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Sounding out for NYJO x 3

My piece about the classical National Youth Orchestra and NYJO (above) had one anonymous response which has provoked a couple of people to write:

Here’s the “anonymous” post.

“You have to contrast the volume of what it supplies with the quality.It still performs the music based on an era when it was started.Contrast this with, say, the range of music played by Tommy Smith’s orchestra in Scotland. Bill Ashton is excessively dismissive of much of the newer generation around and some of the previous alumni, such as the brothers Crook from Birmingham, feel that their time in NYJO was wasted. (And both these brothers have proved themselves internationally over subsequent years.) There are, fortunately, otheroptions around nowadays. NYJO is a bit anachronistic in its approach.”

(Anonymous did ring me after posting, and was kind to point out that the Crook brothers are two gentlemen who for professional purposes use their mother’s maiden name: Arguelles. )

The first reaction came from a former NYJO singer/saxophonist:

“In my opinion, the good points about NYJO far outweigh the bad. Yes, it can sound like 22 individuals all playing at the same time. And the word ‘ballad’ doesn’t enter it’s vocabulary. But, first and foremost NYJO is a fantastic platform for young musicians from all over the country. It’s an institution that brings together like-minded people of a certain age and a certain standard. The charts (whether you love or hate them) are some of the hardest you’ll ever have to play – sometimes sight-reading on a gig – and therefore will stand you in good stead for anything anyone will throw at you in years to come.

This probably explains why most of the UK session scene is made up of ex-members.It also gives you the opportunity to play some of the best venues and festivals both at home and abroad, sometimes with special guests like Dick Morrisey, John Dankworth, Ronnie Ross, Nancy Wilson, Jimmy Witherspoon and many others.
It gives talented young musicians the exposure to go on to other things.People like Mark Nightingale, Martin Shaw, Gerard Presencer, Guy Barker, Dennis Rollins, Phil Robson, Julian Siegel, Andy Panayi, Nigel Hitchcock, Gwilym Simcock – the list could go on – would have all been wonderful musicians without NYJO, but being members helped to bring them to people’s attention – including future employers! There is a point to being in NYJO and if you get it then you’ll thrive. (and if you want to stick to just playing jazz then it also introduces you to traveling to all corners of the country for very little money!!!)

A lot of great bands and collaborations have come to fruition through meeting at NYJO – Robson & Siegels Partisans an obvious example. Most people will admit that once they move on from NYJO their playing moves on too – and so it should..

It’s very easy to criticize, but we should never forget that NYJO is a YOUTH band. Its sometimes ragged and under-rehearsed sound comes from the energy of youth. And that can be exhilarating for audiences. NYJO isn’t for every listener or for every player, but it’s a big band that’s lasted for over 40 years without playing a note of Glen Miller . And that is an achievement in itself .”


A musician and educator emailed me this: “Typical cold and impersonal response from some anorak geezer wanting for the good ole days. Can’t understand most of it anyway. Ignore it.”

And a NYJO board member wrote: “It’s true that Bill is a bit set in his ways, but he keeps on doing what he has always done, and does that very well. We are fantastically lucky to have his dedication and commitment freely available to so many young jazz musicians in this country, as literally hundreds of them would attest.


“But – as with everyone with a strong personal vision – you can criticise thevision and offer alternative ones. It’s like criticising Picasso for doing cubism, and saying that abstract impressionism is better because it’s more modern.

“Among the virtues that Bill tries to instil in young musicians are discipline, time-keeping ( ie arriving on time for the gig), dressing properly ( ie thinking about what you wear, not just turning up on stage in what you happened to put your hand on when you got up), working in a section , and reading fly-shit well. Not every jazz great would sign up for each and every one all these virtues, but hundreds of working musicians would thank Bill for having instilled such things in them, and for dedicating his life to young musicians and to the music that he loves.”

Categories: Uncategorized

1 reply »

  1. Hi there,

    I would just like to give my point of view regarding NYJO and NYO. I believe that NYO deserves funding above NYJO for a number of reasons. Firstly, we need to remember that NYJO is effectively a professional outfit, with members receiving around £60 for a normal gig and £90 for a gig and masterclass. The idea of NYO members being paid for their shows is ridiculous. This brings up what I think is the most important difference between the groups – I take particular issue with the word ‘Youth’ being in NYJO’s title. While the NYO has members as young as 12 or 13 and a cut off point of 18, NYJO’s members are largely made up of music college students and even graduates, many players around the age of 25 (some singers even going past that!) I think that one wouldn’t have too much trouble finding several big bands made up of age 25 and under members. I wish that there was a National Youth Jazz Orchestra that offered an outlet for young players of secondary school age, as I know from experience that there are a hell of a lot of great ones out there! – but how can these young players hope to get in the band when competing with 25 year olds? The point is that music college students already have numerous opportunities at college and in the CUKAS big band and so they are not the ones who NYJO should be serving. I should emphasise that I love listening to NYJO and think it is a valuble institution, I just feel that its reputation for encouraging young talent is slightly dubious. I leave this comment anonymous as I know a few people who could get upset if they knew I thought this! – however if you disagree with me you should argue with what I am saying and not the fact that I left the comment anonymous.

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