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The Jazz department, led by Professor Tommy Smith OBE, internationally-renowned saxophonist and major force in European jazz, is vibrant and energetic, and continues to produce successful musicians and new voices within the UK jazz scene.
Studying Jazz at the Royal Conservatoire offers a high level of training aimed at cultivating your development as a creative and versatile jazz performer. The BMus programme explores jazz in the broadest possible terms, and provide the opportunity to play, perform, compose and record in many different jazz styles and settings. View the course overview.
The BMus in Jazz is a specialist pathway for a performance career in jazz. It is the first and the only full-time degree level jazz course in Scotland and offers many creative and artistic opportunities to you as a performer across a wide-ranging curriculum. You’ll receive tuition from some of the finest jazz musicians and educators in the UK. Currently we offer the highest amount of contact time offered anywhere in the UK with 90 minutes of individual lessons per week on your principal study instrument, with the opportunity to study a second instrument made available across all four years of study. This allows you to maximise your instrumental skills and nurture your creative potential as an artist.
The BMus programme is delivered to a small, focused cohort of students in each year group that form a unique ensemble and grow together throughout the BMus jazz pathway towards graduation. As a student, you are also encouraged to interact with other year groups and students from other disciplines across the RCS in the spirit of our cross-disciplinary curriculum.
Through class teaching in our dedicated jazz studios, you’ll study the essentials of chord-scale harmony, improvisation, classic repertoire, composition, history, music business and arranging. Our vision of jazz is comprehensive and inclusive, and you’ll be introduced to the full range of contexts from solo and ensemble work through to big band settings.
Studying Jazz at the Conservatoire provides numerous opportunities to perform both in and out of the institution. On campus are our Blue Mondays concerts (also streamed live on the internet), featuring students and tutors, often performing alongside special guest performers. Past clinicians have included Makoto Ozone, Courtney Pine, Jacqui Dankworth, Branford Marsalis, David Liebman, Peter Erskine, Paolo Fresu, Bill Evans, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker and Arild Andersen. Students also take part annually in a BBC broadcast recording for Radio Scotland’s Jazz House programme, in which they perform their own compositions. In addition, 4th year students each year undertake a 3-day recording and mixing session with Nimbus Records, resulting in an album release on the record label.
The Jazz department maintains close ties with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. This relationship with what many consider Europe’s foremost contemporary big band has given students in Jazz at the Conservatoire access to performances and rehearsals by Kurt Elling, John Scofield, Gary Burton, Joe Lovano and Gunther Schuller .
Previous students of the Jazz department have been recipients of the prestigious Yamaha Jazz Scholarship, with pianists Peter Johnstone and Utsav Lal obtaining scholarships in 2013 and 2014. They also recorded a CD for the cover of Jazzwise magazine, and performed at the Houses of Parliament in London.
As a Jazz student at RCS, you will reap the full benefits of highly modern academic facilities, combined with the highest quality teaching in a city brimming with jazz, and a country resplendent with artistic opportunity.
You will tackle the fundamentals of jazz composition and expand your knowledge of jazz repertoire in simulated live performance sessions. You will also develop your aural awareness, sight-reading, sight-singing and musical dictation skills. You will be given a broad overview of the history of jazz and you will look ahead to working in the music business learning how to create a biography and an invoice.
Your jazz composition skills are at the core of your learning in year two: you will perform your own compositions and write for a jazz ensemble. Performance sessions will focus on learning classic jazz repertoire, melodies and chord progressions completely by ear. Underpinning this will be the development of your historical understanding of jazz from Mingus through to Acid Jazz. Music business classes will cover topics such as performance contracts, riders and stage plans.
You will continue to develop and integrate your understanding of all areas of jazz composition. For the first time, you will create a jazz arrangement for a big band and get to grips with producing jazz in a recording studio. Your ear training skills will be further developed with a focus on conducting, rhythmic duets, and sight-singing. You will learn how to develop a mock funding application.
All of your composition skills will be put to test as you compose and arrange original works for a jazz orchestra. You will also further develop your jazz production skills in the recording studio and record an end of year CD for Nimbus. As you prepare to graduate, music business classes will focus on developing a personal website.
“The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is a dynamic conservatoire bursting with potential and creativity. It’s the place you want to be if you desire to truly be the best musician you can be.”
Born in Edinburgh, Smith grew up in the housing schemes and began his prolific career at 14 when his quartet won Best Band, and he received Best Musician Trophy at the 1981 Edinburgh 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; toured with the European Youth Jazz Orchestra, and recorded his quintet for BBC Radio. At 16, he released his first two albums, Giant Strides and Taking Off! and studied at Berklee with financial assistance from Sean Connery.
He joined Gary Burton’s quintet after a recommendation from Chick Corea at 18, toured worldwide, and recorded on ECM’s album Whiz Kids. Smith has documented over thirty solo albums for Blue Note, Linn, ECM and his own Spartacus Record label; toured 50+ countries, composed over 300 works, and collaborated with musicians, poets, and visual artists, including Arild Andersen, Scofield, MacCaig, Alan Davie, Kenny Munro, Jaco, Wheeler, DeJohnette, Liz Lochhead, Christine de Luca, Trilok, and poet Edwin Morgan who he developed a unique artistic relationship in 1996 collaborating on 55 works of poetry and music.
In 1995 he established the SNJO and ensured its progress until funding began in 1998. He founded the TSYJO in 2002 to provide an educational opportunity for the country’s best young jazz musicians and fought 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 holds numerous jazz accolades: 2 BBC, 2 British, 2 UK Parliamentary and 9 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. He subsequently received honorary doctorates from Glasgow Caledonian and Edinburgh Universities. In 2019 he was given an OBE for services to Jazz from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Jazz graduates have been recipients of the prestigious Yamaha Jazz Scholarship, with bassist David Bowden and pianists Peter Johnstone and Utsav Lal obtaining scholarships; Peter and Utsav have also recorded a CD for the cover of Jazzwise magazine, and performed at the Houses of Parliament.
“Costello’s Strata has been setting a standard of musicianship that has seasoned observers talking about Glasgow as a jazz hotbed of approaching New York proportions.”
– The Herald on graduate jazz band Strata
Graduate jazz pianist and composer Fergus McCreadie has become one of the most talented musicians and band leaders in Europe, winning both the UK’s prestigious Parliamentary Jazz Awards’ Album of the Year and Best Album at the Scottish Jazz Awards, as well as being shortlisted for the Scottish Album of the Year Award.