A TOP Scottish jazz musician has said that the arts “would flourish quicker than any other sector” with the full powers of independence.

Tommy Smith, the head of jazz at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and the founder of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, believes that Scotland has “incredible potential” when it comes to the creative industries, particularly jazz music.

This comes after the saxophonist launched a petition in a bid to save the BBC show Jazz Nights from being axed by the broadcaster in a move which was supported by Scottish Album of the Year winner Fergus McCreadie.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti, who recently welcomed future music starts to an RCS workshop, also said she was “shocked and deeply disappointed” to hear the news about the BBC programmes.

The National: Tommy Smith has previously performed for the FM Tommy Smith has previously performed for the FM (Image: Tommy Smith)

“If Scotland were independent, the arts would flourish quicker than any other sector. After leaving home as a teenager or getting divorced, those first few years are tough but the autonomy of direction, space, and decision-making would be ours alone.

“It would be on our shoulders to succeed or fail – no one else could be blamed”, Smith told The National.

Although he believes Scotland’s jazz industry is flourishing with the success of McCreadie and Ewan Hastie - an RCS student who won the BBC Young Jazz Musician award in 2022 - he thinks there is more to be done. 

When compared to a similar-sized country like Norway, Smith believes Scotland is falling behind.

For example, figures in 2018 showed that Molde Jazz Festival, located in a town with a population of almost 21,000, receives more than £1 million in support.

However, Smith explains that the Aberdeen Jazz Festival, one of just three events dedicated to the genre across Scotland, received just £18,000 in funding.

He added that, when combined with Islay and Dundee’s jazz festivals, there was only £55,000 of funding made available, a figure he said he was “shocked and astonished by”.  

Smith explained: “Whether or not you're optimistic about jazz in Scotland depends on if you compare it with another country.

“Up until 2009, most of the young players had to leave Scotland for education because we didn’t have a full-time jazz course.

“We have musicians now though with a burning desire to be the best and that’s without a lot of financial support.”

Although he says that there are those in Norway who perhaps have their issues with the system, the fact remains it is ahead of Scotland.

“Because they are so well supported, when it comes to the musicians there isn’t an exodus to other countries," said Smith.

“We need to have more schools and more jazz festivals in Scotland.”

Smith himself says he has spent more time in Scandinavia than he has in Scotland throughout his life, having played jazz from the “bottom to the top” of the country.

He has battled long and hard in a bid to bring jazz into the mainstream of Scottish education.

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In 2001, he wrote to the Scottish Government, which was led by then-first minister Jack McConnell and, although he admitted he and his ministers were “very courteous”, they were unable to do anything.

After establishing his own company, Spartacus Records, Smith was able to establish his own youth jazz orchestra in 2002 which brought together an elite ensemble of talented musicians.

It was 2008 when the call came from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama - now the RCS - asking him to set up a full-time Jazz course.

Smith also argues that re-joining the EU would allow Scotland to fulfil its musical potential as it would allow people to move more freely.

He explained: “In a world where humans must dream to realise their potential, visionary artists would tour freely and quickly throughout Europe when Scotland re-joins the EU.

“The localisation and globalisation of Scotland’s arts would step up to another level and be inspired from within because our identity would be etched in our emotions.”

On issues of finances for Scotland’s creative sector, MSPs have been warned by the chief executive of Creative Scotland the industry faces a “perfect storm” of increased costs and budget cuts.

The arts body will be allocated £64.2m in the coming financial year – down from £69.3m in 2022/23.

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Creative Scotland chief executive Iain Munro said: “I think the risks to the future of the culture sector as we currently know and understand it have gone up enormously as a result of that budget decision to Creative Scotland.”

Smith admits that “times are tough” but believes that a Scotland which has full control over its own finances and a country that could generate its own revenue would lead to a more flourishing arts sector.

“You have to make your own budget. If I have the power to earn my own money through different sources then I can decide what to spend it on, it’s my decision, nobody is telling me what to spend it on”, Smith said.

“It’s got to be all the arts because we all support each other and I would raise my head up not just for jazz but for classical, folk and pop music as well.”