REPORT: Celebrating 50 years of Jazz Education – Leeds College of Music Alumni Big Band, Nikki Iles

Leeds College of Music Alumni Big band
Photo credit: Miz DeShannon/Leeds College of Music

50 years of Jazz Education – Leeds College of Music Alumni Big band
(Leeds Venue, 11th October 2015. Report by Steve Crocker)

Anniversaries are a good time to look back, to ask people to think what has been important and consider what the future might bring and Leeds College of Music’s 50th anniversary celebration was just that. This was not only an anniversary for the College, but also for jazz education itself – Leeds was the first full time college jazz course in Europe, established in 1965.

Jazz education is now so widespread and commonplace throughout the music curriculum that it is difficult to understand just what a big change that was at the time. It was great therefore that one of the people behind the original course at Leeds, 87-year old (and still going strong) jazz bass legend Peter Ind had travelled up from London with his wife Sue .

Peter Ind and LCoM Principal Gerry Godley 

“I’d been studying with Lennie Tristano in New York” said Peter, “and when I got back to England I met up with Yorkshire jazz musician Bernie Cash. He was a tireless enthusiast and supporter for jazz – especially in Yorkshire. Bernie convinced the original college principal, Joseph Stones to include a programme of jazz at the School of Music he was setting up in the city and Bernie approached me to help design a curriculum using my experience of Lennie Tristano’s teaching. What we did is now standard but in those days it was revolutionary” Fifty years on and the fruits of all that work were celebrated by the Leeds College of Music Alumni Big Band, a gathering of alumni from a number of years, directed by LCoM alumnus, and now visiting professor, pianist Nikki Iles

“It has been a real honour to for me to come back to Leeds to direct the Legacy Big Band. Leeds College of Music has always been family to me. It changed my life coming here. It was great fun and there were so many different new influences – it is where I discovered Thad Jones, Al Jarreau, Kenny Wheeler, even Alban Berg. The tutors were superb – pianists Bryan Layton Joe Palin and Freddie Boaden, and also drummer Tony Faulkner, a big influence on me as an arranger,” said Nikki.

The Legacy Big Band in Rehearsal
Photo credit Karen Gourlay

“I’ve been able to pick people from four generations of amazing musicians from the 1970s through to today- so the band has Rick Taylor on trombone – who was at the college in the 1970s –  right through to young musicians currently studying at the College-trombonist Dan Barley and percussionist Matt Simm. It is lovely too that Caroline Boaden, Freddie’s daughter is the our drummer tonight – just very fitting”

The evening’s programme had music from Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sultzmann, Mike Walker, Bill Evans, Thad Jones, Andy Schofield and Nikki herself. The two Kenny Wheeler pieces were from his seminal album Music for Large and Small Ensembles, Know where you are and Consolation. The latter had special poignancy with the recent death of saxman Ray Warleigh, who played on the original album. His solo part was handled beautifully in the Alumni Big Band by Andy Schofield. Bill Evans was an obvious influence for Nikki – Show Type Tune was prefaced by a story about her playing the piece for the first time at the Puzzle Hall Hotel – the famous (and tiny) Pennine jazz retreat. There were beautiful solos from Nikki, from Tori Freestone on sax, and Robbie Robson on trumpet.

Her own composing skills were featured in her tunes Highland and Hush. Inglebeat was Andy Schofield’s upbeat tribute to the tutors past and present (and to pianist Stan Barker’s house in Clitheroe!). Trumpeter Kim Macari, now forging her own career in Leeds, was featured soloist on Stan Sulzmann’s arrangement of The Thrill is Gone. Rick Taylor’s trombone and Alex Munk’s guitar were featured on Mike Walker’s tune Clockmakers. Arrangements of Thad Jones’s Groove Merchant with Riley Stone-Lonergan on tenor sax, and the encore Big Dipper with a storming baritone solo from Phil Meadows, rounded off a very satisfying and emotionally charged evening. Peter Ind appropriately asked the audience to thank Nikki Iles at the end – generations apart, but the same spirit.

Nikki Iles with veteran jazz drummer, educator and band leader Ronnie Bottomley.

Gerry Godley, the LCoM principal summed it all up. “I’ve only been here a year but it is great time to be here –the future has so many opportunities for Leeds College of Music. The world of professional music is changing. It is less tribal, more plural. The nature of employment means musicians need to be more adaptable, more flexible so we are actively seeking collaboration between the different genres to give students a portfolio of skills they need. Tonight has been a reflection of the pioneering spirit that brought the start of college jazz education to this place, and jazz – the natural music for collaboration – will continue to play a big part here for many years to come”


Saxes – Andy Schofield, Paul Jones, Tori Freestone, Riley Stone-Lonergan, Phil Meadows
Flute – Karen Gourlay
Trumpets – Steve Titchener, Kim Macari, John Thirkell, Robbie Robson, Tom Hill
Trombone – Rick Taylor, Kevin Holborough, Pete Beachill, Danny Barley, Chris Fower
Rhythm Section – Nikki Iles, Alex Munk, Caroline Boaden, Robin Mullarkey, Matt Sim

Categories: miscellaneous

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