Devon County Show 2017

It’s always a blast to play at the Devon County Show on the Babcock DMEH stage, though, it being the County Show, ‘weather’ sometimes intervenes: the Saturday was cancelled in 2014, and 2016 was Decidedly Damp.

We’re certainly not in a heatwave just yet, and the forecast for today was, shall we say, ‘mixed’, but in the end the rain (mostly) held off, and an enthusiastic and only slightly damp and muddy crowd witnessed two strong sets by the the bands.

Many of the players have already started GCSE and A-level exams, so their taking time out to entertain the good folk of Devon is greatly appreciated. They now get some time off from DYJO duties: most of the exams will be over by the time of the next concert, in the Phoenix on Wednesday 28 June, not long before the departure on the European tour!

Anyway, a pile of photos: thanks to Felix for the ones of DYJO2, while I was waving my arms around.

Dart Music Festival & Foundation

Sunday was the occasion of our annual appearance at the wonderful Dart Music Festival: it’s always an absolute treat for us, with great audiences coming to hear the wide range of music on offer over the three days of the festival, at so many venues, and all financed by sponsorship and the generous donations of the audiences – entry is free to all events! The concert at the Flavel Arts Centre is always one of the highlights for DYJO, not just because of the great audiences we get in such a lovely venue, but because both bands always seem to play really well in response to the warmth of the reception. And again the sun shone metaphorically, and literally, with Dartmouth (and band directors who chose to cycle to Dartmouth from Topsham) basking in the warmth of the sun.

DYJO is particularly grateful for the long-standing support that the Dart Music Festival have given us, in asking us back each year, and in doing so giving us financial support to continue and develop our work in jazz education in Devon. Indeed, their support for youth music in Devon, through The Foundation, goes well beyond just the festival itself, and I’m sure they’d like to hear from you if you’d like to help them to continue the success of the festival and foundation!


Flexible learners learning…

At this stage of the DYJO season (today was the seventh of our eight Gathering Days in the year), with most of the repertoire ‘in the book’, it gives us the chance to be a bit more creative in our session planning, especially as some of the ‘regular learning’ now transfers into the more frequent gigs (recent gigs at Malborough and Beverley Park, and forthcoming ones at South Brent and Budleigh Jazz Festival).

Today we really mixed things up: we had the full team of tutors there – Graham & me, and Alex Delling, Matt Carter, and Ben Lee (making a special appearance as he and the Ambassadors were going straight on to a gig in Totnes). One of the delightful things about DYJO is the appetite of all the players to learn, and whatever we lay on for them educationally, they trust us to deliver something it’s worth tuning into. The evidence is the attention they give all of us, whatever we are lobbing in their direction: today they were served a mixed dish (if you’ll excuse the image of lobbing mixed dishes) of: extended aural work on degrees of the scale and call-&-echo; big band ensemble-work; learning a whole II-V-I AABA tune (complete with chords) by ear; improvising over II-V-I changes; learning a new tune amongst themselves, with no tutor input. It quite tires me out just thinking of that amount of ‘stuff’, but the DYJO crowd just seem to take it in their stride!

Of course, we know that we can only provide a small part of their jazz education, but if we can both give them the appetite to learn, and the tools for them to continue doing so both within and outside of DYJO, there really will be no stopping them!

DYJO Ambassadors are go!

Today saw this season’s group of Ambassadors deliver their first workshop to primary-age children at Rydon School in Kingsteignton.

After a quick rehearsal, the band was ready to wow Year 5 with Beastly, C Jam Blues, and Blue Bossa, but first the children wowed DYJO with their impressive knowledge of jazz! Then, having given the children a taste of great music, it was down to the serious (but still fun!) business of teaching them to play.

Year 5 had been learning trumpet, cornet, or tuba for only a few weeks, but they quickly learned to identify funk, swing, and Latin rhythms, and by the end of the workshop were playing along with the Ambassadors – and dancing too!

Well done to all of today’s Ambassadors for playing brilliantly, and for working so skilfully with their young audience – for many of them, it was their first experience of taking part in a workshop with children.

And a big thank you to Rydon Primary for their warm welcome, and for giving us the opportunity to work with such a well-behaved, and enthusiastic group of children.

Our new Ambassadors’ manager, Ben, has fond memories of going into school as one of the Ambassadors himself, and it was fantastic to see him continuing to spread the message of how much fun learning and playing jazz can be!

And if you’d like to hear the Ambassadors, they have their first gig of the season in Totnes on Saturday 18th March.

Exciting offers!

