NYJO: it might get loud

What’s JazzJanuary?

JazzJanuary performance #1

National Youth Jazz Orchestra

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, 7th January

JazzJanuary testers: Alex and Matt

JazzJanuary advisers: Joel (session drummer), Karen (music teacher)

Jazz music can damage you. There’s the first lesson. The ringing in the ears while you’re on the way home.  A little noise that says that you might have come to harm.

This music is supposed to be quiet, isn’t it? And the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) was supposed to have been a nervous gaggle of kids, out of their depth in a sold-out club. That’s why our table is at the front – to hear these timid juniors.

We are at the front, too. Without standing, we could offer our drinks to the five saxophonists.  Jazz-tester Alex touches the Conductor’s notes with his ear.  A squad of trombonists troops in behind the saxophones, poking through the gaps like soldiers with muskets.  Trumpeters next, until 16 instruments are pointing at us.  These aren’t kids, either. Nor especially nervous.  One of them – bigger than the doorman outside – takes a long slurp of beer.

Six seconds later, we’re edging our chairs back under the sharpest, crispest, brashest, hardest, loudest stabs of music, a firing squad of brass and woodwind in one monstrous voice. Under the whole thing is a baritone saxophone that vibrates collars against necks enough to actually tickle. Number 11 on the volume? This is number 11 on the Beaufort Scale. Fearsome. You could swear the straw in your drink is tilting backwards in the blast.  Alex is looking windswept, too, like Donald Trump. Advisers Joel and Karen – the people who brought us here – nod and smile.


Tonight’s lesson: forget about amplifiers.  If the musicians are wearing hearing protection from themselves, you might want to move back a bit.

The setlist is what critics call ‘eclectic’.  Technically, is it entirely jazz music? The jazz-advisers laugh at the question. Meanwhile, that wild opening mellows and merges into beautiful, liquid combinations of sounds that leave you a little removed from the outside world. There are some weird and magical harmonic things happening. Musicians can make them, physicists can explain them, but here’s tonight’s good news: occasionally, normal people can sense them.  This is like floating under water without being frightened. It just might be what the experts mean, when they talk about “feeling it”.


In his favourite seat under the Conductor’s armpit, jazz-tester Alex


Satisfied so far: jazz-advisers Joel and Karen


Mark Armstrong (Director). Compressed an average person’s lifetime expenditure of  skill, emotion and energy into a 2-minute trumpet solo. It wasn’t even loud. ‘Unforgettable’ is a strong word, but it was invented for things like this.

Nick Fitch.  Subtle, smooth little spoonfuls of guitar, stirred craftily into the ensemble sound.  More like a sorcerer than a musician.


With loudspeakers behind us, our music came raw and unfiltered.  The downside was not hearing much from Rupert Cox (highly rated by the advisers) on piano, because he was at the far end of the stage.


Alex (Jazz-tester): I really enjoyed that. Go on, I’ll have another glass of the Malbec. I think I might have gone deaf, you know.

Joel (Jazz-adviser): Yes!

Karen (Jazz-adviser): That baritone saxophone is filthy.

Next up:

Gareth Lockrane Big Band, 10th January



Story and photos: Matt Pannell


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