NYJO in Cardiff: Creative Improvisation

September 5, 2023

After a successful project in 2022, inspired by NYJO’s recent tour – Amy Winehouse: A Celebration of Her Life and Music, which saw the NYJO Jazz Orchestra play original arrangements of the late beloved star around the UK – we partnered with Cardiff & Vale Music Service (CAVMS) and the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD)  again this year. This three-way partnership aims to develop confidence and skills for young musicians in Cardiff, to offer new creative music-making opportunities for young people facing structural barriers to music education, and to nurture links between jazz students in the region in order to create a local network and infrastructure of jazz provision.

Kevin Price, Deputy Director of Music at RWCMD sees the partnership as an integral component of the college’s commitment to supporting the development of young Welsh jazz musicians:

One of our seven strategic pillars is ‘to provide engagement across Wales, providing transformative experiences for diverse communities’. Against a backdrop of declining instrumental provision (quality and quantity), we aim to make a bold step-change in our ambition to provide engagement in music and theatre across Wales and to work collaboratively to ensure a thriving ecology for these art forms, which addresses poverty and social exclusion, and which ensures that everyone is able to access the arts, whilst also discovering and nurturing the next generations of brilliant professional artists and providing strong, financially accessible pathways for development. Our formalised and systematic jazz approach – made possible by developing our NYJO strategic partnership – will produce a replicable cycle, all focussed on learning by doing, for young musicians.


Our latest project ran in Spring 2023 with a focus on creative improvisation, and was once again based on NYJO’s artistic season; this time borrowing from our NYJO & Tony Kofi Present: Monk at Town Hall tour, in celebration of Thelonious Monk’s seminal 1959 recording that came to shape jazz history.

The project was launched with a workshop for RWCMD students delivered by Tony Kofi. Tony is a British Jazz multi-instrumentalist born of Ghanaian parents, a player of the Alto, Baritone, Soprano, Tenor saxophones and flute. Having ‘cut his teeth’ in the Jazz Warriors of the early 90’s, Tony has gone on to establish himself as an award-winning musician, teacher, and composer.



Project delivery was led by Siobhan Waters, who had been an Assistant Educator in our 2022 run – and was supported by students from RWCMD alongside a placement student from Cardiff School of Music. Siobhan is a young singer/songwriter, currently based in Cardiff. This was a great opportunity to build-on previously established relationships with music education partners in the area, and to build the confidence of a team of local educators.

Over the course of four weeks, Siobhan and the team of Assistant Educators delivered workshops in Cowbridge Comprehensive School, Hawthorn Comprehensive School, Cardiff West Community High School, and with CAVMS Youth Jazz Orchestra. Students of different experience levels joined the workshops, meaning they had to be carefully tailored to their skills and support needs.


The main objective of the project was to give the students, in all settings, the experience of making music on their instrument away from written notation and in a more aural and interactive way. The sessions that Siobhan and the RWCMD students delivered certainly did this and all partners involved were very pleased with the outcome.

David Miller, Director at CAVMS


The students who joined had identified improvisation as one of their key learning aims. Participants’ confidence level increased across the board throughout the project; whether they were taking their first steps in this new skill, or developing it further, all students reported feeling more confident about improvising and were excited about continuing their journey in jazz education.

This project was part of NYJO Learning’s Widening Access programme – supported by the David Laing and Kirby Laing Foundations – designed to address structural barriers to jazz education across the country.

If you work for a Hub or Music Service and are interested in finding out more about our Widening Access programme, please get in touch today by emailing NYJO’s Head of Learning Vikki Maudave on [email protected], or calling 0330 500 2002.

Lucy-Anne (EP quote)

“Since joining NYJO, I’m so much more confident as a performer. Especially in terms of being able to entertain and keep the crowd engaged with you. It’s really nice to be able to feel that difference.” 

Lucy-Anne, NYJO Emerging Professional (Vocals)

Georgia (EP quote)

“It’s hard to just learn this music in the practice room but being immersed in the music at NYJO is a great environment to really push my playing. ” 

Georgia Ayew, NYJO Emerging Professional (Drums)

Sam Eastmond (MD quote)

"Giving them space to create whatever they wanted, without setting parameters of idiom or style helped them to conceptualise how they could bring these new concepts into their work without scaring them off, or mystifying the process."

Sam Eastmond, NYJO Educator

Jazzwise quote

"NYJO has never been conformist, never hewing to one particular line, never known for fawning replications and very deliberately these days a vehicle for new possibilities."

Jazzwise Magazine

Lydia (EP quote)

"The past year has been an absolutely incredible experience, pushing me way out of my comfort zone into playing with some of the greatest young jazz players of my generation and getting to call them my colleagues and friends has been beyond inspiring, and also an obscene amount of fun!"

Lydia Cochrane, NYJO Emerging Professional (Saxophone)

Anna (Learning national quote)

"[The NYJO residential in Cumbria] helped me to make friends with other young musicians. I enjoy playing a lot more and I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished. I feel more confident now. I have learnt different ways of coming up with solid melodies and also a little bit on harmonies. I think it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had."

Anna, NYJO Learning Widening Access participant

Briony (Learning U18s quote)

"I’ve felt very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing musicians, and I think that the environment at NYJO – which has fostered creativity and improvisation – has allowed my confidence and musical ideas to grow."

Briony, NYJO Under 18s

Oscar (Learning U18s quote)

"I think I’ve progressed a lot in my piano-playing. NYJO has helped me to flourish and really enjoy it. I’ve really enjoyed being engrossed in a high level of playing and learning things in a hands-on-way. I also like the diversity of perspectives and abilities of all the players and teachers which enables me to try things I might not normally."

Oscar, NYJO Under 18s

Jennie (Learning U18s quote)

"NYJO has got me listening to more jazz and learning more changes. It has also helped with working as a band. I’ve really enjoyed the free jazz, learning by ear, the people, and the atmosphere."

Jennie, NYJO Under 18s

Leah-Anais (Learning U18s quote)

"I love the people at NYJO. Everyone here is so encouraging and lovely and it makes the experience worthwhile. Though I have fun I’m still learning on the way which makes me feel productive too."

Leah-Anais, NYJO Under 18s

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