Mark Armstrong Reports from the Brubeck Institute Summer Jazz Colony

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NYJO has been helping the Brubeck Institute in California recruit UK musicians for their Summer Jazz Colony for the past four years. This year we also sent our Artistic Director Mark Armstrong as a Faculty member.

Mark sent back this report:

I’m just back from an amazing trip to California and San Francisco. NYJO has been sending musicians to participate in the Brubeck Summer Colony for the four years now and this year I was lucky enough to be invited as a Faculty member, teaching and playing with the Colonists. This year’s UK Colonists were Seth Tackaberry (bass), Alasdair Pennington (drums) and Rob Palmer-Fenny (Bass), all recruited by NYJO on behalf of the Brubeck Institute. Here they are eating our first ‘In and Out’ burger (a California Icon) with Greg, who picked us up from San Francisco Airport:

Mark Armstrong Reports from the Brubeck Institute Summer Jazz Colony

Brubeck Colonists Seth, Alasdair and Rob get stuck into the local cuisine.

The course was at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. The campus is a beautiful but relatively small setting and Dave Brubeck was a student at the Conservatory that is part of the university.

Despite the jet-lag we had a wonderful time working with some real jazz legends, giving the kind of direct connection to the legacy of the music that can be hard to replicate in the UK. The students worked in four small jazz combos, playing a variety of repertoire ranging from jazz standards, music written by them or the tutors, and Brubeck tunes as well. It was great to hear how each group grew in confidence, communication skills and identity as the week progressed. Each day there were a variety of clinics, rehearsals and masterclasses and most evenings there were jam sessions at the local jazz club, the Take 5 Club in Stockton’s ‘Magic Mile’.

 There was a final concert in the Faye Spanos Concert Hall at UOP with all four groups playing along with a tutor guesting on once number. It was a great way to round off a memorable and very inspiring week of music-making. I certainly learned a great deal from my colleagues and I know it was an experience of long-standing value for the Colonists.

Mark Armstrong Reports from the Brubeck Institute Summer Jazz Colony

Top left: Seth and Alasdair playing with tutors Ricki Malet (trumpet, from Australia), Sean Britt (guitar) and Rick Simerly (trombone) Bottom Left: Rob and other Brubeck students at the jam Top Right: Alasdair in action with “Pacific” Bottom right: Rob performing with “Storyville”


I felt very privileged to be part of such a great team of American jazz musicians, plus the Australian trumpet player Ricki Malet who took part with two students from the West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra. There was a strong connection with the history and legacy of the music and the way jazz is assimilated into mainstream culture and the ethos of positive collaboration between a variety of educational bodies were very inspirational lessons for the UK jazz scene.

Having seen the students safely off at the airport I travelled to San Francisco for a spot of sight-seeing but also to meet Simon Rowe, who has moved from directing the Brubeck Colony to running a brand-new jazz course at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. We are hoping to create a relationship with SFCM to enable some kind of exchange between NYJO players and SFCM students – watch this space!

Mark Armstrong Reports from the Brubeck Institute Summer Jazz Colony

Left: about as close as Mark will ever get to Dave Brubeck! Top right: Mark making friends with drummer Louis Nash and saxophonist Steve Wilson. Centre right: Limos may look fancy on the outside, but they’re a bit cosy inside! Bottom right: Mark posing with pianist Helen Sung and trumpeter Ricki Malet.

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