Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Defend Our National Jazz Orchestra!

This is the letter I have sent today to The First Minister.

Dear Mr Salmond,
It was my great pleasure, yesterday evening, to attend one in the latest series of concerts with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra at the Royal Conservatoire.  Collaborating and performing with Randy Brecker, in celebration of the sublime talent of the late Michael Brecker, the Orchestra gave an outstanding performance, as its regular home and growing international audiences have come to expect.
In his plea that this Orchestra deserved support at the highest level as well as from its audiences, Randy Brecker was not the first to heap praise on the Orchestra, testifying to a now international reputation which draws admiration from across Europe not only for the musicians, for their brilliant leader, Tommy Smith, and for the innovativion and creativity of their multi-dimensional projects, but also for our nation as one which, though small in size, can nevertheless produce talent on this scale, developed over a comparatively short period and continuing to surge towards ever greater potential as its influence in music education increases exponentially and more and more young people play and listen to jazz because this Orchestra and its individual members have given them access to it.
 I know that you cannot fail to be aware of the decisions of Creative Scotland in changing the way in which it ‘supports’ the SNJO.  It seems to me beyond belief that such a lack of understanding and fairness should be considered appropriate in the treatment of such a high-profile, Europe-leading and pioneering ensemble!
It goes against all notions of equity to require the SNJO to bid, and therefore work, project by project, unable to plan long-term and therefore losing access to world-renowned international musicians with whom its creative collaborations have been so successful and who are then well-placed to spread news of the SNJO’s quality.  
Alone amongst a clutch of national arts companies,  the SNJO seems to be targeted by Creative Scotland’s imagination-deficit;  Although I detest opera and rarely attend classical music concerts , I support absolutely the need for the national companies to have direct grant support.  Yet, fine though our companies may be, I have never heard Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera or indeed The S.N.O., described as “the best in Europe” or “the only one of its kind in the U.K.”. Both apply to the SNJO!
Yesterday saw the highly significant launch of a C.D., entitled Celebration , on which SNJO perform with Arild Andersen.  The fact that this C.D. is being issued by the highly prestigious E.C.M. label is a unique testimony to all that I have said above concerned the Orchestra’s status.  
And so, as Europe lauds the Orchestra; as the U.K. Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Ensemble goes to The SNJO , and glory for Scotland is garnered, by association   .....as all of this happens, Creative Scotland repays Tommy Smith and the Orchestra by delivering an extremely damaging blow to its ability to pursue excellence!  It is a shocking reflection on us, making Scotland look like a small country in which small minds make the big decisions and negatively target success.  This surely cannot be comfortable for a Scottish Government.
I am acutely aware that grant funding has to be ‘earned’.  I support funding for small, one-off, community arts projects.  I am in favour of increased accessibility, on the understanding that it is something different from popularism.  But we are talking here about a National orchestra ; a group of highly talented musicians led by a man of international stature who has bred in them through his teaching, mentoring and leadership over nearly two decades, a commitment not only to musicianship and innovative creativity but to the promotion of jazz education in schools and beyond.  These musicians take extremely seriously their role in the national community.  They understand accessibility and equalities and they are doing something about it!
I would beg you to use all your influence to have Creative Scotland, and indeed, the Scottish Government, look again at the securing of long-term funding for the SNJO so that it can stand shoulder to shoulder with,  if not ahead of, the S.N. O., Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera in making Scotland a giant in Europe and world wide in its support for excellence in the enriching arts.

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