Director, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Tommy Smith

Born in Edinburgh in 1967, Smith began his prolific career at 14 when his quartet won Best Band, and he received the Best Musician Trophy at the 1981 Edinburgh International Jazz Festival. A year later, he was invited to appear on the TV show Jazz at the Gateway’ with Niels Henning Ørsted Petersen and Jon Christensen in the company of Michael Brecker; toured with the European Youth Jazz Orchestra and recorded his quintet for BBC Radio Scotland.

At 16, he released his first album, ‘Giant Strides’ and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston with financial assistance from Sean Connery and his local community. He joined Gary Burton’s quintet after a recommendation from Chick Corea, aged 18, toured worldwide, and recorded on Burton’s ECM album Whiz Kids.

Smith has recorded over thirty solo albums for Blue Note, Linn Records, ECM and his Spartacus Recordings label. He has toured 50-plus countries, composed over 300 works, and collaborated with musicians, poets, and visual artists, including Arild Andersen, John Scofield, Norman MacCaig, Alan Davie, Kenny Munro, Jaco Pastorius, Kenny Wheeler, Jack DeJohnette, Liz Lochhead, Christine de Luca, Trilok Gurtu, and Edwin Morgan with whom he developed a unique artistic relationship in 1996. He and Morgan went on to collaborate on 55 works of poetry and music.

Smith established the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in 1995 and ensured its progress until support from the Scottish Arts Council arrived in 1998. He founded the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2002 to provide an educational opportunity for the country’s best young jazz musicians and fought for over a decade to establish the first full-time jazz course in Scotland. In 2009 Smith was appointed Head of Jazz at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and became Professor in 2010.

Smith has been the recipient of various accolades including BBC, British, UK Parliamentary and Scottish Jazz Awards. His contributions to Jazz were recognised nationally when in, 1998, he became the youngest ever recipient of an honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in recognition of his extraordinary artistic achievement, aged 33. He subsequently received honorary doctorates from Glasgow Caledonian and Edinburgh Universities. In 2019, he was presented with an OBE for services to Jazz and Education from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.