of school, but excel at their music tuition.
How many young musicians will we lose? How many young people who wish to become a professional musician, but their families cannot afford lessons or to spend hundreds of pounds on providing instruments at home?
Learning to play an instrument should NOT become an elitist pastime.”
Jeda Lewis, Edinburgh, United Kingdom…

Image by Colin Robertson

Read on...

‘And we’ll take a rich guid-willy waught’

January 27, 2014


Dear Supporters of ‘Review all Genres of Music’,

When I departed home this morning the petition was quiescent at 442 and my bones were unsettled. Having just returned from teaching at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland it’s now ascending at an active 832. I’ve taken time to dutifully read everything everyone has written and I’d like to take this humble opportunity to thank you all; this grand list of individuals from 21 countries, for your time, resolve, passion and creativity. For without whom, this entire petition would not have had the effect to cause such a swift wave in the corridors of power. (more…)

Read on...

“We’ll tak a cup o kindness yet.”

January 26, 2014

25th January 2014

Dear Robert Burns and his descendants,

On this sacred day, the Scotsman newspaper has taken the budgetary decision to end reviewing world music, classical and jazz recordings, which is a heart-breaking bowdlerization of minority art forms and another cessation for the popularization and liberality of creativity. They may publish occasional reviews in the future but only from their syndication agreements, as long as they don’t have to pay for them. Who knows where they’ll appear, as their current Saturday magazine is also going to the four winds. (more…)

Read on...

Caledonian University Speech

July 2, 2008

“Chancellor, Principal, Chairman and Members of Court and Senate, Distinguished Guests, members of Staff of Glasgow Caledonian University, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mum, Dad, Lorna, Anne and Ian.

It is an honour and privilege to be here with you on this very special day and for all of us to receive these prestigious awards from Caledonian University.

My work in music has taken me from a housing scheme in Edinburgh to many distant countries across the world; some friendly, others hostile…. My experiences, in life, touring, have taught me that people across the globe have many common goals: food, work, family, health, the environment and sometimes even music, despite some people saying it is “a satanic voice that deeply penetrates the human heart, stimulating desires and wreaking havoc on your body and soul.” (more…)

Read on...

The Passing of Michael Brecker

January 19, 2007

My heart sank deeply when I heard that Michael had died. I first met him when I was 15 years old, in Edinburgh. We were playing on a TV show hosted by Niels Henning OP. I heard him practising rhythm changes and went over to him and said, “Hi! You sound amazing! Who are you?” He replied, “Michael, who are you?” (more…)

Read on...

MY STATEMENT to the Scottish Parliament – 12 Dec 2007

January 8, 2007

I’ve just finished a tour of the UK with Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, and we spent many hours discussing the world of jazz. During one of our conversations I was astounded to discover that the Norwegian Jazz Federation was set up in 1953, over half a century ago. Today, at the close of 2006, the Scottish Jazz Federation has finally arrived. Now, some people may think this late arrival is a consequence of uninventive Scots but I beg to differ.

An Englishman enjoys his breakfast of toast and MARMALADE, invented by Mrs Keiller of Dundee (Scotland), reaches for his RAINCOAT, patented by Charles MacIntosh from Glasgow (Scotland), and dashes to the train station on his BICYCLE, invented by James Kirkpatrick MacMillan of Dumfries (Scotland) and whose TYRES, invented by John Boyd Dunlop of Dreghorn (Scotland), run on a TARMAC ROAD by John MacAdam of Ayr (Scotland). The journey by train, whose engine power is calculated in WATTS named after James Watt of Greenock (Scotland), takes him to work at the BANK OF ENGLAND founded by William Paterson of Dumfries (Scotland). While opening his mail, sent with ADHESIVE STAMPS invented by James Chalmers of Dundee (Scotland), he puffs on a CIGARETTE first manufactured by Robert Gloag of Perth (Scotland). He later rings his wife on a TELEPHONE invented by Alexander Graham Bell of Edinburgh (Scotland). She tells him that dinner will be ROAST BEEF from Aberdeen Angus raised in Aberdeenshire (Scotland). He arrives home to find his daughter watching on TELEVISION invented by John Logie Baird of Helensburgh (Scotland) a programme about the U.S. NAVY founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean (Scotland) and his son reading TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson of Edinburgh (Scotland), and on lifting the family BIBLE he finds the first name mentioned is again a Scot, King James VI who authorised its translation. The same King James was also the first MONARCH OF THE UNITED KINGDOM, having become the British King following the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

