Jazzwise reviews NYJO's 50th Anniversary Concert at Ronnie Scott's

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The March 2015 edition of Jazzwise magazine is just out and includes a great review of NYJO's annual residency there last month.

The March 2015 edition of Jazzwise magazine is just out and includes a great review of NYJO’s annual residency there last month.

Jazzwise reviews NYJO's 50th Anniversary Concert at Ronnie Scott'sNYJO 50th Anniversary

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra was founded by Bill Ashton OBE in 1965 to give young musicians under 26 what was then the rare opportunity of an apprenticeship before venturing out in the the big bad world.

Those who profited have included the likes of Guy Barker MBE and Dennis Rollins, through to more recently Phil Meadows.

Amy Winehouse was also an alumnus, even though she soon gave up following some frustration about only singing to an audience of old geezers. But times have changed and NYJO has rejuventated itself for a new century with new challenges.

Following director Ashton’s retirement five years ago, it’s Mark Armstrong who takes NYJO into an even tougher climate for young jazzers, where competition is rife and commerical work is rare. The change of policy was evident in this three-night residency at Ronnie’s celebrating NYJO’s 50th anniversary.

As well as heralding the big band tradtion and old favourites, the pad also included music written by the kind of role models to which today’s members can aspire. Commissioned pieces by a few forward thinking younger generation jazzers on the scene in Laura Jurd, Kit Downes and Reuben Fowler were performed on the second night. The 23-strong band, attired in the famous red tie and black shirts, looked like they were just waking up on an early morning rehearsal playing ‘St. Louis Blues’ and ex-member Tom Walsh’s ‘Sea Master’.

But it wasn’t long before they were showing what they were made of, Armstrong announcing Kit Downes’ contribution to the night ‘Wintermute’ as “the difficult number in the progamme” which “goes through every single key signature possible in the history of music! It’s so modern I conduct it from my iPad” he quipped. But it grooved in a contemporary New York-ish kind of way and young heads started to nod.

Redhead Jessica Radcliffe came on and was radiant, swingin’ and Julie London-like singing ‘No Moon At All’, a chart out of NYJO’s formidable library, with a John Dankworth-ish arranagement by Dave Foster and fiery, focussed soloing by impressive tenor saxophonist Tom Ridout. Laura Jurd’s Blue-Eyed Hawk song ’No Man is an Island’ was a surprising addition but the band showed its muscle on the song’s jazz punk groove.

Scecond half highlights included an arrangement of the Yellowjacket’s ‘Rush Hour’, executed with a funky fizz by the band, and Reuben Fowler’s excellent Gil Evans-inspired ‘Dundry’ featured a peach of a solo from alto saxophonist Sam Glaser.

Selwyn Harris


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