JJ 06/72: The NYJO at the Shaw Theatre

Fifty years ago Pete Gamble saw what a good band NYJO - conceived as a training orchestra - had become in its own right. First published in Jazz Journal June 1972

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Bill Ashton (third from left) a few years later with a bunch of jazz journalists and Ricky Ford. Photo by Bernard Long/JJ Archive

Over the last few years many fine musicians have emerged from the ranks of the National Jazz Youth Orchestra; Bob Sydor, Paul Nieman, Geoff Castle and Stan Sulzmann spring to mind. The concert the band gave recently at the Shaw Theatre as part of the Camden Festival only served up further proof of what a good breeding ground for talent it is.

Originally formed by Bill Ashton as a unit to enable young musicians to learn the techniques of the music, it has become an excellent big band in its own right, without anyone having to make conces­sions for the ages of its members, who are incidently all under twenty-one.

A youthful exuberence was shown by all, which more than compensated for any uncomfortable moments there may have been with regard to handling one or two of the complex charts, but to be honest these were very few and far between. The repertoire was highly varied, using pieces written for the band by such established names as John Dankworth, Ken Gibson, Kenny Wheeler and Alan Downey.

The first set’s highlights were a brooding solo by Dick Pearce on a Downey composition Gerryonimo IVth where he showed just why Graham Collier has chosen him for his latest group, and the scoring, reminiscent of early fifties Gil Evans, on Ballad For Joe, also by Downey.

However, it was the second set which proved to be a real bitch, for the band really blew up a storm and a genuine excitement was whipped up. A history of jazz was presented, where we were taken from the twenties through to the fifties, the band simulating the styles from each decade. This diversion delighted the audience of course, showing that com­munication is yet another of the band’s assets.

Chris Biscoe on alto displayed his fiery attack on the The Threshing Machine and Jean-Alain Foussell, an ex-member of the orchestra, sat in on the last three numbers where he presented his own personal brand of funky piano. I’d also like to mention the sterling work of the two drummers sported by the band.

If you like big bands, this is the one for you; catch them at their next gig – you’ll get a pleasant surprise.

Personnel: Nigel Bodice. Dick Pearce, Martin Bune, Larry Tyrie, Ian Pitch, Guy Barker (Trumpets). Ted Rockley, Chris Biscoe, Stan Willis, Brian Ling, Michael White, Anna Zee and one unnamed musician (Reeds). Frank Mizen, Chris Reid, Dennis Mycroft, Ken Price (Trombones). John Elliott, Simon Tucker (Tubas). Nigel Munisamy, Steve Reddy (French Horns). Jonathan Wade (Piano). Jean-Alain Roussell (Piano). John Maskell (Guitar). Paul Westwood (Bass Guitar). Martyn David (Drums/Percus­sion). Les Cirkel (Drums/Percussion). Martin Hearne (Percussion). Bill Ashton (Conductor).