Tommy Smith

Head of Jazz


TOMMY SMITH (born 27 April 1967) is a Scottish jazz saxophonist, composer and educator. The jazz critic Richard Cook said of him, "Of the generation which emerged in the mid-80s, he might be the most outstandingly talented".

Early Career

Smith was born in Edinburgh on 27 April 1967, to a Scottish mother, Brenda Ann Urquhart, and father, William John Ellis, whom he never met. Smith was brought up in the Wester Hailes area of the city, where he was encouraged by his stepfather, George Smith, an avid jazz fan and drummer in the Gene Krupa style, to take up the tenor saxophone at the age of twelve.[3]
Aged thirteen, at a weekly jazz workshop, under the direction of Gordon Cruikshank, Smith met pathologist and pianist Vincenzo Crucioli, who spotted his talent and took him under his wing. Together with drummer John Rae, the group went on to win the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival Best Group award in 1981. Smith also winning the Best Soloist, aged fourteen. He attributes much of his success to the Crucioli family, who took him under their wings and served as a well of inspiration. Under clarinettist Jim O'Malley and pianist Jean Allison of the music department at Wester Hailes Education Centre, Smith was soon gigging around Edinburgh and Scotland with his quartet with John Rae. In 1983, aged sixteen, Smith recorded his first album, Giant Strides, with a trio featuring Rae; and that year he won a scholarship, assisted by a fund-raising programme organised by his music teacher, Jean Allison, to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston,[4] where he formed the co-operative group "Forward Motion" with Norwegian bassist Terje Gewelt, Canadian drummer Ian Froman and Hungarian pianist Laszlo Gardony. This group recorded two albums, Progressions and The Berklee Tapes.

Into The Blue

At eighteen and on the recommendation of Chick Corea, Smith joined Berklee vice-president Gary Burton's group, alongside bassist Steve Swallow, pianist Makoto Ozone and drummer Adam Nussbaum, touring the world, recording the Whiz Kids album for (ECM Records) and catching the attention of critics, including Larry Kart of the Chicago Tribune, who opined: "The key addition is Tommy Smith, who, if memory serves, is only the second saxophonist Gary Burton has employed in his twenty-odd years as a leader. Smith's angular, bristling lines suggest he has his own story to tell."[5]
In 1989, Smith, aged twenty-two, signed to Blue Note Records. His label debut was Step by Step, recorded with producer Gary Burton's guidance and featuring Smith leading a band composed of John Scofield (guitar), Eddie Gómez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette(drums). Three further albums followed for Blue Note: Peeping Tom (1990), Standards (1991) and Paris (1992). During this period Smith also hosted a series of BBC TV specials called Jazz Types, in which he played with such guests as pianists Tommy Flanaganand Chick Corea, alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, bassist Arild Andersen, his old boss Gary Burton, pop/soul group Hue & Cry, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Smith recorded and toured with Hue & Cry, led by brothers Pat and Greg Kane, the American vibist Joe Locke, percussionist Trilok Gurtu and bassist Andersen, among many others. In addition to his jazz-based commitments at this point, Smith also examined classical composition, leading to his first saxophone concerto, Unirsi in Matrimonio, and a suite for saxophone and strings, Un Ecossais A Paris.

Out of the Blue

In 1993, Smith joined Scottish label Linn Records. His albums, Reminiscence (1993), Misty Morning and No Time (1994), Azure(1995, with Jon Christensen, Lars Danielsson and Kenny Wheeler), and Beasts of Scotland (1996) all received critical as well as audience acclaim. Writing in Playboy magazine, Neil Tesser noted of Beasts of Scotland that: "Smith's artful writing makes the ensemble sound like a petite Philharmonic."[6] Reviewer Chris J Walker, in the Los Angeles Jazz magazine, remarked that "Smith's strong compositional talent vividly conveys the aura of the various wildlife that his compositions are named for."
The Sound of Love followed. Recorded in New York in September 1997 with Kenny Barron (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums), it focused on the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn songbook. The album reached number 20 in the American Gavin Jazz Chart.[citation needed]
Released in 1998, Gymnopedie: The Classical Side of Tommy Smith, was recorded with his regular duo partner, classical pianist Murray McLachlan. The disc featured music by Satie, Bartok, Grieg and Chick Corea, and Smith's Sonatas No. 1 "Hall of Mirrors" and No. 2 "Dreaming With Open Eyes", based on Michael Tucker's book of the same title.
Returning to jazz and to New York the following year, Smith then recorded his final album for Linn, Blue Smith, with John Scofield and his regular rhythm team, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn.

