Kamasi Washington, Barrowlands, 22nd May 2019

When I started getting into jazz, Kamasi Washington was one of the first artists that I was drawn to.  I didn’t really know much about the genre (still learning so much all the time) and tended to favour the older, “classic” jazz, struggling to get to grips with some of the newer or fusion-type styles.  But Kamasi always struck me as an artist that was more accessible but also exciting and saying something with the music, real musical storytelling.

I missed a tour a year or so ago, but luckily they came round again.  Another artist that I had come across and been impressed by, Oscar Jerome, was announced as one of the supports, so it was looking like a very enticing line-up.

Never one to sail into gigs care-free, my younger daughter developed chicken pox the day of the concert, but luckily she was still able to go to her dad’s for the evening.  By the time I got there, I had already missed most of Oscar Jerome’s set, but I saw 2 or 3 songs and he confirmed himself as a performer to watch out for.  He was backed by a strong band, who lent more of a full-on jazz vibe to his songs than I had heard on record/radio.

Oscar Jerome & band

I hadn’t heard of the 2nd support – Yussef Deyes, but it turns out I have a bunch of songs saved in my “discovering jazz” playlist from his collab project, Yussef Kamaal.  Although he was listed as a solo name, he introduced his outfit to the audience as the “Yousef Dayes Trio”.  Yussef himself was the band leader and drummer, the others in the trio were a bassist and guy on keys.  I really liked them.  Funky, with a lot of African rhythm influences, they got the growing crowd moving and dancing.

Yussef Deyes & band

And well, Kamasi Washington.  I mean, it was incredible.  I knew it would be a good gig, but they were out of this world.  I haven’t really had time to process the whole night, but even if I did, I’m not sure I have the vocabulary yet to properly describe what I saw.  Some highlights:

  •  2 drummers!! And yes, they had a “drum-off” at one point although it was described as having a conversation, which I guess is more accurate. 
  • The solos/featured players throughout were undoubtedly brilliant and the talent on the stage was immense, at times I’m sure I was open-mouthed, but when they all came together that was when I felt the shivers right in my gut.
  • Kamasi himself was a gracious band leader, an inspiring soloist, a powerful but serene presence on stage and occasional inspiring orator.

It still blows my mind that I have got to this point.  Seeing one of the world’s most thrilling and innovative jazz musicians on stage in Glasgow, at the Barras no less, and that feeling so right.  Someone last week compared sign language interpreting (I’m a trainee interpreter) to jazz – they meant it in a negative way – but to me that was spot on.  Jazz is a language and a culture that I was unfamiliar with and until a few years ago had no interest in.  Now it has opened me up to new experiences, new ways of thinking and understanding music, art, life.  Kamasi Washington is someone who has helped guide me through this journey and it was incredible to witness his talent, his stories and his vision on that stage.

20190522_212117Kamasi Washington and band

I think the last time he toured, Kamasi and his band played the QM.  This gig being at the Barras seems to be evidence of this new jazz revival that I keep hearing about.  Not only was it almost a sell-out, it was full of a very enthusiastic audience who seemed to be genuinely engaged fans, not just folk casually dropping in, or being dragged by a friend or partner.

I was just about congratulating myself on not getting overly emotional like I did at a previous jazz concert when it all came to an end, no encore, the various band members were acknowledged, he humbly gave his own name to finish and I very nearly lost it.

What a night, what an experience, what a musician.

Kamasi Washington and more band

The James Taylor Quartet, ABC Glasgow, 21st February 2018

Since I became a jazz music convert, I have been looking for another live concert to follow the incredible experience I had attending a gig at the Glasgow Jazz Festival last year.  Several months ago I saw an advert for the James Taylor Quartet coming to the ABC.  I wasn’t really familiar with them, so I consulted my jazz guru (aka my cousin Adam) who described them as “funky mofos” so of course I bought a ticket.

