Laura Jurd on Sketches of Spain: 'It's a bit of a journey so fasten your seatbelts'

Drawing breath

credit: Derek Clark

The trumpeter gears up to play the classic Miles Davis album at this year's EIFF with Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

On 15 September 1990, a future British trumpet star was born. Meanwhile, just one year and 13 days later, a legend of the jazz world died, leaving behind an unmatchable musical legacy. As part of this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival's Spain strand, the spirit of Miles Davis will prove to be alive and kicking as Laura Jurd plays his classic Sketches of Spain album, alongside Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.

Having performed the album with the SNJO on a mini-tour of Scotland a couple of years back, Jurd (whose own acclaimed jazz quartet Dinosaur was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2017) has already gone through the unique experience of approaching such a legendary piece of music for the first time. While not exactly daunted by the album, she is still all set for another challenge.

'Funnily enough, Sketches of Spain wasn't one of the Miles albums that I was familiar with compared to some other ones, so it was a nice excuse to check out something new,' she recalls. 'The challenge for me in doing a project with such an iconic recording is to take the essence of how he plays but still make it your own. I'm less interested in doing a museum-like super-similar performance to Miles Davis. Finding what serves the music while maintaining your own voice on the trumpet is the fun challenge for me.'

Davis was a master of eclecticism who switched genres and hopped between styles several times throughout a career which helped bring bebop into the public consciousness before experimenting more broadly with soul, funk and even pop (in the 80s he duetted with Sting and covered Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper). One thing that never altered was his own individualistic approach to his art: if he wanted to play with his back to the audience and barely say any words, then that's exactly what he was going to do.

'I guess I'll be facing the audience,' Jurd reassures us while considering whether Davis' performance style was borne from petulance or practicality. 'I was listening to an interview with Miles the other day and while he did come across as quite hostile at times, he did talk about how he loved hearing how the trumpet sounded in different parts of the room. So maybe he just enjoyed the sound of it against a wall? But he was quite eccentric so you'd never know with him.'

While the original Sketches of Spain album clocks in at around the 45-minute mark, chances are that the existing spaces within the music will allow for a bit of improvisation, nudging the stage-time closer to an hour. It'll be similar but there might be open improvised moments. 'I'm a talker on stage depending on the concert and the music, but if it feels right for the arc of the music to just keep playing, then it's better to do that sometimes,' Jurd states. 'With this one, I expect Tommy Smith will probably talk at the beginning and the end, but because it's a big extended work, I feel we'll just play the whole thing through. It's a bit of a journey so fasten your seatbelts.'

Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Laura Jurd, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 28 Jun.

Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Sketches of Spain

Laura Jurd is the trumpet soloist in this restaging of Miles Davis' classic album.

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