The Englishman is unable to escape the accomplishments of the Scots. He could turn to WHISKY, but Scotland makes the best. He could stick his head in the oven, but COAL GAS was discovered by William Murdoch of Ayr (Scotland) and most domestic gas is now from the NORTH SEA, piped ashore in Scotland. He could attempt to shoot himself but his antique BREACH LOADING RIFLE was invented by Captain Pat Ferguson of Pitfours (Scotland). Should his suicide attempt prove unsuccessful, he may require a course of PENICILLIN discovered by Alexander Fleming of Darvel (Scotland) or be given an ANAESTHETIC discovered by Sir James Young Simpson of Bathgate (Scotland). So what hope for the poor unfortunate Englishman? Only one. He could sit back, drink his IRON BRU, eat his SHORTBREAD and listen to a deeply moving Negro Spiritual from Alabama, only to discover that Black Music roots and the source of American Gospel music originated in Scotland. But then he pauses and suddenly a grin spreads across his entire face because he remembers that England has 5 full-time jazz courses, in London, Birmingham and Leeds, and Scotland has none.

He ponders more and thinks of the great Willie Ruff, a professor of music at Yale University, a musicologist and jazz man who has played with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, whose surnames, by the way, are Scottish. Their names and religion come from their ancestral Scottish slave masters, as do names like Armstrong (Louis Armstrong), Mitchell (Blue Mitchell), Wilson (Teddy Wilson), McRae (Carmen McRae), Montgomery (Wes Montgomery), Davis (Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis), Lewis (George & John Lewis), Stewart (Rex Stewart), Russell (Luis Russell), Murray (Don Murray), Webster (Ben Webster), McLean (Jackie McLean), Morgan (Lee Morgan), Morton (Jelly Roll Morton), Young (Lester Young), and Oliver, (King Oliver). The Englishman then logs onto the internet and Googles the Harlem telephone book in Georgia, to find that it’s more like the telephone book for North Uist. Black American cultural roots may be more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American, he thinks. The Englishman then imagines what it was like for the 50,000 Gaelic-speaking Scottish immigrants who settled in North Carolina’s Cape Fear region and other parts of the South in the 18th and 19th centuries. While the Scots worshipped in their churches, singing the unaccompanied psalms in Gaelic, their slaves sat in the balcony above. This unaccompanied singing is called “Presenting the line”, in which a designated person sings a solo line from the biblical Book of Psalms, inviting members of the congregation to follow in their own time and with their own harmonies. The result is a radiant, surging, echoing chorus. It is the direct ancestor of “lining out,” a hymnal singing style of 19th century slaves, which is still practised at a dwindling number of black Southern churches.

“Lining out” evolved into the call-and-response of spirituals and gospel music that, in turn, influenced other American musical styles: spirituals, blues, ragtime – everything else that came later has some of this genetic musical DNA. So, if jazz music flows from the blues and ragtime – it implies its origins are from the Hebrides of Scotland. The Englishman is astounded, but why has Scotland not yet established a Scottish Jazz Academy to promote its heritage? Why does England have five jazz schools? Do the English want to steal all the good players from Scotland and boost their own economy? In spite of the proliferation and growth of jazz education in Europe over the past 40 years, why can’t Scottish jazz students study jazz music on their own doorstep? Has it been banned? I thought Scotland loved its heritage. Perhaps I’ll have that whisky after all.

