Scene Spotlight: Glasgow Jazz

“It's about everyone having a voice and everyone having space.”

Words by Maeve Hannigan

Maeve Hannigan is writer, researcher and journalist based in Glasgow.

Glasgow is a city with endless spirit. Once named the workshop of the world, it is only too familiar with creating. It is a city that has lived on through periods of decline and mass unemployment; that has had to build and back itself up and it has, with a self-deprecating joke to follow. As the hub of production back in the day, the production has never stopped. In the spaces and places that spill out, from Sauchiehall Street’s basements and crumbling tenement flats, there is a DIY nature that continues to define the city. 

Dance music may have put Glasgow on the musical map, but there is a melting pot of sounds that cross over from time to time; spill into each other's drinks, dance together, share venues. The Glasgow jazz scene springs forth as its own pot with multiple sub-scenes. From the Mercury nominated folk-jazz of Fergus McCreadie to the Nina Simone sounds of Anoushka Nanguy; the ambient jazz of Graham Costello to the Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra that has raised the likes of Josef Akin and India Blue. Here we find a mixed bag of rare gems. 

DJ and producer Rebecca Vasmant, and producer and multi-instrumentalist Liam Shortall are key members of a sub-scene within the jazz community that alter what a club night should be. With the help of the jazz community, they have introduced styles and sounds in spaces that don’t usually go hand in hand, with the common thread of playing freely and letting the people dance. 

Originally a house and techno DJ, Rebecca Vasmant has walked the baby steps and watched the jazz scene grow into new spaces with different faces. She explains, “I've seen it from the very start – I've seen it go from seated club jazz gigs that only old people go and see, to young students going out and dancing in clubs to live jazz.” As a secret collector of jazz records, it wasn’t until Vasmant watched a jazz-infused Boiler Room which proved that crossovers like this could be accepted in the techno-head world. 

“I would say it honestly took about seven or eight years for me to slowly introduce jazz into my set. In places like Sub Club, before The Blue Arrow existed. Before any of the RCS [Royal Conservatoire of Scotland] students had graduated, we didn't really have this young jazz scene, and there weren't any bands around doing their own music”, she adds. 

For Liam Shortall, founder of corto.alto and co-founder of night Glitch41, it was the change of venue and environment that allowed jazz into the club setting. The DJ booth at the front became the band on stage, and the crowd gave the same pulsing energy, if not more. Thanks to the jazz boom in London, the genre has remained niche yet ‘underground’ in its nature. Glasgow venues such as The Blue Arrow have changed the city’s idea of a club night by extending its arms to jazz musicians and students. Instead of two-stepping, the crowd moves against an out-of-time mosh pit – it’s a free-for-all. It’s the intimacy, the ‘taps aff’, and the sweaty warmth that Shortall - with fellow collaborators and saxophonist Mateusz Sobieski, and trombonist, vocalist, and composer Anoushka Nanguy - has captured at their Glitch41 night. In the same way that DJs formulate their sets, Shortall curates the night by building up to a release. The goal, he tells me, is to keep the energy high. He explains, “We always wanted it to be like a big dance night because I think for so long, I was bored of playing gigs where people were really quiet.” 

Bridging the gap between jazz and electronic music is a fight Vasmant has taken under her wing. With her ensemble - including artists like Josef Akin, Harry Weir, and Paix - she has produced sounds that intertwine jazz and dance music. Yet, playing jazz records in clubs still takes a certain level of understanding the crowd. “You have to do it in a way that there are still electronic elements in it”, Vasmant explains. “Especially in places that are known for electronic music.” But for Vasmant, it's about creating a moment in that space, where the focus is solely on the music.

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