It’s Lovely Over The Hills – The Scottish Saxophone Academy

Scottish Saxophone Academy 3

Scottish Sue pic Scottish Mike sean purser

Every three years, The World Saxophone Congress convenes for a multi-day festival where sax players from around the globe can meet, perform in different ensembles, and learn about the latest advancements in the music business; things like instrument-making, production and equipment.

This is the year! From July 10 – 14, sax musicians the world over will convene in Zagreb, Croatia. The event has doubtless inspired thousands of artists, but one ripple of influence stands out. The Scottish Saxophone Academy was inspired by this saxy happening. Co-founder Sue McKenzie explains.

How did this event spark the idea to start your school?

We hosted the WSC in St Andrews, Scotland for a week in 2012.  It had taken three years to organize and it was the most incredible week.  A small seaside town taken over by over 1,000 visitors, performances from 9am – 12pm, saxophonists in every corner! 

It was such a unique thing and so special we wanted in some way to continue the essence of that as much as we could and the Sax Academy seemed the best way to do that. 

We wanted to use our international connections and bring folks to Scotland for masterclasses while also hosting events that would encourage and inspire people in their playing.

Is there a specific woodwind heritage in your country?

Not really, no.  With Scotland’s Celtic folk roots its heritage is much more pipe- and fiddle-based. There is, however, a strong history of dance bands here from the 50’s and 60’s which has meant that woodwind/sax/brass playing in Scotland has always been strong.  

What is your enrollment? Is it a certificate program, or a place to perform, or both?

We don’t do full-time courses – we have an event every couple of months aimed at a range of players from amateur players and young students to adults working towards a career in music.  We have “get together and play” afternoons, residential weekend courses and our International Masterclass Series.

How many are specifically interested in jazz (vs. classical)?

We tend to look equally at both.

What is the age range of your students?

10 – 70!


We offer small and large group coaching on new works (in a range of styles) and masterclass sessions focusing on technique, tone, breath control, improvisation, etc.

Scottish Saxophone Academy 2

How many teachers?

There’s just myself and co-founder Mike Brogan with occasional visiting teachers from other countries.

Do you help students get jobs or connections in the music field?

Not really, but myself and Mike both teach privately and at the university level, so we are used to putting students forward for undergraduate and post-graduate study (obviously then leading to various roles within the industry).

What is the jazz scene like in Scotland?

Quite a strong scene in Scotland with various jazz festivals happening throughout the year all over the country (Glasgow, Aberdeen, Fife, Lockerbie, Edinburgh, Nairn, Dundee); a dedicated jazz club in Edinburgh (The Jazz Bar) and Aberdeen (The Blue Lamp) and with several clubs in Glasgow now programming jazz on a weekly basis. 

There’s also a dedicated jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland run by internationally renowned saxophonist Tommy Smith; and a very strong free improvisation scene (notably the Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra).

Are there a lot of opportunities for musicians to get gigs there?

Yes, if you work really hard!

Some of the highlights of your workshops?

Two really stand out: our first long course which took place on the Isle of Mull at Tobermory Arts Centre overlooking the Sound of Mull. Lovely folks and great music in beautiful surroundings.  And one of our International Masterclass events with Phillipe Geiss from Strasbourg. It was an action-packed day, lots of players of different levels, individual masterclasses, large ensembles, a group concert with solos and an incredible solo recital from Phillipe.

Talk about the Burn Course, which sounds beautiful!

It’s just  a really special place, a true retreat where you can get away and do some intensive playing.  There’s beautiful grounds, log fires and a bar.  And we usually have the place to ourselves so can make as much noise as we like!

What is new and exciting for this year at your school?

We have a new summer course for gifted younger musicians culminating in a gig at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

When did you and Mike each start playing sax?

Both in early secondary school, so 12 or 13 years old.

Which members of the sax family do you each play?

We both play them all.

What bands/ensembles etc. do you play in?

Mike and I both play in the Scottish Saxophone Ensemble.  Mike plays with Marram (Trangressive North) and Apollo Saxophone Orchestra.  I work with Salsa Celtica, McKenzie Sawers Duo, Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra and Paul Elwood/Susan Mayo Trio.

As artists, your most recent CDs?


Sue: My latest album just came out in February 2018, “After the Tryst,” the McKenzie Sawers Duo (Delphian Records). It’s Scottish and British contemporary classical music (

Where do you both like to perform?

We’ve both performed in Thailand and loved it. Also, Strasbourg is a great city and a big fan of the sax!

Are you working on a new CD?

I’ve got a free improv CD coming out later this year with the group Unst.  

Why do you think your school will help keep music relevant for young students?

I hope that through the teaching we do and the guest artists we bring in we continue to inspire young and old students to aim higher, practice better and embrace the creativity that we all possess. 

One of our strengths is teaching improvisation to people who are really scared of it, so I hope we continue to make it as open and accessible as possible.

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Sue McKenzie. Photos above are of Sue McKenzie and Mike Brogan (c) Sean Purser.
(c) Debbie Burke 2018

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