NYJO’s Tour to Germany, 8-14 September 2014
Last week NYJO visited Germany for a special collaboration with our German equivalent BuJazzO. Here NYJO Artistic & Music Director Mark Armstrong shares his thoughts on the tour. The “home leg” includes concerts in Leeds and London on 17 & 19 November. Details below.
The midnight coach call was late but worked very easily and we were soon on the road in the capable hands of our driver Beresford. The band remained in good spirits throughout the journey and were obviously excited about the tour. We arrived in Heek very early (about 11am) and had some time to rest and relax before BuJazzO arrived.
Heek music school (in Nienborg, a small very quiet suburb) was a really excellent venue for the course: high quality and well provisioned rehearsal and concert rooms and practice rooms that accommodated us very easily. The accommodation was in easy walking distance from the school, in dormitory houses which had wifi and other facilities like table football in the basements. There was a bar below another large music school building that opened each night and stayed open late with a piano and little PA for jam sessions.
After dinner we had a “get to know you” session where Jiggs Wigham, BuJazzO’s MD, addressed everyone and gave a really well-judged speech which encouraged a strong sense of team spirit and positivity amongst all the musicians and reminded everyone that we were here for the music. Each band then played one number to the other, having set up in the concert format with NYJO horns stage left, BujazzO on the right and the rhythm sections in the middle. We went first and played “MBadgers” which was greeted with a really nice cheer from BuJazzO for solos and the whole band. We did the same for them as they played “Woodrow”. We then made a start on my double-band version of “I Got Rhythm”. After that we adjourned to the bar and there was a jam session with players from both bands joining in and two very accommodating ladies serving beer and schnapps until the early hours. There was right from the start a really great sense of mixing and friendship between both bands which continued throughout the week.
We rehearsed NYJO material individually from 9am-12pm then the joint material in the afternoon in the second room 3pm-6pm. In the break there was time for individual practise which many players took up. Despite the late night everyone was on time for the rehearsals!
I had selected a variety of material from our pad, with some input from the band, that reflected the different styles and historical periods of big band music and also showed the breadth of what we play, including a new piece by Owen Dawson. We had the time to rehearse all of this thoroughly over the course of this and the next morning.
The afternoon was spent rehearsing the double-band numbers: my arrangements of “I Got Rhythm” and “St Louis Blues”, and the Basie/Ellington “Jumping at the Woodside” and “Battle Royale”. The sound of both bands playing together was really impressive and the level of positive energy in the room was very inspiring. We also heard the BuJazzO jazz choir (a five- part ensemble of 2 men and 3 women) singing a really beautiful arrangement of “Body and Soul” accompanied by the BuJazzO band.
After dinner there was some discussion about having more rehearsal but it was felt by all that six hours of intensive playing after the journey was as much as we could ask of them. There was another bar session and jam in the evening, led mainly by Rob Luft (NYJO guitar) and Joe Downard (NYJO bass), with both pianists and a variety of horn players from both bands taking part.
The day followed the same format as before in the morning and afternoon rehearsals. I actually found the focus and playing of our musicians very moving in the morning session – it really was one some of the best playing I think I have ever heard from the band.
There was a third big band session in the early evening, where I put together a “mixed band” set that performed on Saturday afternoon for a short set at the Jazztrain festival in Hamburg with a genuine mixture of British and German players. It also allowed us to play a piece that the German students wanted to do themselves as well as being a fun and relaxed session with a different atmosphere to the daytime. There followed another extensive bar session with more jamming. Having directed about seven hours of rehearsal I had some sympathy for our trumpets – I actually had a blister on my thumb from clicking while conducting the band by this stage – and their lead trumpet player also wanted to save himself for the first concert.
A later start and just a morning run-through and rehearsal of the programme in Heek. Everyone was grateful for the free time in the afternoon and a chance to rest before the concert. The European model of generous rehearsal time is a marked contrast to the usual organised chaos for a one-day soundcheck and concert that widely characterises British orchestral working practice!
The concert was quite well attended by mainly local people and from an artistic standpoint went really well. Both bands played with accuracy and verve, and the double band pieces were incredibly powerful in their aural impact.
We left at 10.30am to travel to Cologne. We had some time to sightsee before the soundcheck at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz. The acoustic in the hall was difficult but the overall performance quality and aural impression was good. The hall favoured texture over rhythm and some really beautiful textures came through in our more impressionistic number “Dundry”.
The audience, which had lots of students and young people, was really enthusiastic and cheered soloists and pieces loudly! The journey back was longer than anticipated but there was a buffet and an open bar waiting for us at 1.30am…
We checked out and drove to Hamburg which took about four hours. The afternoon concert was at tube station called Schlump as part of a jazz festival (“Jazztrain”) and was very full. The mixed band played a set of some NYJO, some BuJazzo and one other tune and was enthusiastically received. Following this we went straight to a soundcheck at the Miralles Saal, Staatliche Jugendmusikschule. This was the best venue so far acoustically and both bands played fantastically! BuJazzO this time included two Bert Kämpfert numbers as his daughter was in attendance. After the concert most of the players went out into the city with a nice mixture of new friends in evidence amongst both bands.
Journey home – rather long but reasonably comfortable. We missed the ferry due to delays at passport control but caught the next sailing. There was a strong feeling on the ferry of togetherness amongst the players and all were very keen to do more touring after this first venture.
Overall, this was a great experience both for both bands and me as well! BuJazzO hold on to some very genuine artistic goals whilst being adventurous in their approach and this chimed extremely well with the NYJO players. I’m looking forward hugely to the “home leg” concerts in Leeds and London in November and hope you might be able to see us in action together then!
Mark Armstrong, NYJO Artistic & Music Director
17 November, 7.30pm Leeds College of Music
19 November, 7.45pm EFG London Jazz Festival