On Sunday 7th May, members of Gloucestershire Youth Jazz Orchestra travelled to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London to take part in ‘The Big Band In A Day’ workshop. Following the workshop GYJO rounded off their amazing day by performing on the main stage. This is what 2 of GYJO’s members thought about the day…
“We arrived at Ronnie Scott’s shortly before midday and were shown upstairs to the bar to meet our tutors for the day, saxophonists Phil Meadows and Jim Gold. The Big Band In A Day workshop began with a look at breathing techniques for woodwind and brass players. It was really striking how a few simple changes to breathing technique really improved our ensemble sound. The work on breathing quickly evolved into some detailed analysis of chord voicings, and how big band arrangers combine notes of a chord in order to get a rich, yet coherent sound. Our tutors for the day had a really unique approach – it was several hours before we even looked at any sheet music, and we had composed and arranged a blues sequence long before we did any conventional rehearsal.
Having finished rehearsing for the day, we then got the opportunity to go down to the main stage to watch the Callum Au Big Band sound-checking before their set in the evening. It was really interesting to watch a band of such a high standard playing through and preparing their repertoire – the quality of the playing was incredibly impressive.
The day at Ronnie Scott’s ended with our set on the main stage, performing only music we had learnt from scratch earlier that day to the paying audience for the evening. This really was an unforgettable experience. It was amazing to perform live on a world-famous stage – the atmosphere in the club really is incredible.”
Louis Horrell (GYJO – Alto 1 Saxophonist and Assistant Section Leader)
“We started the day with the usual introductions of the tutors, both alto sax players, and a tune up. Ends out, there is always stuff you can learn; even about playing a note and comparing its pitch to someone else’s! This then got developed into ‘how to play a chord’ – sounds simple, but, as we learnt, there are several hidden tricks and vices that make a chord sound powerful and ‘juicy’.
Once we had learnt the subtleties of chord playing, we used these in a discussion on ‘what makes a blues’ – the chords used, the format of the melody, and general feel. The tutors then let us put our newfound knowledge to the test and gave us the task of writing our own blues, each section doing their own, then combining them all into a multi-rhythmed, polyphonic blues explosion! It gave me a real sense of accomplishment, knowing I’ve not only played at Ronnie Scott’s but also played something completely original, composed by GYJO as a whole. Once we had this rehearsed, we went on to look at Moten Swing – a piece popularised by the legendary Count Basie. Here is where we learnt ‘how to swing’ – once again, it isn’t just a crotchet-quaver-as-a-triplet. We learnt the necessity of the emphases on the 2nd and 4th crotchets, and how to get the most swing to your swing through proper articulation. This led onto an addition from our tenor sax player Edi May, who had composed a small intro for the occasion, that showed off the band in a fun way, and also allowed us all to get tips from the tutors on how to write our own material, both on the actual content and how to lay it out on the score.
Once we all got this into our heads, it was time to eat. We had the privilege of listening to the sound check of the headline act, the Callum Au Big Band. To describe in three words: “It was Mind-blowing!” The tightness of the brass section was immense and highlighted the importance of having a section that was in sync with itself; and the calibre of their solos was staggering – being able to scream and slide in the powerful tunes, yet maintain a beautiful tone and musicianship in the ballads is something I can only aspire to do. However, what amazed me the most about this band wasn’t their playing, but their informality. It goes to show that you don’t have to sell your souls to be good musicians.
After that, we went on stage to perform, beginning with Edi’s intro, which seemed to call everyone’s attention suitably! This then neatly led on to us playing Moten Swing, where we showed off use of dynamics and articulation, and then finally our blues, which we never named, to round off our part of the night with our creativity and general confidence to play. This ended the night perfectly for me, as it made our mark on the venue. It was a really enjoyable, albeit intense, day that we all learnt greatly from.”
Rory Gordon (GYJO – Trumpet 1 and Section Leader)