On arrival at the ABC I was disappointed to find that the gig was in the smaller hall.  There also must have been some issue with the planned support band, because instead there was a DJ playing.  I had arrived quite early, due to coming straight from dropping the girls off and wanting to get in out of the cold, but I had come on my own so didn’t relish the idea of sitting soberly alone listening to a (admittedly good) DJ, while everyone else was drinking and chatting.  Luckily I bumped into someone I know, so that helped pass the time until the main act came on.

At first the audience hung back, a large semi-circle forming in front of the stage.  After a few numbers we were encouraged forward.  We were at the front and remained so, getting up close to the action.


They were indeed funky mofos.  James Taylor himself was on the Hammond organ and occasional vocals, the rest of the quartet made up of vibraphone, bass and drums.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the gig, and to be honest so far in my jazz journey I’m not a huge fan of the Hammond organ, so going to see a Quartet with an organ-playing band leader could have been a disaster, but they were such incredible musicians, it was fascinating to see them at work in such close proximity.

The range of pieces they played swung from the slower, soulful end of the spectrum to the cinematic 70s soundtrack end with a good helping of energetic jazz-funk in between.  Apparently one of their signature tunes is the theme from Starsky & Hutch.  The crowd went mad for this, and we were encouraged to sing along “ba-da-ba-ba” style.  Now I have never seen a single episode of Starsky & Hutch and only vaguely recognised the theme tune.  I felt quite exposed right there in the front not having a clue what was going on, but thankfully the rest of the audience carried it.

As was to be expected from such an established band, the musicianship and skill on show was first class.  In true jazz style, each got their turn to showcase their talents, either playing solos or 2 members holding back while the other 2 took their turn to shine together.  All were phenomenal.

I enjoyed the music more than I thought I would.  Given that it wasn’t the flavour of jazz that I have most gotten into, the live experience spoke to me in ways I hadn’t anticipated, even if it didn’t quite elicit the same raw emotional response that Nerija did.  Saying that, on more than one occasion I wished that JT was playing a piano instead of the organ.  I know that would have made for a completely different outfit and would not have suited the style of music they play, but the stage set-up meant that he was almost completely obscured by the organ itself, we couldn’t see him actually playing it, just the top of his head bobbing up and down behind it.  I kept thinking that if it was a piano, and we could see his hands, I would have a much greater appreciation of the skill involved in producing the sound.  But that is probably my ignorance as a novice to this genre showing through and I apologise to the hardcore JTQ fans who wanted to kiss his hands after the performance.

Luckily I was able to focus my attention on the rest of the band, and particularly enjoyed watching the vibraphone player.  As someone who tried playing tuned percussion back in the day and could manage very well with 2 beaters, but turned into a fumbling buffoon with 4, I applaud anyone who can make 4 beaters dance around the notes and produce an intricate, complex melody without dropping anything.  The bassist was the funkiest mofo of them all, and the drummer was of course mesmerising to watch.  As I slowly but surely make faltering progress playing standard rock, the elegance, finesse and artistry of jazz/funk drumming is the epitome of beauty on the kit which I can only dream of replicating.


So all in all a good night, where I stepped out of my comfort zone a touch, but was rewarded by seeing one of the UK’s most experienced bands perform a highly engaging and immersive set which both awed and inspired me.

Glasgow Jazz Festival – Nerija, St Lukes, 23rd June 2017

Ok, I know that I will automatically lose 90% of you by the mere mention of the word jazz, but, as the saying now goes – nevertheless, I will persist. I get it.  As I have written about previously, only around a year ago I would have been exactly the same. Yet here I am writing about my first taste of the Glasgow Jazz Festival.