Dizzy Gillespie had no doubt that there was a connection between Scotland and Gospel music, as he told musicologist and bassist Willie Ruff on many occasions during their tours around the world. I’m always saddened when I hear our nation’s leaders bragging about Scotland being at the forefront of music education, because when it comes to jazz, which we may have indirectly given birth to, there is no tertiary full-time jazz education in place. We must be backward to miss such a wonderful opportunity. Are we?

Any university in Scotland has the power to establish a full-time jazz course. Why haven’t they? Why doesn’t SHEFC, the Scottish Higher Educational Funding Council provides funding for the universities in the form of additional music places to establish a full-time jazz academy? Why doesn’t the Scottish Parliament put pressure on SHEFC to put pressure on the universities. Why don’t the jazz musicians put pressure on the Scottish Parliament to put pressure on SHEFC to put pressure on the universities to establish a Scottish Jazz Academy? Why not? Does everybody just pass the buck? It’s a catch-22, between a rock and a hard place. One blames the other: the universities want more music places, SHEFC want the universities to give up already existing music places. The Scottish Parliament has to be impartial and cannot direct the direction. So what happens? Nothing. If only the heads of universities would be more passionate about the most beautiful and challenging of art forms, perhaps we would be celebrating 25 or 50 years of jazz education in

Scotland. You know, jazz is a serious music and is the passport to understanding all musical art forms. When young musicians open their imaginations to jazz music they then have a skeleton key to open the door of any musical genre. It takes talent, dedication and a country’s foresight. Are we blind, or are the music departments of our universities frightened and prejudiced against an art form called jazz?

What do Stu Brown, Martin Kershaw, Aidan O’Donnell, John Blease, Sebastiaan Rochford, Adam Jackson, Fraser Campbell, Lea Gough Cooper, Rachel Cohen, John Fleming, Gail McArthur, Ben Bryden, Jo Fooks, Jay Craig, Calum Gourlay, Alan Blair, Phil Cardwell, Theo Forrest, Paul Towndrow, Konrad Wiszniewski, Paddy Flatherty, Steve Hamilton, and myself have in common? We’ve all studied jazz outside Scotland. For the past 20 years there has been an ever-growing exodus of young Scottish jazz musicians in search of full-time jazz education. If you add the cost of tuition fees, accommodation and living expenses, that is a great deal of money lost to the Scottish economy and given freely to other countries. Jazz education continues to flourish abroad in the face of this estrangement from academia in Scotland. It does prevail….but we can be an essential part of the process. Can’t we?

Tonight, I’ve had to fly Rachel Cohen, Adam Jackson and John Fleming from Birmingham Conservatoire as they have important exams at the full-time jazz course there tomorrow. Our bassist, Calum Gourlay, who is studying jazz at the London Academy of Music, had an important exam today and could not be with us. It would have been easier if they studied up the road or at least had the choice to study jazz up the road. But all these musicians want the best jazz education and unfortunately it ain’t here.

Unlike many of my predecessors, such as Alex Welsh, Jimmy Deuchar, George Chisholm, Sandy Brown, Tommy Whittle, Joe Temperley, Bobby Wellins, Annie Ross, Carol Kidd and Jim Mullen, I decided to return, make my home here and do my utmost to develop the music that I love in a country that I love. Since the mid 1980’s, there have been many improvements, and the Scottish jazz scene is now moving forward through some fantastic initiatives headed by brave jazz musicians who are willing to stay the course. We have terrific jazz musicians living in this country who could spread the gospel of jazz: Steve Hamilton, Konrad Wiszniewski, Colin Steele, Phil Bancroft, Martin Kershaw, Ryan Quigley, Chris Greive, Mario Caribe, Alyn Cosker to name but a few. The only thing holding us back is the absence of a Scottish Jazz Academy.

“Whisky, Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor.” That is what people outside this country know about Scotland. All pretty positive things, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Scotland could be known for its jazz education?

Read on...

Recent News: