The National Youth Jazz Orchestra is one of Britain’s longest-running ensembles for young people under 25 playing big-band jazz. Founded by Bill Ashton OBE in 1965, the orchestra offered aspiring young musicians the opportunity to rehearse, write and gain experience in live performance at a time when UK jazz education was in its infancy. Since then the orchestra and the junior bands of the NYJO Academy, have met to rehearse almost every Saturday morning to deliver a creatively challenging experience within an informal environment.
NYJO features 23 musicians and vocalists from around the country, most of whom go on to become professional musicians. Alumni include Guy Barker, Mark Nightingale, Gerard Presencer, Pete Long, Dennis and Winston Rollins and Amy Winehouse. Members are encouraged to write their own arrangements and compositions, thereby creating a diverse repertoire to draw from in addition to classic big-band standards. Trumpeter Mark Armstrong was appointed Music & Artistic Director in 2012.
Along with UK venues ranging from theatres and clubs to the Barbican Hall in London, Symphony Hall in Birmingham and Usher Hall in Edinburgh, NYJO has visited Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand and has often appeared on TV and radio – including a prime-time televised and broadcast performance of its BBC Proms Concert in 2012.
Other highlights have included playing at the Vortex Jazz Club in London, a regular three-night New Year residency at Ronnie Scott’s, gigs at the Wigan and Scarborough Jazz Festivals and an exchange visit with BuJazzO, the Youth Jazz Orchestra of Germany, in late 2014/early 2015.
Schools concerts and workshops are also an important element in NYJO’s schedule, as part its aim to raise the profile of jazz among young people.
NYJO has recorded well over 40 albums – its current CD, The Change, was released to critical acclaim in September 2012.
The National Youth Jazz Orchestra is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2015 with a series of high profile concerts around the country and the recording and release of another eagerly-anticipated album.