We talk to Mark Armstrong, director of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE SEEN SO MANY TALENTED MUSICIANS DEVELOP UNDER THE NYJO OVER THE YEARS?
It’s a great privilege to be part of an institution that has promoted so many notable jazz and commercial musicians and I am amazed at how the technical and artistic standard seems to rise in the young players from year to year.
YOU’VE A PRETTY IMPRESSIVE BACKGROUND IN MUSIC, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT SO FAR?
Although I am very proud of what we have achieved in NYJO (thinking especially of the two studio albums and the 2012 BBC Proms concert) my personal highlight so far was working with Stan Tracey and recording his fi nal album The Flying Pig, backed up by the seven years I spent playing with his son Clark in his quintet.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST START PLAYING AND WHAT WAS IT THAT INSPIRED YOU TO START?
I actually started on the piano and then the tenor horn (less glamorous than the trumpet) before my dad got me a hired Czech trumpet when I was around 10. I suppose I have always tried to understand and know music that catches my imagination and excites me.
HOW DO YOUNG MUSICIANS COME TO GET INVOLVED IN NYJO AND AT WHAT KIND OF AGE?
NYJO, the main band, has a long-standing reputation for excellence amongst young jazz players and is the natural aspirational pinnacle for those with an interest in large ensemble jazz. We audition country-wide every year for players for the main band. Additionally on a Saturday we run the ‘NYJO Academy’ in London which provides younger players with an opportunity to play in and learn about big bands, jazz and improvisation. You can get more details from our website if you are interested in becoming part of this (www.nyjo.org.uk).
NYJO HAS MEMBERS FROM ALL AROUND THE COUNTRY. DOES THIS PROVE A CHALLENGE FOR REHEARSALS?
It can do, but fortunately Help Musicians provide us with a fund for travel which makes it easier for players based outside London. Even so, we sometimes cannot get all the players together at the same time and yet we have found that somehow the music gets rehearsed and ready for the concert, in a jazz version of ‘morphic resonance’!
2015 WAS THE YEAR THAT NYJO CELEBRATED ITS 50 YEAR ANNIVERSARY. HOW IS THIS BEING CELEBRATED?
By the release of our new album NYJO Fifty, and in the programme of our ongoing concert series which celebrates the legacy of the band as well as looking forward. We also held a party for the many band alumni back in September 2015, which was great fun.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES WITH NYJO?
I mentioned the 2012 BBC Proms already, which was a very memorable experience. Additionally, I remember with great fondness how committed the players were for our joint tour in Germany with our German equivalents, the BuJazzO.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A KEY PART OF MANY DEVELOPING MUSICIANS’ CAREERS?
It feels like a responsibility, but enjoyably so. If we can make people feel ready for the music business, in its widest sense, through our activities then we have achieved an important part of our mission.
WHAT WORK IS NYJO DOING TO RAISE THE AWARENESS OF JAZZ AMONGST YOUNG PEOPLE?
We try on every occasion that we perform to include some kind of educational activity, ranging from children’s concerts to full-band workshops with 100s of young people at once. This year we’re working with students from Suffolk primary schools. We hope not only to inspire young musicians in their playing but also to build an audience for the music and hopefully recruit a few wealthy patrons too!
DOES NYJO COME TO SUFFOLK OFTEN?
I believe we have played approximately every other year in Bury St Edmunds, so it’s great to be back in 2016.
DO YOU HAVE ANY MEMBERS FROM THE REGION?
Our Suffolk trombone player Owen Dawson has just moved on from the band! However, since Suffolk has a vibrant musical education scene we are sure to be seeing more local musicians within our ranks before long.