DYJO alumni: Chris McMurran

I’ll be doing a series of posts here about past DYJO players. I’ve been with DYJO now for 14 years, and in that time I’ve had the pleasure of working with not just an amazing array of fabulous young musicians, but wonderfully interesting people, who never cease to surprise me with their many talents.

The assorted collection of DYJO alumni has so many people who could feature here, but I’m going to start with one person who was at the very first concert I went to where I heard DYJO (in fact, it was Gerry Swainger’s ‘DYJO Too’, as it was then called). The very small, and very young pianist, Gerry announced, had travelled all the way up from South Brent to play at St James Church Exeter, in a showcase concert: it was an 11-year-old Chris McMurran.

In due course, Chris naturally progressed to DYJO1, where as well as becoming as truly outstanding pianist, he also took his trumpet to a high level, switching easily between the two places in the band. And as if that was not enough, he also started turning his hand to big band composition and arranging, as well as conducting. And following that, the natural thing for him to do was to conduct his own arrangement of Bouncing With Bud with DYJO at the Montreux Jazz Festival, in 2010. As you do.

You might have imagined that Chris was destined for a career in music with that background and achievement. You’d be wrong. Instead, he headed off to Cambridge University, where he gained a First in Medicine, and is now doing a PhD there on ‘Remyelination and the microbiome’ at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.

Not that he’s given up the jazz – far from it! As well as keeping up a busy playing schedule, he’s also still composing, and last year won the Dankworth Prize for Composition, with his piece Continuum.

Anyway, that’s enough from me – now for some reflections from Chris himself…

“I first sat behind the piano in DYJO Too at age 11, where I was surprised to find music with no notes on it! After a quick lesson from Gerry Swainger in “how chord symbols work”, I was soon completely taken by the music and the atmosphere of DYJO.

For the next seven years I looked forward to Saturdays of music-making and seeing friends from across the county. The passion of Graham, Brian, Gerry and others for the music they were introducing us to was contagious, and I always thought we were having far more fun the the other county ensembles next door! The tours and residentials helped forge friendships that have continued long since.

DYJO was also full of opportunities: I rotated between piano and trumpet, had chances to run rehearsals and conduct, and an ensemble eager to play my first ventures into big band writing. These were all instrumental for my musical life since DYJO, which has involved directing the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, and winning the Dankworth Prize for jazz composition. The lessons I learned in DYJO also span from musical to medical: teamwork, attention to detail, performing and teaching skills to name a few.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone  who has contributed their time and energy to DYJO over the years – long may this continue!”

And as a new season approaches…

This Saturday will see the start of the new season, when the two new DYJOs launch into action! More news of that very soon. But in the meantime…

It’s great to hear from alumni – we’ll have plenty of posts coming up over the year, but this first one looks back to the summer of 2015, when DYJO had their incredible tour to the Nisville Jazz Festival in Serbia. Well, this year, alumnus guitarist, Stojan, who played with DYJO1 there, returned as a helper, and this is his story…

So last week was the Nišville Jazz Festival where I played with DYJO last year. This year I volunteered there, and I’ve written a bit about it…

Volunteers needed to arrive about a week before the festival actually begins to settle in and start getting things ready. I stayed in the same student accommodation where we stayed last year so I had no problem finding it when my bus arrived in Niš.

There were about fifteen of us staying there in total out of the three hundred volunteers – the ones who didn’t have a place to stay in Niš and  I spent most of my time with them. The ones who were there last year said they remembered us, it’s hard not to notice the canteen being full of 40 English kids.

Whenever I mentioned to people I met that I was with DYJO last year they all remembered different things about us. Some remembered watching our main stage gig on the last day while it was pouring with rain and the wind was blowing hard. A couple of volunteers straight away asked to have a photo with me when they realised I was from DYJO. Some others remember seeing us and taking those little black fluffy ball things playing a trumpet or something that we handed out as a DYJO souvenir, which they still keep somewhere in their rooms. Those little fluffy things are definitely having an impact, keep them coming.

On the night after the festival finished there was a volunteers party. As I was walking home at 5am with a group of friends, the main sound engineer was with us. When I mentioned that I was from that big band from Devon last year his face lit up and he said ‘oh finally, why didn’t you say hi earlier? I’ve been waiting for you to come back’ and told me to bring him a DYJO shirt next year, size L.

I also recognised some people from last year, mainly the clarinet player and the drummer who came to our workshop and played with us. I’d forgotten about them until I saw them and we became pretty good friends. I spent most of my time helping to run the workshops so I got to watch them all and take part – including the workshop with saxophonist Soweto Kinch who presented the MFY festival in Birmingham when DYJO played there a few weeks ago.

Apart from Soweto Kinch, the other big names that played this year were guitarist Al Di Meola, saxophonist Bill Evans and Joss Stone.

So overall DYJO is still remembered down here in Niš and Nišville continues to be an awesome festival, where I hope to return next year.