Have You Heard MYJO?

March 1, 2013

There are many things to admire about the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra, among which is the (admittedly personal) observation, that it doesn’t sound like a youth band. What’s more (and again it’s maybe just my ears), it has always been this way. Back in the long-ago Mike Beaumont helped create this outstanding big band, which since 1981 has been directed by John Ruddick, and it instantly burst on surprised and delighted audiences with measures of confidence and élan that suggested that the individual musicians in its ranks were experienced veterans. That said, the band’s collective sound gave away its youthful origins through the spirited verve with which the charts were attacked.

Photo: John Killoch

Photo: John Killoch


In the years that have passed, MYJO has had remarkable success, not least in the BBC’s National Big Band Competition, at first winning the Youth Section, later the Senior division of the Competition. So successful has the band been in this competition that it was recently barred from entering for two years to give other bands a chance. Among famous venues where MYJO has performed are Ronnie Scott’s Club, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican, The Stables at Wavendon, and Symphony Hall in Birmingham. The band has also appeared on television and radio. And just to prove that its merits are not merely apparent to UK audiences and judges, MYJO entered and won the Dutch National Big Band Competition, where it surpassed adult bands from The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Additionally, MYJO has extended its audience, performing in other European countries, including Switzerland (at the Montreux Jazz Festival), as well as in Russia and the USA.

Regularly over the years, MYJO has featured famous guests from the world of jazz among whom have been Benny Carter, Buddy Childers, Spike Robinson, Bill Berry, John Dankworth, Bobby Shew, Courtney Pine, Alan Barnes, Arturo Sandoval, Guy Barker, Conte Candoli, Bob Florence, Stan Tracey, Lanny Morgan, and Marlene VerPlanck. (The latter will be appearing with the band at a lunchtime gig on 24 March 2013 at Westley Hotel, Acocks Green, Birmingham.)

On their latest album, Have You Heard, which is surely their best yet, MYJO pays special tribute to the late Bob Florence, who was long a champion of this fine band. Of the nine charts, four are by Florence (three of which are his own compositions), while other arrangers whose work is featured are Sammy Nestico, Rob McConnell, Mark Armstrong, Callum Roxburgh and Robert Curnow. The album opens with a scorching take on The Magic Flea, while other tracks have Florence’s 1, 2, 3, a three-movement composition that would thoroughly test any band, Pumpkinette, another Florence composition, and the album title track, a Pat Metheny composition. Band members featured in solos on these and other tracks are trumpeters Nick Dewhurst, Nick Dunham, trombonists Alex Paxton, Tom Dunnett, saxophonists Callum Roxburgh, Andy Isherwood, Alex Woods, Rosie Price, Colin Mills. Throughout, soloists and the crisp and powerful ensembles are supported and driven on by the exceptional rhythm section, all of whom have their solo moments: pianists Richard Morris and Aled Walker, guitarist Doug McMillan, bassist Nick Roberts and drummer Dave Tandy. myjoAnd so no one is left out, because every member of this superb orchestra deserves mention and praise, the rest of the band on this album are trumpeters Ben Gaskin, Kevin Wedrychowsky, James Horton, Mark James, Chris Pickering, Davis Tibbitts, trombonists Tom Coppins, Joe Smith, Jon Warburton, saxophonists Lauren Peatfield, Alicia Gardener-Trejo, Chris Brown.

There is much more information to be had about the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra and John Ruddick on the band’s website where you will find full details of upcoming engagements where MYJO can be heard live – and that really is something you should not miss. This site is also where you can find the new and very warmly recommended CD as well as some of the band’s earlier recordings. And if this is your kind of music, then you will also like what John Killoch has to say on his site.

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