Alone at Last

Having premiered his 3rd Saxophone Concerto with the Orchestra of St. John Smith's Square at Chelmsford Cathedral in May 1998, Smith went on to produce singer Jeff Leyton's debut album with the City of London Philharmonic. Leyton, who is Smith's uncle, also sang on Monte Cristo, the saxophonist's commission for the combined forces of the Paragon Ensemble and his own Sextet, with text by Edwin Morgan. It was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in September 1998.
Smith wrote the music for a play, Kill the Old, Torture the Young, which was also produced at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. He also contributed tenor and soprano saxophone excerpts respectively to the movies Complicity and The Talented Mr Ripley, and premiered another large-scale composition, Sons and Daughters of Alba, incorporating Scottish folk music and musicians as well as text by Edwin Morgan, at the Glasgow International Jazz Festival in July 2000.[citation needed]


In September 2000, determined to take full control of his recorded output, Smith established his own recording company, Spartacus Records. The first album on the new label, also called Spartacus, was released in February 2001, featuring Smith alongside American musicians: pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Genus and drummer Penn. That was followed by Smith's solo recording, Into Silence, recorded in Hamilton Mausoleum on 30 October 2001, and by a recording by Smith's quartet of ten specially arranged Christmas songs.
Subsequent Spartacus releases include Evolution, featuring Smith's sextet with Joe Lovano, Scofield, John Taylor, John Patitucci and Bill Stewart; two duo recordings with pianist Brian Kellock; Miles Ahead with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and guest soloist, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; Smith's solo project Alone At Last; and Forbidden Fruit by his all-Scottish quartet.
Smith continues to maintain a hectic work schedule. In recent years[when?] he has toured his own group to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, France, America, Turkey, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Malta, Bratislava, Russia, Yemen and Romania, as well as the UK.
In April 2001, he was invited to take part in televised concerts in Switzerland alongside Benny Golson, Vincent Herring, Carl Allen, Buster Williams, Victor Lewis, Buster Cooper, and Randy Brecker. Then, in July that year, he premiered his extended composition, Beauty and the Beast, written for saxophonist David Liebman and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and toured in a quintet with Liebman. This was immediately followed by his appearance as solo saxophonist in Sally Beamish's The Knotgrass Elegy, which was commissioned by the BBC Proms and performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Other classical music endeavours have included his largest known work for the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra's 40th anniversary. Written for saxophone, bass and drums plus a one hundred-strong symphony orchestra and entitled Edinburgh, this was premiered on 12 April 2003 in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh before touring Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Finland.
Recognising that Scotland was producing an outstanding crop of young jazz musicians, Smith formed the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2002, financing rehearsals and travelling expenses for teenage players from across the country out of his own pocket.[citation needed] The orchestra has performed at jazz festivals throughout Scotland and launched its first CD, Exploration, in Toronto, Canada in 2008.
In 2005, Smith reunited with Joe Locke, recording the album Dear Life (Sirocco) and touring extensively with the vibist's group. In the same year, Smith formed a duo with another long-time colleague, bassist Andersen; with the addition of drummer Paolo Vinaccia, this has since developed into one of Europe's leading jazz trios, with a busy concert itinerary and a debut album, Live at Belleville(released on ECM Records in 2008), which received innumerable album of the year nominations in the press worldwide.[citation needed]
As well as three duo albums, Bezique, Symbosis, and Whispering of the Stars, Smith's partnership with Kellock resulted in Smith creating an expanded jazz arrangement of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, with Kellock as the featured soloist at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival on Friday 28 July 2006, a recording of which was released in May 2009. Another saxophone and piano pairing, with Swede Jacob Karlzon, has featured at jazz festivals in Edinburgh, Islay and Fife. In 2014 Smith revised his earlier version of Rhapsody in Blue for Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone.

