To saxophonist Tommy Smith, he was a grandmaster of the saxophone. To trumpeter Tom MacNiven, he was the famous guest who – much to the trumpeter’s surprise – agreed to appear on MacNiven’s first album. And to guitarist Nigel Clark, he was the initially irascible saxophone teacher who was unimpressed at having to merge the guitar students with the saxophone players’ class but who subsequently offered Clark a gig with his band.

Ask most jazz musicians in Scotland and the UK generally and they’ll have something to say about Bobby Wellins, the Glasgow-born saxophonist who is forever associated with pianist Stan Tracey’s 1965 album, Under Milk Wood, although that was by no means the first or last significant piece of music Wellins helped to create. Mostly it’s the sound he made on the tenor saxophone that stands out, a unique, beautiful sound, as Tommy Smith, for whom Wellins was an inspiration, describes it.

Tom MacNiven, who will mark the twentieth anniversary of recording his album Guess What? with Wellins in Glasgow Jazz Festival’s Bobby Wellins celebration concert, agrees with Smith’s assessment.

“Some saxophone players’ music is beautiful but their sound can be ugly,” he says. “Bobby’s sound was never ugly and he had an amazing way of moving smoothly from note to note. That might sound trivial but the flow he achieved was really special. It was like listening to someone singing on a musical instrument.”

MacNiven and Clark, who is opening the tribute concert, were of a similar age – early twenties – when they had their first experience of Wellins. For the former, the saxophonist was suggested by drummer, promoter and record producer Iain Copeland, as the special guest on the album Copeland was producing to launch MacNiven’s career.

“When Iain said he could get Bobby Wellins to play on the album, my first response was, Are you serious?” says MacNiven, who has gone on to establish himself with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and later featured with Wellins on SNJO’s recording of Wellins’ Culloden Moor Suite. “I’d always loved his playing and thought he’d be too big time to play with an unknown like me. But Bobby came in to do the album and although I was obviously a lot less experienced than he was, he never made me feel in any way inferior. In fact, we went on to do a few more gigs together, as well as the Culloden Moor concerts and recording, and he was always a pleasure to work with.”

If Clark’s initial impression was a less than happy one, his overall experience of Wellins was career-shaping. Having served his time as a rock guitarist around Glasgow, Clark moved to Brighton at the age of twenty-three and formed a band that played Charlie Parker bebop tunes. The band’s first gig – and Clark’s first-ever jazz gig – was at a sold-out Brighton Jazz Club, playing support to the late Mark Murphy, the ultra-hip singer and subject of a recent biography.

One of the organisers, hearing Clark, suggested that should go along the coast the next day to Bognor Regis, where Bobby Wellins’ annual jazz tuition weekend was taking place. The great Irish guitarist Louis Stewart was scheduled to be the guitar tutor but when Clark arrived, he was told that Stewart hadn’t shown up. As the oldest of the three guitar students, Clark was put in charge of the guitar class until the first coffee break, when Wellins decided to bring the guitarists into his saxophone class.

“Bobby was very grumpy with me in class for the entire first day, to such an extent that I was determined not to resume the second day,” says Clark. “But Trevor Kaye, a sax player I knew in Brighton, was very persuasive and I went back. Bobby was in a very different frame of mind next day and was more than encouraging, finishing off the afternoon by asking me to come and play with his band on their regular Sunday gig in Bognor, a prospect I found quite terrifying at the time.”

Clark remembers being bowled over by Wellins’ playing at the tutors’ concert that closed the weekend and although quite in awe of this musician who had achieved legendary status, as well as having lost a decade or so to what’s euphemistically described as the jazz life, he accepted Wellins’ offer to play with his band.

“That was probably my first real big confidence boost,” he says. “And the ensuing, frenzied practice regime that I adopted from that time was certainly pivotal to my setting a course to becoming a jazz musician. I remember Bobby asking how I had learned to play jazz as I was able to put together very nice little solos, as he put it, and he lamented the fact that young up and coming players like myself would have no access to the education he’d had, which was all- night jam sessions at places like Ronnie Scott's.”

The London jazz scene that nurtured Wellins as a musician after he’d moved from Glasgow in the mid-1950s also made temptations available that almost led to his destruction. Although he could tell entertaining stories about his exploits during what he described as his affair with heroin, if it hadn’t been for his wife, Isobel, getting him out of London, Wellins might not have seen his fortieth birthday, let alone his eightieth, which he celebrated a few months before he died in 2016.

Fortunately, after a ten-year absence, he was able to resume his career in 1978 and the albums he released back then, including Dreams Are Free and the Primrose Path, which he recorded with former Charles Mingus trombonist Jimmy Knepper, stand up as representing a completely individual stylist whose playing could convey every human emotion, often in the same saxophone solo.

For Tommy Smith, who befriended Wellins after looking up to him as the first great Scottish tenor saxophonist, Wellins was “a composer of profound integrity as well as a very serious musician” and it was with no little pleasure that, as the director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, he was able to bring Wellins’ Culloden Moor Suite to the stage and record it for posterity.

“Bobby was a beautiful guy, one of the greatest, and I miss him,” says Smith, who carries Wellins’ influence into his own concerts.

Tom MacNiven will find it impossible not to think of Wellins as he recreates Guess What? specially for the Glasgow Jazz Festival concert.

“We’re going to play it pretty much in its entirety,” he says. “Bobby didn’t play on the whole album as some tracks were designed to showcase me in a quartet, but we’ll probably adapt the quartet tunes for the quintet. I’m really excited to be playing these tunes and having Konrad [Wiszniewski] and Brian [Kellock], who also played with Bobby, either on the Culloden Moor Suite or on other gigs, in the band with Calum Gourlay and Doug Hough will make it all the more special.”

Tom MacNiven Quintet & Nigel Clark Celebrate Bobby Wellins at Drygate, Glasgow on Saturday, June 23. Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock play Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock on Friday June 15 and the Merchants House of Glasgow on Sunday, June 17.