New generation of jazz greats

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra, The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, January 28The Theatre Royal and The National Youth Jazz Orchestra share much in common - a proud history and a thriving present - and when the elegant Georgian playhouse played host to NYJO, the result was a concert from the very top drawer.

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra, The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, January 28

The Theatre Royal and The National Youth Jazz Orchestra share much in common - a proud history and a thriving present - and when the elegant Georgian playhouse played host to NYJO, the result was a concert from the very top drawer.

NYJO was founded by Bill Ashton in 1965 and is constantly replenished with the cream of young British jazz musicians. Forty four years on, Bill led a twenty one piece orchestra at one of his favourite venues in a programme of contemporary original compositions that enthralled a sold out Theatre Royal.

Their choice of material is brave indeed for a big band: there's no jazz standards or doff of the hat to the great Duke Ellington or Glenn Miller repertoires, say. Consequently NYJO's audiences must listen to two sets of music that they may well not know at all - but instead they enjoy highly accessible and tuneful pieces written or arranged by band alumni such as Evan Jolly, Mark Nightingale and Gareth Lockrane, whose funky “Groove Rider” made a memorable finale.


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The orchestra's boldness in relying on bespoke compositions rather than elderly tunes from the Thirties and Forties is one of its strengths. Another is the presence and stagecraft of Ashton himself, an urbane and affable Master of Ceremonies justifiably proud of his charges. Unfair to single out any of these Young Turks, perhaps - but Jon Russell (guitar), Richard Shepherd on tenor saxophone and trombonist Kieran McCloud caught the ear.

NYJO fostered the early career of Amy Winehouse, the best pop singer of her generation. Their Bury gig included one of the first appearances with the band of vocalist Camilla Rockley, who has much of Miss Winehouse's soulfulness and whose assured, clear delivery of a lyric raised the tempo in her five songs.

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DONALD MUIR

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