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Traditional jazz in Edinburgh


Although there had been live jazz in Edinburgh before World War II, it was the international revival of traditional jazz in the 1940s which brought about a major increase in interest in this type of jazz in Edinburgh. Among the many young enthusiasts who took up the music then and later, were several who went on to establish national and international reputations.  These included clarinettists Sandy Brown, Archie Semple and Jack Duff, trumpeters Al Fairweather and Alex Welsh, pianists Stan Greig and Alec Shaw and trombonists Johnny McGuff and Dave Keir, all of whom became notable UK professional jazz musicians in the 1950/60s.  More local in their impact, although also fine players, were clarinettists Dave Paxton and Jack Graham, trombonist Bob Craig, trumpeter Ian ‘Tello’ Telford, drummer and later banjo player Mike Hart, bass player Dizzy Jackson and many others who continued to play in Edinburgh jazz bands for decades.  A striking feature was the very high percentage of the Edinburgh jazz musicians of this time who had attended Edinburgh’s Royal High School. They became known as the ‘Royal High School Gang’, in the tradition of Chicago’s ‘Austin High Gang’ of a couple of decades earlier.  The group centred around Sandy Brown and Al Fairweather had their roots in the classic jazz of Joe ‘King’ Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.  In contrast, the group around Archie Semple and Alex Welsh took their inspiration from the so-called Chicago school of jazz, a cadre which, in fact, embraced the influence of musicians from many other parts of the USA such as Bix Beiderbecke (from Davenport), Pee Wee Russell (from Missouri) and Jack Teagarden (from Texas).

In the 1950s, a strong New Orleans oriented group developed and the ‘Climax Jazz Band’ was formed, playing in the Afro-American tradition of Bunk Johnston and George Lewis.  In addition, a lively tradition of New Orleans styled marching bands was established. Around the same time bands led by Bob Craig, Mike Hart, trumpeter Charlie McNair together with drummer George Crockett’s ‘Nova Scotians’ appeared and became the core of the Edinburgh jazz scene.

Around 1960 ‘Old Bailey and his Jazz Advocates’, formed by trombone player Archie Sinclair and Mike Hart and, in 1969, another band in the New Orleans tradition, ‘The Louisiana Ragtime Band’, began long and successful careers in Edinburgh.  Also in the 1960s appeared ‘Jack St Clair’s Jazz Band’ and the mainstream styled ‘Pete Martin’s All Stars’.  A bit later, ‘Mike Hart’s New Society Syncopators’ began a long and distinguished history, a band which Mike later reinvented as the ‘Scottish Society Syncopators’, and reeds player Hamish McGregor formed and led ‘Seven Up’, the ‘Memphis Road Show’ and much later, ‘Fat Sam’s Band’.   In 1981, a merger of ‘Old Bailey’s Jazz Advocates’ and ‘The New Society Syncopators’ produced the 8 piece ‘Scottish Jazz Advocates’.
Most of  these groups were 6 or 7 piece bands, such as Violet Milne's 'The Spirits of Rhythm' with the traditional line up of trumpet, trombone, clarinet/saxophone, piano, banjo/guitar, bass and drums but from the late 1980s and on into the present century, smaller bands of 4 or 5, many excluding drums, became the fashion.  These included ‘The Diplomats of Jazz’, ‘The Jazz Masters’, ‘Dave Keir’s Hot Four/Five’, ‘The Elwyn Stompers’  and ‘The Maid of the Forth Stompers’  who have been the resident band on a cruise boat sailing on the Firth of Forth for over 20 years.  A four piece band playing in the European tradition associated with Django Reinhardt and the ‘Hot Club of France’ was formed in the 1980s and went on to have a long and successful career under the name of ‘Swing’ followed by the current year( eg ‘Swing 2008’).  