It’s that time of year when students in their last year of school start to receive offers for their further eduction, and we’re delighted to hear that, yet again, DYJO players have received great offers to further their musical studies! Robyn (sax) is set to study Music at Birmingham University, Emma (sax) Pop or Jazz at Leeds College of Music, Matt (bass) Jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire, and Joe (trombone) Jazz at Trinity Laban or Birmingham Conservatoire.

We are, of course, thoroughly delighted to celebrate their successes, and wish them well for their futures! In the meantime, they’ve got a busy programme of gigs with DYJO to play, and the little matter of a tour to the jazz festivals of Vienne and Montreux in the summer…


Matt Carter accepted into the Royal Academy of Music!


Just before Christmas, DYJO’s very own rhythm section tutor, Matt Carter, announced that he’d gained a place to study on the BMus Jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music starting next September! It’s incredibly hard to gain a place there: each year there is just one pianist selected for the course, so Matt will not only be surrounded by the absolutely best young jazz musicians you can imagine, but he’ll be receiving tutoring from the country’s top jazz musicians and teachers.

Already a skilled pianist, Matt started in DYJO2 with me what feels like an age ago, and soon progressed to DYJO1, playing both piano and trumpet. In 2011, while in DYJO, he travelled to London to play at the Will Michael Jazz Education Awards, at which Devon was awarded a Diploma of Special Merit: that year the awards were presented at the Royal Academy of Music, and Matt played a solo set on one of their Steinways to the great and the good who were assembled, later hearing a performance from some of the undergraduates.

After leaving DYJO and college, with his superb keyboard skills, Matt quickly picked up a lot of regular gigs and started a busy life as a working musician, and this year we’ve been delighted to welcome him on board the DYJO tutor team to share his skills with the next generation of jazz musicians. But like any great musician, Matt is on a constant quest to learn more. Over to Matt:

“I decided to apply again to study at the Royal Academy to try and take the next step to develop myself as a musician. I have been extremely fortunate to have had a lot of performance opportunities whilst living in Exeter, but I have always wondered what would happen if I pushed myself to try and make the move to living in London. Moving with no real opportunities already organised would be difficult, so I decided I may as well apply to The Academy. That way I would automatically be linked up with a pool of musicians and studying there, not to mention the great teachers and the degree at the end of it! I am excited by the prospect of studying with an ensemble of talented musicians that all have similar goals with music that I have. I will be moving there but I still intend to keep connections with the South West by regularly coming back to gig, as well as continuing to be a tutor with DYJO!

The Royal Academy has always appealed to me, as they only take on a small number of musicians per year. I will be the only piano player in my year, and there are only generally one of each instrument commonly found in a big band. That means there will be a lot of time to get to know all of the other students, socially as well as musically, and to develop our musicianship together. The course is four years long, and in that time I hope to get stuck into the music scene in London as well as developing my own personal style.”

It’s incredibly exciting for us at DYJO to look forward to how Matt’s playing will develop with his intensive exposure to absolutely the best jazz education in the country – though I dare say that our excitement is a mere fraction of the excitement that Matt is feeling right now!

Challenging repertoire

Whether I’ve got my big band or classical hat on, I like to stretch audiences’ experiences. Like anyone else, I enjoy hearing things that I like, and just bring a smile to my face: such is my love for Count Basie’s music. (Even then, there’s the fun of exploring his less well-known charts.)

But equally important is putting music in front of both the players and the audience that is not only new to them, but sometimes not an easy play, or easy listen, but music that will reward getting to know it. (Of course, we mustn’t forget that for many of our players and audiences DYJO will be their first experience of live big band jazz -an important part of our raison d’ĂȘtre.)

Graham Hutton is very good with keeping his ear to the ground for more contemporary charts for DYJO1, and though I am somewhat less ambitious with the younger players in DYJO2, they demonstrate how quick they are to learn when I do challenge them. 

The evidence was there this Saturday: I decided to see how they got on with Thad Jones’ Central Park North. Actually dating from the late 1960s, this mini suite is a snapshot in sound of the hustle and bustle of New York, and the respite of Central Park. It’s certainly fun to play, and, we hope, a good listen. DYJO2 are using a skillfully slightly simplified version by Mike Carubia. Do have a listen to the original version in the link below. Incidentally, I spent a day in Munich with the lead trumpet featured in this recording, Al Porcino. A real character, he played lead for nearly all the great bands from the 1940s till the 1980s, and was Sinatra’s lead player for ten years. He was one of the greats, for sure – if there were one person I would like to sound like, it would be him.

Central Park North video