Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
with Gwilym Simcock - Release
Gwilym Simcock was always destined to be a professional musician.
This Bangor-born Welshman, who is the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s latest guest tonight, might have become an orchestral French horn player. Or, equally, he might now be touring the world as a concert pianist playing the classical repertoire exclusively.
His results in his Grade 8 exams in both instruments – being the highest in the UK that year – certainly suggested he could achieve great things. And he has gone on to do so, after following the advice of Steve Berry, one of his tutors at the prestigious Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester.
Before joining the teaching staff at the UK’s leading specialist music school, Steve Berry played bass in the anarchic London big band Loose Tubes. And when he heard Gwilym playing piano in an improvisation class, he gave him a mixtape of jazz featuring pianist Keith Jarrett, Brazilian pianist-guitarist Egberto Gismonti and guitarist Pat Metheny’s group.
This cassette – the forerunner of music fans choosing a Spotify playlist - changed Gwilym’s life. Here was jazz that had all the musical elements that he loved - great harmony, great melody and great form.
Gwilym would go on tour the world for four years with Pat Metheny, who rates the pianist as “one of the most exceptional musicians that I have ever known.” The late piano and keyboards virtuoso Chick Corea went as far as to describe Gwilym as a “creative genius.”
The innate improvising talent that Gwilym showed at Chetham’s was nurtured and developed on the Royal Academy of Music in London’s jazz course, where Gwilym studied with the internationally revered pianist John Taylor, among other tutors.
Within a year or two of graduating from the Academy, Gwilym became the first musician from a jazz background to be selected for the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists Scheme. He was now working in both classical music and jazz and in 2008 he was commissioned to compose a piano concerto, which he and his trio performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall during the Proms.
In between performing with ensembles including the Britten Sinfonia, the Aronowitz Ensemble and the Scottish Ensemble, Gwilym was racking up jazz experience with vocalist Bobby McFerrin, saxophonist Lee Konitz, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Bill Bruford’s Earthworks.
Along the way he was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, with his first solo piano album, Good Days at Schloss Elmau, toured with violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy and caught the ear of Scottish National Jazz Orchestra director, Tommy Smith.
Tommy heard a solo piano concert and was “transfixed.” So when the opportunity arose, he commissioned Gwilym to compose a programme of music, entitled Release, which will be performed at tonight’s concert.
Gwilym is thrilled to be working with the SNJO. “It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to write for such a brilliant, world-famous ensemble,” he says. “As a composer, you want your music to be realized to the highest level, so I’m extremely excited by this commission and being able to play it with the SNJO.”
Release, says Gwilym, aims to engage people emotionally.
“That’s how people like Keith Jarrett, Egberto Gismonti and Pat Metheny appealed to me in the beginning,” he says. “It’s how I want the music I hear to affect me and I want to have the same effect on audiences, make them feel an emotional connection to the music.”