Meet Fergus McCreadie, Yamaha Artist

Fergus McCreadie, only 26 but with a Mercury nomination and a clutch of major album awards to his name, is that rare breed: a jazz musician inspired by nature. Not for this Scottish-born artist the familiar themes of love and loss; for McCreadie the earth, the forests, even the essence of water are the themes that inspire him, expressed through his unique blend of improvisation grounded in contemporary jazz but with echoes of Scottish folklore and to be heard at its freshest on Stream, his latest album with the McCreadie Trio.

The fact is, you're as likely to see this rising young jazz pianist, currently a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, climbing a Munro mountain as playing to sell-out audiences in concert halls and clubs. "My ambition is to climb them all!" says McCreadie of the near-300 mountains over 3000ft high located across Scotland, among them Ben Nevis, the UK's tallest. Collectively known as the Munros, only around 6,000 people have climbed every one. Judging by his career ascent so far, McCreadie is, surely, destined to join them.

Born in Jamestown in the Scottish Highlands in 1997, McCreadie grew up surrounded by music and began playing the piano at the age of seven. "There'd always been a piano at home, so it was the natural thing to do," he recalls. "I loved playing but didn't enjoy working through the traditional, graded music exams and my enthusiasm began to wane." He might have given up but for what he describes as a 'lightbulb moment' when, aged 12, he was taken to a jazz concert given by renowned Scottish jazz musician and educator, Richard Michael. "I knew instantly it was the music I wanted to play."

Improvising, where you play in the moment free of a musical score, can be a daunting prospect for any musician new to jazz but Richard Michael was on hand to help McCreadie take his first steps on the road to mastering it. "He was honest enough to tell me that to play jazz well is a long and painstaking process but at its heart, a straightforward one rooted in practising," says McCreadie. "'Keep practising and you'll get where you want to be,' he told me. So I did! No question: it was hard work but fun. Until then, I'd associated music with doing the Grades but then to improvise and even play the wrong notes, that was fun and exciting! Bit by bit, taking a few notes and creating phrases with them, I began to grow as a jazz pianist. It was the launch point for me."

Just a few years later, in 2013 and again in 2014, McCreadie won the under-17 category of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year and, aged 16, enrolled on the four-year jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in Glasgow. "The college was such a nice community of musicians with everyone gigging," McCreadie recalls of his time there. "We were always performing, solo or in scratch groups. Early on in the course I fell in with the guys who would form our band, the McCreadie Trio, when they were in their fourth year and I was in my first. Almost 10 years later, we're still together."

Their near-decade-long association has enabled McCreadie to develop and mature as an ensemble musician, sharing his musical journey with bandmates David Bowden on double-bass and Stephen Henderson on drums but giving each member the space and means to express themselves. "I teach them the tunes by ear so that the music is freer," he explains. "It's about what I provide being as loose as possible because the fewer dots you have to follow, the more everyone has to fill in the gaps, which is really interesting and exciting. "The truth is, I love being in a performance where there are a lot of unknowns and finding pleasure on the fly. As a playing and listening experience I think it's really fun. Fortunately, because we've played together for so many years, we understand each other's playing and where we want to take it."

Listen to their music and the understanding the three musicians share is obvious and impressive. From feathery, introspective washes of sound that exploit and showcase the subtle colours of the three instruments, to classic, jazz-infused passages that drive the music forwards, McCreadie's soundworld is a free spirit, constantly in flux like the nature he adores. On that point, his latest albums celebrate Scotland and the natural world; Cairn (2021) the landscape's stones and rocks; Forest Floor (2022), nominated for the 2022 Mercury Prize and winner of the 2022 Scottish Album of the Year, its woods and forests and, to be released in May 2024, Stream, a celebration of water.

"Following Cairn and Forest Floor it seemed natural to focus on water," says McCreadie. "The album plays best when you listen to it right through from start to finish. I programmed it so that it starts off being quite dark but gets lighter as the album plays out. I believe the art of listening to an album in its entirety has been lost. That's a shame so I have created a kind of narrative for Stream, where to listen to it at random is to miss its musical arc and the journey it takes you on."

This thoughtful approach, even to the construction of his albums, is what distinguishes McCreadie as a musician, both as an ensemble performer where he gives his bandmates space to thrive and increasingly, as a soloist. "Performing solo, I feel a different sense of freedom," he says. "It's very intense and you can explore lots of things including even classical sounds that you couldn't with bass and drums."

McCreadie has recently become a Yamaha Artist, an arrangement he's delighted with since it means he'll have more opportunities to perform on the pianos he loves. "I grew up with Yamaha pianos and find them to be very consistent, which is hugely reassuring when you're performing at different venues. Knowing it's a Yamaha piano I'll be playing, eliminates certain variables. My favourite is the new CFX concert grand piano. It gives you a lot of control not just over the dynamics but also over colour and shading. It's a beautiful piano. The sound you can hear in your head, really comes out in the instrument."

In fact, like its two predecessors, Stream, McCreadie's latest album, was recorded on the same Yamaha C3 grand piano. "To say it inspired me, is an understatement!" He's looking forward to touring the new album this year as well as playing solo and with other ensembles including jazz group corto.alto. "It's going to be busy but I wouldn't have it any other way!"

Read more about the C3 Grand Piano

Read more about Fergus' biography