Since my jazz awakening, I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to take in some live music.  There are pubs and clubs that run regular jazz nights, but somehow the thought of going along to one of those on my own is more daunting that going to a gig solo, which I do frequently.  It seems Edinburgh is more of a jazz town than Glasgow.  However, I got wind of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, signed up for info, and when the dates and acts were announced I was fortunate to be able to get along on the Friday evening.  Even more fortunate, I found that Nerija were due to play that day.  I had heard some of their work I think on the radio initially, then had come across them by association with other acts I was sampling.  They stood out for me because they are almost always introduced as an “all-female ensemble”. I suppose if this fact is not unique, it is certainly still remarkable. In any case, I decided they would be a perfect first jazz concert so got myself a ticket. It wasn’t even worth asking anyone else to go, having mentioned that I was even listening to jazz I got the very face in return that I used to make, so I left well alone and trotted off on my ownio.

I made the mistake of assuming that it was like a “normal” gig and when the ticket said 7.30pm, the first band would be on no earlier than 8pm and the main act around 9pm. I was wrong.  I got there around 7.45pm and the support were just finishing.  I guess 7.30pm meant 7.30pm. Oh well.  I snuck in and took a seat.  They were called Bitches Brew and were a 2-piece consisting of a double bass player and a percussionist.  (Also all-female).  The double bass picked out a slow, languid, groovy bassline/melody and the percussionist performed with around 8 different drums in front of her, I think 1 from every continent, which she played together, with her hands. I’m not sure, but I think the piece was improvised as well.  It was captivating.  Again, it’s probably the kind of thing that a couple of years ago I would have found curious, but kinda weird.  On Friday, I found it fascinating and compelling.  I was sorry not to have seen more of them.

It was also the first time I had been in St Lukes, which seems to have suddenly emerged as a go-to venue in Glasgow.  Like Oran Mor, it is a converted church, although not much conversion has taken place (perhaps it still functions as a church, I don’t actually know) but it is gorgeous inside.


Nerija came on and launched straight into their first piece.  It was beautiful, powerful and majestic. I was overwhelmed. I actually cried. It was just all too much for me. For a few reasons:

I couldn’t believe that I had actually discovered this complex, raw, but life-affirming genre of music and I was finally seeing live the incredibly passionate and talented people who perform it. I was so thankful that everything eventually came to this point, but also full of regret that it didn’t happen to me sooner.

I had had a ridiculously stressful week at work, and the sheer relief of just sitting back and letting the emotion of the music wash over me released something that couldn’t be contained.

I was alone. At that point I just needed someone to share this with, but there was no-one.  I don’t mean a life-partner necessarily, just friend/acquaintance, anyone.  I think I know literally 2 people who are into jazz – one of them lives in another city, 1 lives in another country.  I was busting with all these feelings and responses to the music and being there in that moment and I had to swallow it down and that sucks.

Anyway, I pulled myself together and focussed on enjoying the performance.  Nerija are phenomenal.  They are all incredibly talented musicians, and as each song was introduced we were told which of the band had written it, it seems they are a collective of incredibly talented songwriters too. There were 7 of them, but I understand a couple of the regulars were absent, however the stand-ins fitted in seamlessly.  I don’t want to leave anyone out, as they were all worthy of singling out, but particular mention has to be made firstly (of course!) of the drummer.  Unfortunately, from where I was sitting I couldn’t see her much, but I was mesmerised by her drumming.  I have said before how jazz drumming is just pure art, well seeing/hearing it for the first time in a live setting was as if all drumming I had seen and heard up until now was done by chimps holding mallets with oven gloves.  Just. Pure. Art.  Also, as each of the instrumentalists took a turn at solos etc, the others got a rest.  Not so the drummer, she kept going through every piece with intricate rhythms and inventive use of the various parts of the kit.


The trombone player deserves special mention for seemingly impossibly quick manoeuvring on her solos. (Yes, I am giving plaudits for jazz trombone solos, I am a new person!) I was most taken, however, by the tenor saxophonist. I have read/heard about people becoming one with their instrument, but I have never seen it in the flesh before.  She became the sax and the sax became her. She played with such spirit, the notes spewing out of her, brewing deep inside then flowing out through the medium of her instrument in waves of soaring melodies contrasted with dark, punchy, jagged bursts.  I wanted to be up, dancing, moving, cheering and clapping but I was constrained to my chair, only able to nod along.  I wanted to turn to someone and yell “this is fecking amazing!!” but I maintained composure.


