From the Archive: Gill Burgoyne

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NYJO Alumna and former member of Ivy Benson’s barrier-busting all-girl jazz-band, Gill Burgoyne, talked to us back in 2015.

Gill Burgoyne was an inspirational alto-sax player in the UK for many decades. She joined Ivy Benson, famed all-girl bandleader, who offered financial independence to women musicians at a time when there were startlingly few platforms for them to be heard.

Ivy’s band performed during a time when pervasive misogynistic back biting and discrimination would’ve blocked the path for many female creatives. Ivy fought on to become the BBC’s resident band in 1943, top of the bill at the London Palladium for 6 months in 1944 and the first band to be invited to play at the VE Day celebrations in Berlin 1945.

Later that year on Christmas Day the band performed a live concert from Hamburg broadcast to the British nation directly after the King’s speech. A favourite of ENSA Ivy and her girls toured Europe and the Middle East as part of the war effort raising morale during a desperate time in history. In 1993, Ivy passed away aged 79 having led her band for 43 years.

“Not So Quiet, Please” taken from a radio broadcast in Germany from 1947.

Below you’ll find Gill’s comments on her time with Ivy, and NYJO, from a statement made back in in 2015:

My parents shared their love of Big Band music with my older brother and I from an early age, and I was hooked on recordings of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey. Presented with the opportunity to learn the clarinet aged 9, I applied myself to the classical charts. At the age of 11 years, an inspirational music teacher who loved Big Band music, persuaded my school to buy saxophones, and I was presented with my first Alto (‘48 second hand from Bill Lewingtons).

As fate would have it some 4 years later, the late great Ivy Benson was on the look-out for her next line up for the Tour of Germany and Switzerland. She called the school, then my parents (we all fell over with amazement!), and I was whisked to Chiswick for the most bizarre audition of my lifetime: one chorus of “Whispering”, with Ivy accompanying – her neurotic poodle howling – and The Big Match on in the background!  She said, “You’re in kid”, and that was that. Playing with Ivy’s band was truly the best apprenticeship, and I soon learned that being a female musician was no excuse for being anything other than one of the “boys” in the music business.

A successful seven year career on the touring showband circuit in Europe and Scandinavia (a couple of promises of marriage and wealth did nothing to deter me!), lead to the pursuit of jazz and in 1978/9 I returned to the UK. A chance introduction to NYJO came via Dave Bishop. I remember the first rehearsal well… chaos. As luck would have it, there was a chair to be shared in the flute section, and I was soon on the bus to Milford Haven, Scunthorpe, Bath and the Chiswick Flyover. In 1980, after 6 months, I went back to earn a few more Swiss Francs before returning to the UK and a completely new career in mental health nursing – a vocation that also required creativity and improvisation.

So, let’s go forward a few decades: married to an artist, a late comer to motherhood, and a Senior Manager, Nurse Specialist and Therapist in Suffolk these days. I have continued to love Big Band Jazz and I lead the Ipswich based HORN FACTORY on Alto and hold an Assistant MD post with the South Suffolk Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Two years ago, I resumed my affair with NYJO. My eldest son – a talented jazz drummer – was ready for the NYJO experience, and Bill [Ashton] kindly recognised me straight away! This led to my appointment to the Board of NYJO – truly an honour for an old jazz bird! My passions are: jazz education and supporting young people’s aspiration to play and perform to the highest standard; and to strengthen the links between positive mental health and creativity. I hope I can use my experiences as a jobbing musician with my expertise in understanding people and organisations to take the ambitions of NYJO forward.

I have no business interests to declare and hold no other offices. I have achieved a BSc and MSc in my specialist field of nursing, a Grade 6 clarinet, and I still play my first professional Alto sax: a Yamaha 61.

Various members of the Ivy Benson Big Band recently discussed their experienced on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Music Masters’. You can listen to the full programme from this weekends Music Masters broadcast here.

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