Monday, 19 November 2018

Celebrating 50 years of youth jazz

THE National Youth Jazz Orchestra’s annual appearance at the Kenton Theatre has become a highlight of

THE National Youth Jazz Orchestra’s annual appearance at the Kenton Theatre has become a highlight of the autumn season, writes Basil Evans.

NYJO has played the New Street venue on five previous occasions to full houses — a feat likely to be repeated on Friday, November 13, when the orchestra celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The theatre will be packed again by an ever growing number of fans — and especially those who really enjoy the attractions of a 22-piece big band in full flow.

It all started back in 1965. Bill Ashton MBE — now life president of NYJO — had already co-founded the Oxford University Big Band in 1960 while reading modern languages at St Peter’s Hall (as it was then known).

Later, while teaching in 1965, he co-founded the London Schools Jazz Orchestra, which rapidly morphed into the NYJO.

Bill sought to provide young people under 25 with a forum for the rehearsal and performance of big band jazz music.

The organisation developed and expanded nationally with regular rehearsals and, progressively, concert appearances.

NYJO is unique. It is a registered charity relying on support from sponsors including the Arts Council, BP and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

It is a training ground providing progressive education in jazz at all levels. The orchestra features 22 musicians and vocalists from around the country, most of whom go on to be professional musicians.

Alumni include Guy Barker, Courtney Pine, Pete Long and Gerard Presencer.

The NYJO Academy was formed in 2013. It consists of all NYJO’s educational workshops as a linked but separate activity to the rehearsals for the main performance band.

The academy has four sections defined by age and ability levels, each one under an individual music director. Admission to the NYJO’s performance band is by invitation and audition.

In charge of all this is Mark Armstrong, the NYJO’s artistic and music director.

A former alumnus who is also Jazz Professor at the Royal College of Music, Mark will be conducting the orchestra at the Kenton concert.

So what is in store for the expectant audience? To celebrate the last 50 years, NYJO will be playing a selection of its own compositions and arrangements complemented by some of the great jazz standards and with a vocalist.

On the day of the concert, there is a special opportunity for school and college students to come to an open rehearsal in the afternoon — though all are equally welcome.

Tickets for the open rehearsal, which starts at 3.30pm, are priced £5. For the evening concert, they are £23 (or £21 concessions).

To book, call (01491) 575698 or visit

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