FEATURE: NYJO's September 2016 tour with the Youth Jazz Orchestras of Germany and Holland

The three orchestras in Dortmund
NYJO are in blue, BuJazzO in black and NJJO in orange.

The UK's National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) has just been involved in a ground-breaking collaboration with its German and Dutch counterparts - BuJazzO and NJJO. The three bands finished off a four date-tour of Europe on Sunday September 25th with a storming performance at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis. For this feature article, Jonathan Carvell of NYJO asked the  UK orchestra's Artistic Director Mark Armstrong and its Executive Chair Nigel Tully to tell the story of the collaboration and to give their personal accounts of the tour and of its significance: 

Three big bands, three different countries, three solid days of intensive rehearsal, four different gig venues and over 70 of the most promising young European jazz musicians about to burst onto the scene. These were the ingredients for NYJO’s collaboration with the German Bundesjazzorchester and the Dutch Nationaal Jeugd Jazz Orkest, but where did such a bold idea come from and how did it all work?

“The whole concept for ‘Three Nations Under One Groove’ is to demonstrate that jazz is a universal language spoken by young musicians across Europe, with the variety of colours and ‘jazz dialects’ used by all three nations coming together to add nuance and conversation to the repertoire we play,” explains Armstrong.

Taking its name from the famous Parliament-Funkadelic album One Nation Under a Groove, and channelling the uniting forces of P-Funk, NYJO built a collaboration with BuJazzO and the NJJO which placed musical unity and cultural exchange at the heart of things. As Armstrong puts it, “We wanted particularly to show that, for NYJO, we are not a ‘Brexit Big Band’ but seek to maintain the connections and conversations with our fellow artists in Germany and Holland. We rehearsed together as a large group in Heek (in Germany near the Netherlands) then presented concerts at Heek, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and finally the Bimhuis in Amsterdam.”

It’s becoming clear that this week was something special for all involved: total immersion in the art-form, trialling new tunes and jamming as small groups in the evenings, but how to unite three different bands and make something musically coherent with so many people involved? “One key element was that although all three groups brought their own repertoire and players, they would perform as mixed groups rather than separately as NYJO, BuJazzO and NJJO,” explains Tully. “Each night the repertoire effectively had a different band for each number, demonstrating how seamlessly jazz musicians can interact in the moment with each other and create new energies and ideas in the music as a result.”

Looking at the set lists from the gigs, there are tunes from NYJO’s typically eclectic pad, original compositions by the NJJO director Martin Fondse, the epic Cuban Fire! by Johnny Richards for Stan Kenton, and a ‘jazz concerto grosso’ for big band and small solo group - specially written for the tour by Armstrong, and one of the stand out pieces of the blowout at the Bimhuis. It is perhaps this fluorescence of styles and a strong desire to celebrate difference that has led to the formation of such deep bonds between the German, Dutch and UK players. “It was fantastic to see musicians who had never met before getting on so well and creating a real spirit of togetherness and common endeavour as we performed taxing and complex but exciting and moving music,” comments Armstrong. Tully agrees, “I have rarely seen such a happy and positive vibe from a stage as I saw throughout Sunday night at the Bimhuis. All 70 young musicians radiated a feeling of success, achievement and real togetherness - they enjoyed each other’s playing, they played out of their skins, and they knew that they were part of an historic performance. I can’t wait to host them here in March next year; British jazz audiences deserve to experience this great show.”

The three organisations will be combining once again in 2017 to bring a big band extravaganza to UK audiences.

After the Brexit-vote, and in a world where we’re so used to having our differences divide us, we at NYJO and our German and Dutch friends have made a virtue of not being the same and are busy celebrating what we can learn from each other; uniting through diversity.

Three Nations Under One Groove in Dortmund
NYJO website 
BuJazzO Website 
NJJO website

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