Berklee Today

Sidebar - Saxophonist Laura Macdonald


About a week before saxophonist Laura Macdonald was to begin recording her first album for Linn Records, she and her husband Tommy Smith decided to call off the deal and start their own label. Her new disc Laura Macdonald, is the second release for Smith's Spartacus label. The auspicious debut finds Macdonald in company with drummer Jeff "Tain” Watts, bassist James Genus, and pianist David Budway in a program that spotlights her agile alto and soprano weaving through four of her own pieces as well as standards and lesser known gems by Charles Mingus and Pat Metheny. The disc has been warmly embraced by the U.K. jazz press.

Macdonald grew up in Ayrshire (southern Scotland) in a musical home. Her father was a singer, and there was a lot of jazz heard around the house. At one of his gigs she heard a saxophone for the first time. "I fell in love with the instrument and had to play it,” she said. "I was the first female saxophone player at my school. But the year after I started playing, 52 girls took it up. I guess I set a wee bit of a trend.”

That same year, when she was 16, she met Tommy Smith during a music lesson. "Everyone in Scotland knows Tommy,” she said. "He was sitting behind me at my lesson, and I was so nervous I could hardly play.” It would be several years before the two would become romantically involved. "We were staying in touch through e-mail when I started Berklee. He came over to New York to make a record. He stopped in Boston on his way home and swept me off my feet! After I had graduated from Berklee, I moved back to Scotland at Christmastime in 1997. Tommy and I got married on July 4, 1998.”

Macdonald has toured throughout the U.K. and Sweden with Smith's bands and plays in his Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO). She has also been commissioned to write pieces for the SNJO and National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland. Presently, she is setting her sights on getting gigs in the U.K. and more recording. "I would like to do another one,” she said. We'd probably do it the same way—come to New York and hire the best musicians, best studio, and best engineer.

"My first recording was quite an experience. It was live to two-track and was done really fast. Those guys are such great musicians so it took no time to come up with the arrangements. It put me in the deep end trying to swim really hard.”