Other bands included ‘Dr McJazz’, and the ‘West End Jazz Band’ which more recently has been based in Linlithgow.  Over the years, most of the regular jazz activity took place in pubs including the ‘Crown Bar’, ‘The Place’, ‘The Woolpack’, ‘Basin Street’, ‘The Glenelg’, the ‘Navaar House Hotel’ and many others although at various times, jazz clubs were established and flourished for a while.  A long-running session was established at the Starbank in Newhaven at which a resident rhythm section was joined each month by guest horns.
A great and influential event was the founding by Mike Hart In 1978 of the ‘Edinburgh International Jazz Festival’ (EIJF).  From small beginnings, and greatly assisted by the enthusiastic support of the local traditional jazz bands, this developed to become one of the biggest jazz events in Europe, attracting many internationally renowned bands and jazz musicians from all over the world.  Mike was awarded an MBE for services to jazz in Scotland in 1995.  Great players who graced the early EIJFs included Benny Waters who had recorded with King Oliver in the 1920s, Harry Edison, Al Gray and Buddy Tait who made their names with Count Basie, Carl Fontana, Milt Hinton, Bob Haggart and many others.  The EIJF gave Edinburgh jazz musicians not only a chance to hear great players but also the opportunity to play alongside them.
Increasingly, Edinburgh jazz bands travelled in the UK and abroad to play at jazz festivals including the Sacramento Jazz Jamboree in the USA, Ascona in Switzerland, Eindhoven and Enkhuizen in Holland, Bude, Orkney, the Isle of Bute, Keswick and many others. Both the ‘New Society Syncopators’ (1979) and ‘Old Bailley’s Jazz Advocates’ (1980) won the trophy for best traditional band at the Dunkirk Jazz Festival.  It also became the fashion for the local bands to produce recordings of their music giving a permanent record of local jazz and some of the bands broadcast on local and national radio and TV.  In 2003, the ‘Silver Jubilee of Edinburgh Traditional Jazz’ in the Queen’s Hall celebrated 25 years of traditional jazz at the EIJF and featured 7 Edinburgh bands and around 40 jazz musicians. Later, Violet Milne and Norrie Thomson founded the ‘Edinburgh Jazz and Jive Club’, firstly based at the Fairmile Inn and latterly at Goldenacre.  This remains one of the few successful ‘pay at the door’ Edinburgh jazz ventures and it provides a regular platform for many of the Edinburgh bands and guests from elsewhere and is a showcase of traditional jazz in Edinburgh.  
At the time of writing in 2008, traditional jazz continues to flourish in Edinburgh alongside a healthy modern and contemporary jazz scene.  Although the free pub jazz tradition has almost died away and many great players have gone, a smaller pool of musicians, now much more integrated with musicians from Glasgow and the west of Scotland, continue to play and provide vigorous proof of the lasting worth of traditional jazz at a local level, frequently aided and abetted by visiting musicians and bands from elsewhere in the UK and across the world.  The EIJF, now the Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival, also continues to flourish and attract big names and audiences, although now embracing a wider spectrum of music than in the early days.  

In Edinburgh, the average age of the bands and their followers is steadily increasing as fewer young musicians come into traditional jazz.  Young Edinburgh jazz musicians now tend to play modern or contemporary jazz, although in the birthplace of traditional jazz, New Orleans, many young players are continuing to play the traditional style.

In Edinburgh new jazz blood is needed. Get out there, learn an instrument, start singing jazz and get along and support the local bands – this is too good a music to just fade away.           
JGB        4.08

Addendum: Some jazz musicians of the local scene but not mentioned in the text above are:

Simon Carlyle /sousaphone, Kenny Macdonald/ bass, Dick Lee /reeds, John Russell /guitar, Roy Percy /Bass, Gerrard Dott /reeds, Ralph Laing /piano, Dougie Boyter /banjo, Dougie Goodal /clarinet, Les Horne /trumpet, Gus Ferguson /trumpet, Owen Mcdonald /bass, George Gilmour/clarinet, Roy Dunnett /drums, Eric Jamieson /drums, Alec Mackintosh /trumpet, Eddie Hamilton /clarinet, Finlay Milne /trumpet, Bill Smith /trombone, Tony Sargent /bass, Jim Baikie /guitar, Bob Busby/reeds, Tom Renouf /piano, Bill Oliver /guitar, Henry Mackenzie /tenor sax, Donald Macdonald /tenor sax, Tommy Whittle /tenor sax...

And there will probably be lots more. But email me their (or your) names ...and I'm really sorry if you've been missed out.

OK... so most of the pictures have me in them, but that's because these are the shots people have given me throughout the years. If you send me digitised photos by email or prints by post for me to digitise (you'll get them back) I'll put them on this page.


At Hill of Tarvit, Fife with Al Fairweather on trumpet, Robin Galloway on bass and Bill Smith on trombone
When it's Sleepy Time Down South, with Brian Weld playing the tenor banjo...
If you would like to suggest changes to the text, or if you have any relevant, or historic photos which you would like to feature on this page please email Ian at:


The Criterion Brass Band leading the EIJF Parade along Princes Street with Edwin as Grand Marshall
Fred Murray, forever trying to buy us all a pint...
Mike Hart on Banjo, Dave Keir on Trombone and Gus Ferguson on Trumpet with the QEII in the Forth Jack Weddell on trombone, playing 'All alone by the telephone' to the ladies...
We are the Diplomats of Jazz, so F off! With Jim Petrie, Edinburgh's very own historic monument
The Spirits of Rhythm at Basin Street, Edinburgh with Fraser Gauld on trumpet. Vi posing like Lil Hardin.
Ian Boyter's 'Gumbo' Band with Tony Sargent on bass and Donald Corbett on trumpet, Ian Cumming, trombone The Spirits at Haymarket Bar with Violet on piano
The Spirits of Rhythm with Jim Gunton on trombone and Dave Strutt on trumpet playing at the World Economic Forum in Davos
George Gilmour on clarinet and Eric Jamieson on drums in the LRB, Alan Quinn relaxing a bit
Finlay Milne with his ma and pa and strange uncle Ian in Switzerland in the heat of the midday sun
Jock Westwater on Banjo on the Maid of the Forth when beards were the thing
The Spirits of Rhythm at Nobles bar in Leith with Robin Galloway on bass
Vi and Bev, ladies that play, probably discussing a dodgy chord change... or something
Lindsay Cooper on bass who played bass on the world famous Tubular Bells record ...playing with us
A father and son who used to come to all our gigs. We love you, we need you, anonymous punters...
Vi half way up a mountain in Switzerland