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

Smith founded the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in 1995, and remains its director. SNJO has presented programmes of both repertory classics and more contemporary works, often specially commissioned.
The repertory programmes have included Duke Ellington's extended suites, celebrations of Count Basie and Benny Goodman (with special guest Ken Peplowski) and the collaborations between Miles Davis and Gil EvansPorgy & Bess, Sketches of Spain (both with Gerard Presencer as trumpet soloist) and Miles Ahead (with Ingrid Jensen). SNJO has also presented the music of Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Benny Carter, Stan Kenton, Thelonious Monk, Steely Dan, Astor Piazzolla and Pat Metheny (with guitarists Jim Mullen, Phil Robson, Mike Walker and Kevin MacKenzie) and premiered special commissions by Keith Tippett, Florian Ross, and Geoffrey Keezer, as well as specially commissioned arrangements of John Coltrane, Chick Corea (with drummer Gary Novak), Wayne Shorter featuring Gary Burton, Electric Miles featuring John Scofield, Weather Report featuring Peter Erskine, and Kurt Elling.
In addition, SNJO has performed music by contemporary jazz creators. These include Kenny Wheeler's Sweet Sister Suite; Joe Lovano's Celebrating Sinatra, with arrangements by Manny Albam; a programme of the music of Maria Schneider, conducted by the composer; and Smith's own Planet Wave, an adventurous large-scale composition made possible by the Arts Foundation/Barclays Bank jazz composition fellowship prize which marries Smith's music to poet Edwin Morgan's text. The concerts with Lovano also featured the premiere of Smith's Torah, a work based on the first five books of the Bible, in which a titanic struggle occurs between good and evil. Written over seventy days, the fifty-minute composition was created specially for Lovano and SNJO. The same evening Torah was being premiered in Scotland, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth premiered another work by Smith and Edwin Morgan, The Morning of the Imminent, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
SNJO has also provided a platform for jazz musicians and composers based in Scotland to write for big band in concerts devoted to suites comprising contributions by orchestra members and external contributors alike. These include The Solar Suite, Great Scots Suite and The Edinburgh Suite.

Classical Music

In 1989 Tommy Smith performed William Sweeney’s concerto for saxophone, An Rathad ùr, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for the television series Jazz Types, which Smith also presented. Prompted by Roger Pollen of the Scottish Ensemble (SE) he spend six months studying orchestration for strings, with a new commission for saxophone and strings very much in mind. As a Blue Note artist at the time, Smith had access to the parent company EMI's entire classical catalogue. He researched orchestration texts by Samuel Adler, Rimsky-Korsakov and Cecil Forsyth, and spent two productive years in Paris, where he studied classical music. Smith wrote his first piece of classical music, Unirsi In Matrimonio, for saxophone and strings in 1990. It was met with general critical approval, and praise in particular from respected critic Michael Tumelty who wrote in the Glasgow Herald, "The movements work as mood pictures, full of atmosphere and outbursts of drama". [7]
This was quickly followed by another work for strings and saxophone, Un Ecossais A Paris in 1991, and he later collaborated very closely with classical pianist Murray McLaughlin for Sonata No.1 - Hall of Mirrors and Sonata No.2 Dreaming with Open Eyes, both for saxophone and piano. His piano/saxophone duo recordings with McLaughlin of these works moved one writer to observe that they were, "Powerful yet lyrical works…they offer opportunities for improvisation, and Smith employs a jazzman‘s expressive tone to haunting and thrilling effect." - Inverness Courier, (August 1, 1999)
The next seven years were spent building the forces necessary for a much bigger orchestral work, which came in the form of the saxophone concerto Hiroshima (1998). This was premiered with the Orchestra of St. John Smith's Square at Chelmsford Cathedral, and included strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, piano and saxophone. Smith also appeared as solo saxophonist for Sally Beamish's The Knotgrass Elegy, commissioned for the 2001 BBC Proms, and performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Fiona Maddocks writing in the Guardian commented that, "Smith, holding all together with his eloquent wizardry, brought the piece to a wistful close with a forlorn meditation."[8]
In 2002, Smith performed his earlier, and much lengthier re-invention of Children’s Songs for saxophone and orchestra with the Scottish Ensemble at St John's Kirk, Perth. The Glasgow Herald remarked at the time that, "It transcends technical and stylistic barriers between written and improvised music, resulting in a composition that preserves absolutely the character of the originals". [9]
Other classical music endeavours have included a massive undertaking for the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra's 40th anniversary in 2003. A suite, entitled Edinburgh, was specially written for the occasion, and featured saxophone, bass and drums, accompanied by a one hundred-strong symphony orchestra. The work toured Scotland, Estonia, Russia, and Finland.
Smith also featured as a soloist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for the 2012 BBC Proms Last Night Celebrations in Scotland at Glasgow's City Halls. His contribution alongside pianist Joanna MacGregor and soprano Carolyn Sampson, under the baton of conductor Stephen Bell, marked a memorable final night at the world's most celebrated classical music festival.
The journey towards the making of Modern Jacobite first began in January 2015 with a suggestion from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for a collaboration that resulted in the musical energy of Jacobite. Following discussions, Smith immediately embarked upon a feverish period of composition and orchestrating that continued unabated until the recording dates in May 2015. Keen listeners may detect elements of Scottish folk melody as one of several points of departure in this dynamic and highly organized work. Smith uses every part of the orchestra to tell his story, and colours his composition with delicate touches of inventive improvisation. However, his overarching aim with Jacobite was to conceive of something subtle, organic and expressive.
"Jacobite is a piece of modern music that features saxophone and many other soloists in the orchestra, so it's quite unconventional", explained Smith. "It's certainly not a full blown concerto, especially when the first entrance of the saxophone appears after two and a half minutes of orchestral texture and so os from cello and flute. The saxophone acts as the main narrator throughout the piece, that speaks to all the thematic material."


