Scottish National Jazz Orchestra at The Queen’s Hall brought that festive feeling to Edinburgh tonight with “The Nutcracker Suite”, and from the opening introductions of “O Christmas Tree” being played on the balcony, that classic Christmas setting is firmly set in everyone’s mind.
This is not however the classic Tchaikovsky music to which the famous ballet is perfectly set, but the re-imagined jazz interpretation of the music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn from their 1960 Christmas time album.
For me, this was at times an interesting performance to review as I love both the original music and the ballet is one of my favourites (particularly when Scottish Ballet make it their Christmas performance), and some of the music is just so well known to so many people that any re-imagining of it is maybe not going to be to everyone’s taste. Tchaikovsky simply got this one perfect the first time round.
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn were of course not just jazz geniuses but musical geniuses in their own right, so if any people ever had the skills and vision to re-interpret this classic, then these two certainly did. This somehow though is a different and slightly darker world than the sugar coated original as the sugar plum fairy kicks off her ballet shoes for her jazz shoes and becomes more of a sugar blue/sugar rum fairy. To me, this is not the world of a traditional present laden Christmas Tree and a magical toy nutcracker opening a world of magical toys , but jazz clubs, the people in and around them and of course the Jazz music, and this world was wonderfully evoked by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in this performance. From “Danse of the Floreadores (Waltz Of The Flowers) we are firmly into “jazzland”, and with “Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy), I just have this picture of a nightclub singer rather than a ballet style “sugar plum” fairy in my mind. With pieces like “Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Dance)” constantly changing the mood and style of this work, this is one of those pieces that said to the world –“Jazz is capable of far more than you imagine it to be capable of”.
Absolutely not possible within the performance format of this evening, but if I could have asked for one thing, it would have been for the SNJO to have been playing this with a re-imagined ballet being performed. In the hands of an innovative choreographer and company such as Christopher Hampson and Scottish Ballet, this merging of the two would be amazing to watch and listen to.
To catch up with what SNJO are doing in 2017 visit https://snjo.co.uk/
The second set in this Christmas special was given over to The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, and the festive feel continued with well known tunes with of course a jazz arrangement feel to them – “Jingle Bells” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to name but a few. Also festive toes dipped into the musical world of Wynton Marsalis.
There is some amazing young talent in the TSYJO and a few stood out tonight because of their solo slots (not because of any one talent over another), so my apologies if you are not mentioned here - vocalists Ailie Andersen and Irini Arabatzis, Piano – Fergus McCreadie , Gutar – Joe Williamson and Sax – Harry Weir have to get a mention here.
The TSYJO regularly play in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and if there are any organisations that are going to produce the musical stars of the future, then this is one of them, and it was a pleasure not only to listen to the TSYJO playing, but to see Tommy Smith working with the young musicians on stage and watching how they interacted and responded to his inspiration and supportive guidance.
For more information on the TSYJO visit http://www.tsyjo.com/
Review by Tom King