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Saxophonist Helena Kay to headline Jazz Thursdays in Edinburgh, 2024 / 25.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh has commissioned saxophonist Helena Kay to curate & appear in a series of concerts focusing on musicians who have inspired Kay's career. The series begins19th September.

We have received the following press release;

Saxophonist Helena Kay headlines Jazz Thursdays in Edinburgh

The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh has commissioned the award-winning saxophonist Helena Kay to curate and appear in a series of concerts focusing on musicians who have inspired Kay’s career.

Beginning on Thursday 19th September with the vibrant, highly individual pianist Zoe Rahman, who will play solo and in duo with Kay, the concerts take place over a twelve-month period and highlight Kay as both a featured soloist and a bandleader.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to play on a stage and in a venue so rich in jazz history,” says Kay, who won the much-coveted Peter Whittingham Jazz Award in 2017 and has since been selected as a City Music Foundation Artist and for the Drake YolanDa Award in recognition of their exceptional musicianship.

“I’ve played at the Queen’s Hall as a member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and have been aware of following in illustrious footsteps,” Kay adds. “The brilliant composer Carla Bley and saxophone legend Sonny Rollins are just two of the people I admire who have appeared there. So to lead my own band and to play with some of my heroes there is really special.”

Kay has chosen several musicians they looked up to as an aspiring saxophonist to appear in the programme, which is being promoted under the Jazz Thursdays banner. As well as Zoe Rahman, in whose octet Kay has worked, Kay has invited fellow saxophonist Laura Macdonald, who will play in duo with guitarist Kevin Mackenzie, and saxophonist Tommy Smith.

Kay first met Laura Macdonald when she tutored Kay during the run-up to the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year competition, which Kay went on to win in 2015.

“Laura is a fantastic example for young musicians looking to play jazz to follow,” says Kay. “She has recorded and led bands with some of the most prestigious musicians. The saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Antonio Sanchez were in Laura’s sextet before they went on to work with David Bowie and Pat Metheny respectively.”

Zoe Rahman, an Ivor Novello Impact and Mobo Award winner, and Kay have already rehearsed the pieces they will play in the opening concert and are looking forward to playing together.

“I first saw Zoe play with Courtney Pine when I was sixteen,” says Kay. “My mum (who is also a big fan of Zoe’s) made sure we both went to meet to Zoe after the gig, and it was so inspiring for me to meet her at that stage in my musical life. The teenage me wouldn’t believe that we’re sharing the stage now. She’s such a brilliant duo partner. It’s almost like playing in her octet. She puts so much energy and passion into her playing and her flow of ideas is amazing. It really makes you want to play.”

Adding to the series’ variety, violinist Seonaid Aitken’s Chasing Sakura ensemble features Kay in a “with strings” setting.

“Seonaid’s writing and arranging skills make her music a dream to play,” says Kay. “She bridges jazz, classical and folk music, she can do anything, and the musicians she has chosen for this ensemble are all at the top in their field.”

The concert series will give Kay two opportunities to lead their own quartet. They have a new recording in preparation, following Kay’s enthusiastically received Moon Palace (Ubuntu 2018) and Golden Sands (Sulis Records 2022), and this third album will be launched at the Queen’s Hall in February 2025. Later in 2025 Kay will invite saxophonist Tommy Smith to join the quartet.

“I played in Tommy’s youth orchestra for a few years and it was a wonderful learning experience,” says Kay. “Tommy is such a force of nature and working with him now in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, which he has led and directed since he formed it almost thirty years ago, has given me a greater appreciation of the dedication and industry he brings to playing jazz. I’m really looking forward to having him play with my band on the fourth concert.”

The series is funded by Creative Scotland.

Concert details:

Thursday 19th September – Zoe Rahman, solo and duo with Helena Kay plus Nathan Somevi Trio

Thursday 13th February 2025 - Helena Kay Quartet plus Noman&Corrie

Thursday 10th April 2025 - Seonaid Aitken’s Chasing Sakura Ensemble (feat Helena Kay) plus Laura Macdonald & Kevin Mackenzie

Thursday 11th September 2025 - Helena Kay Quartet with Tommy Smith plus special guest (tbc)