After returning to Scotland in 1991 Smith dedicated himself to furthering the cause of jazz in his homeland. He formed the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in 1995 and oversaw its development into an international class ensemble. The SNJO has provided an important platform for jazz musicians and composers based in Scotland. Recognising that Scotland was producing an outstanding crop of young jazz musicians, he formed the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2002, financing rehearsals and travelling expenses for teenage players from across the country out of his own pocket. The orchestra performed at jazz festivals throughout Scotland and launched its first CD, Exploration, in Toronto, Canada in 2008. For over a decade, his passionate campaigning for jazz education was finally rewarded in 2009 with the establishment of Scotland’s first full-time jazz course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which he heads while continuing his international performing career. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.[10] The event was broadcast live by BBC News. At the RCS he designed the jazz course and teaches Saxophone, Music Business, Chord Scale Harmony, Jazz Repertoire, Studio Recording, Performance of Jazz History and Notation by Hand.
Smith's work in jazz education began while working for Gary Burton in 1986 when the group had to present masterclasses to international students all over the world; this kind of work continued with Smith's own groups until 1990, when he started teaching at Broughton High School in Edinburgh with John Rae, Brian Kellock and Kenny Ellis. In 1993 he began teaching improvisation at Napier University. In 1995 he created the curriculum for the National Jazz Institute in Glasgow, which he directed until 1998. Smith has given masterclasses all over Europe, Americas and Asia. His students include Steve Hamilton, Stuart Gorman, Graeme Scott, Theo Forrest, Paul Booth, Konrad Wisznieski, Tom MacNiven, Allon Beauvoisin, Paul Towndrow, Fraser Campbell, Alan Benzie, Joe Wright, Peter Johnstone and Jo Fooks.
The presentation lines were:
" Is it really possible to teach someone how to play jazz? The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is giving it a try, with internationally renowned saxophonist Tommy Smith leading Scotland's first full-time degree-level jazz course."[11]
All*About*Jazz critic John Kelman, in his review of Arild Andersen's live recorded release (2008) Live at Belleville, said about Smith:
" Smith shines here as he does throughout the collection. He is a brilliant star-turn that almost steals the show. Despite a considerable catalogue, Smith is among the under-recognized talents on the US jazz scene. Hopefully, Live at Belleville will correct that oversight."[12]
AllAboutJazz contributor Karl Ackermann, in his review of Arild Andersen's Live at Belleville, wrote:
" As much as Live at Belleville is an accomplishment for Andersen, it is no less an achievement for Scottish saxophonist, Tommy Smith."[13]