It was a shame that the venue didn’t fill up. Most people took the cabaret style tables at the edges of the room, rather than the rows in the middle, giving the impression that there were fewer people there.  I fully realise that I am approaching this with the enthusiasm of a new convert, but it’s a shame that Glasgow, a city priding itself in its musical heritage and vibrancy can’t muster the support for this kind of concert.

Anyway, I for one thoroughly enjoyed the performance and will be looking to attend more similar events as often as I can.  If Nerija or any other jazz ensembles are coming to a town near you, give them a try, you might just enjoy it!

Stumbling into jazz

It’s been a long time since I “discovered” something that just plain outright changed my life.
If you had asked me what I thought of jazz music 6 months ago, I would have shrugged, made a face and said, “yeah, I don’t really get it….”
Despite being a life-long music fan, who can, in all honesty, say that I have an eclectic taste and have listened to, watched, played and enjoyed everything from classical to traditional Scottish to country music, I have never really got a handle on jazz.  The free-form nature of it, the noodling, the way the performers always look like they’re having more fun than the audience.  I just wrote it off as not for me, not something I understood or frankly made any attempt to understand.
I played the trumpet when I was younger, from the ages of about 10 to 15.  I had 1-1 lessons and played in brass bands, wind bands and orchestras. During that period don’t recall being exposed to much jazz music.  Certainly, improvisation wasn’t encouraged.  Lessons were structured around workbooks.  Band rehearsals involved copious sheet music.  On one memorable day, I was invited to participate in a jazz workshop with some guest musicians.  Initially, I was intrigued.  But, to my utter horror, it was an improvisation session.  I was petrified. I had never done anything like that before, had no idea where to begin and was terrified of doing it wrong. We had to take turns improvising on a given theme. After a seemingly endless rabbit-in-headlights moment, I remembered my music theory, spewed out some notes related to the key we were playing in and hoped I hadn’t embarrassed myself or my teachers. The encouraging words I received afterwards were recognisable in their tone as the kind of thing people say when someone is crap, but gave it a bash.  I beat myself up about it, but looking back, nothing in my musical education had ever encouraged improvisation, imagination or straying from the sheet music.  But that awful day stuck with me and this fleeting encounter with jazz was enough to make me give the whole genre a wide berth from then on.
I also played drums back then and my drum teacher was a jazz drummer.  A lot of kit-based lessons involved brushes and swing rhythms but drum kit was only a small part of the percussion curriculum so I never got to develop it much. And not having access to my own kit meant that opportunities to play around and improvise myself were few and far between.
My cousin plays piano, for a while as a semi-professional, and I was vaguely aware that he sometimes played with others but, to my shame, I never saw him play so I never really knew what kind of music they were into.  His band did play at his own wedding, and he joined them for a couple of numbers. Turns out they were a jazz group.  I thought the music was alright, good background for the reception.  I discovered at this time that my brother was also a bit of a jazz fan, but he was once into Meatloaf so clearly his tastes aren’t to be trusted.
But a few months ago several things came together to push me in the direction of jazz and I have rarely felt such excitement at finding something new (to me).  It has led me to experience some kind of revelation and changed my whole outlook on music and possibly life.
So how did this come about? Well, several things coincided.
I started playing drums again.  Jazz drumming was coming up in conversations, in articles I was reading, in the backgrounds of teachers at the studio where I take lessons, in demonstrations and talks at events I was going to.  I seemed unavoidable.  If I was going to take drumming seriously, I was going to have to get familiar with the story of jazz drumming and some of the great names associated with it.
I read Jack Kerouac.  He is always banging on about going to clubs and watching bebop performers.  His writing made me want to explore that world, to put a soundtrack to the scenes he created.
