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The 2012 final of the Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year competition was held tonight in the Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen as part of the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, and broadcast live on Radio Scotland’s The Jazz House. (Which is repeated on Sunday night at 8pm and is also available online).

The first, and possibly most important thing, to say about the event is how good all the finalists were. Whatever difficulties the Scottish jazz scene might face, they’re certainly not due to a shortage of good players.

The second thing is, just how difficult it must have been to make direct comparisons between them. Three of the finalists were in their early twenties, coming to the end of music college courses, and already established figures on the local scene; the other two were eighteen, just out of school and about to start music courses, and completely unknown to me (although that might be because they’re from outwith the Central Belt). To complicate things further, they all played different instruments: bass, alto and soprano sax, piano, drums and, unusually, clarsach. There have been a handful of jazz musicians who’ve played the concert harp (Alice Coltrane and Iro Haarla come to mind), but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone do so on its smaller Celtic cousin before. It actually worked rather well.

My third observation is that two of the five finalists were women.

The five finalists were:

  • Brodie Jarvie (bass)
  • Mairi Chaimbeul (clarsach)
  • Helena Kay (saxophones)
  • Pete Johnstone (piano)
  • Corrie Dick (drums)

They were accompanied by a trio of well-kent names in Scottish jazz: Paul Harrison, Mario Caribé and Alyn Cosker, who were joined by last year’s winner, Ruaridh Pattison for a few tunes while the judges came to their decision.

The eventual winner was Pete Johnstone. I thought he just edged it on the night, although I was also particularly impressed by Helena Kay’s two pieces. But congratulations have to go to all the young players involved – they were all very impressive, and I’m sure they’ll go on to get even better.

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