  • 1981 European Community Jazz Orchestra, Eurojazz
  • 1983 Tommy Smith, Giant Strides (Hep Records)
  • 1983 Tommy Smith, Taking Off (Head Records)
  • 1985 Tommy Smith/Forward Motion, The Berklee Tapes (Hep Records)
  • 1986 Gary Burton Group, Whiz Kids (ECM Records)
  • 1988 Tommy Smith, Step by Step (Blue Note Records)
  • 1990 Tommy Smith, Peeping Tom (Blue Note Records)
  • 1991 Tommy Smith, Standards (Blue Note Records)
  • 1992 Tommy Smith, Paris (Blue Note Records)
  • 1993 Tommy Smith/Forward Motion, Reminiscence (Linn Records)
  • 1994 Tommy Smith, Misty Morning and No Time (Linn Records)
  • 1995 Tommy Smith, Azure (Linn Records)
  • 1996 Tommy Smith, Beasts of Scotland (Linn Records)
  • 1997 Tommy Smith, The Sound of Love (Linn Records)
  • 1997 Karen Matheson, The Dreaming Sea (Survival Records)
  • 1999 Tommy Smith, Blue Smith (Linn Records)
  • 1999 Tommy Smith & Murray McLachlan, Gymnopedié (Linn Records)
  • 1999 Hue & Cry, Jazz Not Jazz (Linn Records)
  • 2000 Tommy Smith Quartet, Spartacus (Spartacus Records)
  • 2000 Hue & Cry, Next Move (Linn Records)
  • 2001 Tommy Smith, Into Silence (Spartacus Records)
  • 2001 Tommy Smith Quartet, The Christmas Concert (Spartacus Records)
  • 2001 Clark Tracey, Stability (Linn Records)
  • 2002 Tommy Smith, Alone At Last (Spartacus Records)
  • 2002 Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock, Bezique (Spartacus Records)
  • 2002 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Ingrid Jensen, Miles Ahead (Spartacus)
  • 2003 Tommy Smith, Evolution (Spartacus Records)
  • 2004 Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock, Symbiosis (Spartacus Records)
  • 2004 Joe Locke, Dear Life (Sirocco Records)
  • 2005 Tommy Smith Quartet, Forbidden Fruit (Spartacus Records)
  • 2005 Renolds Jazz Orchestra, Cube (Shanti)
  • 2006 Pino Iodice, High Tension
  • 2007 Loic Dequidt Quartet, Nomade (Kopasetic)
  • 2008 Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, Exploration (Spartacus Records)
  • 2008 Arild Andersen/Paolo Vinaccia/Tommy Smith, Live at Belleville (ECM)
  • 2009 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Rhapsody in Blue LIVE (Spartacus)
  • 2010 Karma (Spartacus)
  • 2010 Michael McGoldrick, Aurora (Secret Music)
  • 2011 Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, Emergence (Spartacus Records)
  • 2012 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Celebration (ECM)
  • 2013 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, In the Spirit of Duke (Spartacus Records)
  • 2013 Capercaillie, At The Heart Of It (Secret Music)
  • 2014 Arild Andersen/Paolo Vinaccia/Tommy Smith, Mira (ECM)
  • 2014 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, American Adventure (Spartacus Records)
  • 2014 Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock, Whispering of the Stars (Spartacus Records)
  • 2015 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Jeunehomme/Makoto Ozone (Spartacus Records)
  • 2016 Tommy Smith/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Modern Jacobite (Spartacus Records)
  • 2017 Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, Effervescence (Spartacus Records)
  • 2017 Giuliana Soscia & Pino Jodice Quartet Meets Tommy Smith, North Wind (Alman Music)
  • 2017 Tommy Smith Quartet, Embodying the Light (Spartacus Records)
  • 2018 Arild Andersen Trio, In-House Science (ECM Records)
  • 2018 Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Sweet Sister Suite/Laura Jurd (Spartacus Records)


  • British Jazz Award [Big Band] 2017
  • Parliamentary Jazz Award [Educator] 2013
  • Scottish Jazz Award [Best Live Performance/SNJO] 2013
  • Honorary Doctorate of Music University of Edinburgh 2012
  • British Jazz Award [Big Band] 2012
  • Scottish Jazz Award [Educator] 2012
  • Scottish Jazz Award [Album 'KARMA'] 2011
  • Scottish Jazz Award [Educator] 2011
  • Scottish Jazz Award [Big Band] 2011
  • Parliamentary Jazz Award [Large Ensemble/SNJO] 2009
  • Scottish Jazz Award [Big Band]2009Scottish Jazz Award [Woodwind] 2008
  • Honorary Doctorate of Letters Caledonian University, Glasgow 2008
  • Heart of Jazz Award BBC Jazz Awards# 2008
  • The British Jazz Awards [Best Tenor Saxophonist] 2000
  • Scottish Arts Council [Creative Scotland Award] 2000
  • Honorary Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland 2000
  • Honorary Doctorate of the University Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh 1996
  • Arts Foundation/Barclays Bank [Jazz Composition Fellowship Prize] 1996
  • BT British Jazz Award 1992
  • Wavendon All Music Awards [Services to Music] 1989
  • British Jazz Award 1986
  • BBC National Big Band Competition [Outstanding Musician Award] 1981
  • Edinburgh Jazz Festival [Best Band]1981
  • Edinburgh Jazz Festival [Best Soloist] 1981


  • PhD, University of Edinburgh

    Doctor of Music

  • PhD, Glasgow Caledonian University

    Doctor of Letters

  • PhD, Heriot-Watt University

    Doctor of the University