Our Artistic & Music Director Mark Armstrong looks back on what NYJO has achieved in 2018, and gives his thoughts on the importance of jazz education moving forward:
Being NYJO Artistic Director continues to be challenging and rewarding as we grow and embrace a wider variety of roles in performance and education around the country and abroad. The two undoubted performance highlights for the NYJO jazz orchestra in 2018 were our BBC Proms concert during the summer and the Three Nations Under One Groove Tour in the early Autumn. At the Proms we performed Stan Kenton’s West Side Story, an arrangement by Jonny Richards that was never designed to be played live in its entirety. The band performed this live with incredible passion and energy, and deserved every one of the wonderful media reviews that resulted. We coupled the Kenton with a performance of Rhapsody in Blue conducted by Guy Barker and a new NYJO commission, The Earth Keeps Spinning written by Laura Jurd. It was great to work with Laura and Guy in this concert and especially to highlight the work of a great young female composer as part of our EQ Project last year. This combination of celebrating the canon of great jazz music, performing cutting-edge material and showing-off the stylistic flexibility of our players makes NYJO an artistic force in the UK jazz scene. NYJO can entertain audiences in a traditional big band programme but also move into a wide and surprising variety of genres. For our players the ability to feel confident expressing themselves in many different styles, understanding the artistic and technical elements that underpin performance, will be vital for their future careers.
Our Three Nations Under One Groove project shows that, despite current political turbulence, the pan-European voice of young jazz, in all its dialects, is strong and deserves a wide audience. We revisited our friends in the German BuJazzO and the Dutch NJJO in 2018 in Germany and Holland (which you can read about here) and we look forward to welcoming them to the UK in April 2019 for the second leg of the tour.
Some years ago we decided that every NYJO performance should, where practical, be tied to an educational initiative, but our national education work has now taken on a life of its own and my colleague, Learning and Participation manager Claire Furlong, has developed an extraordinary network of connections around the UK. Jazz can be misunderstood but we want to show that the energy and expression inherent in the music is as appealing as any other style. Moreover, being empowered to create your own music and find your voice through improvising improves not just music-making but also communication and teamwork in a much broader sense. The kind of ‘slow learning’ needed for real musicianship is a great antidote to the hoop-jumping and league tables of some other disciplines. It is a great shame that music is undervalued in the current educational climate and we intend to do everything we can to champion its importance: I suspect I am preaching to the converted if you are reading this. Thanks for supporting the organisation!