Entertainment – Fionna Duncan

Fionna Duncan – Inspiring vocalist & All time UK Jazz Great

Fionna was born in the Temperance Hotel, Garelochhead, during at ‘black out’ in the second month of World War 2. Fionna was due to be born in the family home, The Nest. Portincaple, but the Doctor refused to come to deliver her. It was therefore left to the Naval personnel stationed in the Hotel to bring Fionna into the world.

After spending her early years in Garelochhead, her Father decided to move the family to Glasgow for business reasons, just as Fionna was due to join her siblings at Hermitage School. Following the move, Fionna attended Rutherglen’s Academy, where she became heavily involved in the Ballad and Blues Club. Fionna sites Louis Armstrong as her strongest influence during her formative years, due to both his phrasing and interpretation, with Carmen McRae, Ernestine Anderson, Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy and Tony Bennett all following close behind ‘Satchmo’. In her 2nd year at Rutherglen Academy she played the soprano lead role in several Gilbert and Sullivan Operas run by their very active music department. They included ‘The Dukes Dilemma’ and ‘Country Girl’. Also during this period she joined ‘The Bankhead Players’, a highly regarded amateur drama group who toured around Glasgow and its surrounding areas. This experience provided Fionna with a solid grounding in lighting and stage presentation, which would prove most useful time and time again in her later life.

After achieving a ‘Higher Music Pass’ at the Academy, Fionna was singing several nights a week in a semi-pro capacity with various jazz bands and in 1955 became resident vocalist with the Lindsay MacDonald Modern Jazz Quartet who performed, amongst other dates, every Saturday night in The Glasgow University ‘Snug Bar’.

During a business trip to the States in 1956, she performed on network TV, several radio programs and turned down a contract with Riverside Records, as this would have entailed moving to the U.S.A. on a permanent basis.

On her return to Scotland in 1957, Fionna auditioned for the BBC in Glasgow and for the next two years performed every Saturday morning on a live network broadcast, ‘Skiffle Club’ with ‘The Joe Gordon Folk Four’. At this time she also joined Glasgow’s Steadfast Jazz Band with whom she worked for about a year before joining ‘The Forrie Cairns All Stars’ and later ‘The Clyde Valley Stompers’.

Between 1964 and 1970 Fionna was host at London’s West End ‘Georgian Nightclub’, a night spot frequented by most of the leading ‘showbiz’ personalities at that time. She has worked with Humphrey Lyttelton, Kenny Ball, Warren Vache, Grover Washington, Dick Hyman, Sweets Edison and many others. The show was directed and produced by Billy Petch and Bobby Chandler from ‘The Talk of the Town’. Fionna organised the daily rehearsals, set up the lighting and auditioned new acts for each show, which ran for 6 weeks at a time, as well as her work as a vocalist with ‘The Georgian Dixielanders’ and featured artist in the stage show. Invaluable experience in energy and stamina.

Ten years later, back in Glasgow, she became a full time vocalist, touring Europe and U.S.A. In 1985 Fionna formed her own Trio using the cream of Scottish Jazz – Ronnie Rae on bass, Brian Kellock on piano, John Rae on drums – which has been her regular rhythm section ever since. A staunch supporter of more traditional jazz styles and an interpreter of standards, Fionna’s voice has been described as part silk and sandpaper.

In 1995, Fionna began to put the wheels in motion to run workshops for young singers. The first was held during the 1996 Glasgow International Jazz Festival with the aid of Professor Madeline Eastman and proved to be successful. She continued to run pilot workshops over the next 3 years, each one more successful than the next. Her workshops have since become an established training ground for aspiring vocalists from around the world.

Fionna Duncan was nominated for a parliamentary jazz award for her services to jazz Education in 2008 and her outstanding talent was recently recognised when she collected the Best Jazz Vocalist award at the 2009 Scottish Jazz Awards.

Fionna returned to the family home in Garelochhead in 1993, and has remained there ever since, and she has stated that she has no desire ever to leave it again!

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