I got moved into a shared office at work.  I used to have the radio on at work, but sometimes even that is too much and I need straightforward music with no talking that mingles with the chat in the office and forms too much of a distraction.  I tried listening to classical music but it wasn’t right.  I wasn’t keeping me focused and motivated.
I was getting bored of listening to indie/rock music.  I just suddenly couldn’t find anything I wanted to listen to. Nothing was interesting anymore.  Or rather rock music wasn’t fulfilling an emotional need I had at the time.  Or rather I realised that I was listening to too much loud rock music to block out emotions that I really should have been paying attention to and dealing with.  I tried branching out into pop/electronic and listened to the likes of Chvrches and Years and Years.  They are both good.  I got diverted into a Bon Iver phase when he(they?) released a new album.  It is astounding.
But I needed something else.
I spent a while browsing around Spotify looking for some inspiration and a few jazz tracks popped up.  They struck just the right balance and made for decent background music while working.  But now and again I found myself stopping, my ear caught by a particular phrase, section or piece.  What had previously been an indecipherable jumble of notes in an incoherent pattern was suddenly making sense to me.  To be honest, I freaked me out. I don’t do jazz! It’s just not my thing! Except suddenly it was.  I didn’t know who I was any more.  All those lazy metaphors about doors opening, light dawning and worlds opening can be inserted here.
I turned to my jazz piano-playing cousin for help.  He very kindly made up a playlist to get me started exploring the world of jazz.  I put it on while doing housework one day.  I really can’t explain it other than to say that IT ALL MADE SENSE. I had to stop cleaning to sit and take it all in.  It wasn’t just making sense, it was making me emotional.  Some of the pieces I found deeply moving.   I didn’t know what was happening to me.
I had already requested that he avoid anything too “big band” and anything too “easy listening”.  I reported back that I preferred the tracks at the start of the playlist, and was less keen on ones at the end.  Unbeknownst to me, the playlist had been in chronological order. So it turns out I prefer older, more traditional jazz.   He sent me some links to recordings that he and his band had made a few years ago.  Hard-bop standards. So Jack and I have the same taste.  I prefer instrumental stuff, although am not averse to vocals.  I’m struggling a bit with the more progressive / fusion styles, although perhaps I have to evolve with the music and in time I will come to understand and love these too.
It occurred to me that one of the reasons it all clicked with me is that I was now listening from a drumming perspective, not a trumpeters perspective.  Trying to follow a melody line left me dizzy. The drum part gives more of an overall impression of the piece, with a clearer route through the sections and the variations in texture and feeling.
And Oh. My. God. Jazz drumming is just ART.
Any old idiot can bash out a rock drum part. It takes proper skills, technique and musical understanding to execute jazz drumming. Every so often I am just blown away by the sheer artistry of the drumming.
So I have explored a bit more, I have sought out some radio programmes that offer not only the music but a bit of info and background too.  Last weekend the BBC did a pop-up jazz station, so I have caught up with a few programmes from that.  One surprise presenter was Colin Murray, whose Radio1 late-night show I used to listen to back in the day.  It transpires he is also a relatively recent convert to the genre and it was good to hear him talk so enthusiastically about his journey, as I am making mine.
One thing Colin Murray spoke about was when he “made public” his interest in jazz, that it is something he had to “admit” to. I feel the same.  I am reluctant to mention it to people, aware that it elicits a certain perception or judgement from people. Hell, 6 months ago, I was one of those judging people!
I am aware that I now need to experience jazz music live.  I have no idea what may be on offer in Glasgow but it is now my mission to find out.  Unfortunately, I have few friends who are interested in going to “normal” gigs with me, so I reckon my chances of finding folk to go to see jazz with me are small to non-existent.  However, I will not let that deter me and I hope to report back here on some jazz gigs in the new year.
So I am excited to explore this new (old) world of music.  Weird keys and odd time-signatures no longer frighten me, they excite me.  I have stopped trying to figure out what the artist is trying to do/say/mean, and have spent time figuring out what the music means to me.  I know I have a lot to learn and discover and I can’t wait.