At NYJO, we believe in the power of music – as a form of self-expression, as a way to develop the skills needed to work as a team, and for the joy that music can bring to players and listeners! We are lucky to work with very talented young musicians who have had the opportunity to start learning an instrument early in their childhood, but we know that many young people are not able to access these opportunities, whether that’s due to financial circumstances or a lack of inspiring musical role models.
To address this, our Learning programme includes first-access projects, designed to show young people that it’s never too late to start playing an instrument. First Time Jazz is one of these projects – it is a schools’ tour to showcase jazz as a genre to young people who might not have had the chance to engage with it yet.
The ‘First Time Jazz’ Schools Tour was devised as a tour of jazz, and jazz-inspired, music for secondary school pupils aged between 11-16. The repertoire was chosen to be accessible, enjoyable and also to contextualise jazz within its social, cultural and historical significance. The music included pop arrangements like Amy Winehouse and Corrine Bailey Rae, alongside jazz classics with beautiful solos to showcase each instrument.
To deliver this project, the NYJO Learning team put together a band designed to inspire young people, who would be able to see themselves represented on stage. Our small ensemble was led by the brilliant FLOetic Lara (Band leader & Vocals) and featured Black, Brown, female, and non-binary musicians: Jennie (Piano), Noah or George (Drums), Mejedi or Olivia (Trumpet), and Ursula (Bass). This group was a mix of current NYJO Emerging Professionals (aged 18-25) and NYJO Under 18s’ programme alumni, allowing us to provide paid professional development opportunities for young musicians at the start of their careers.
We wanted to take the First Time Jazz tour to parts of the country where pupils have less access to live music. We visited schools in Arts Council England (ACE) Levelling Up Cultural Places (LUCPs). ACE has identified these areas as needing more opportunities for young people to engage with the arts. The project visited six secondary schools across North Lincolnshire (including one SEND school) and two secondary schools in Thurrock. Schools were offered a 45-minute performance, and some schools chose to add an optional jam session, so their instrumentalists could join in with the NYJO musicians at the end of the gig.
Across the two weeks, First Time Jazz performed to approx. 1,400 young people, with some of the audiences featuring up to 36% of young people in receipt of Free School Meals/Pupil Premium. The fact that all the schools were in LUCPs meant that we were delivering performances in places of historically low cultural engagement and spending. Young people in these areas have experienced barriers to accessing music-making opportunities and in some cases, even live music performances. It was therefore hugely encouraging to see that 56% of young people who took part in this programme expressed an interest in learning an instrument. In one of the schools, one of the young students even followed up asking to join our Under 18s programme on Saturdays.
This was in no small part, due to the brilliant group of musicians delivering the project, who inspired the young pupils with their technical skills and shared stories of their lived experiences and adversities that music has helped them overcome.
I really enjoyed the bass player.
The girl with the drums inspired me the most and made it more enjoyable.
I loved the bass lines and the trumpet was snazzy.
The trumpet solos, they were very nice to listen to.
The instrumental players up there were so SO cool.
First Time Jazz is a very important project for NYJO and our Learning team, as it allows us to expand the reach of jazz as a music genre and share its joys with young people who would otherwise not have that experience. Bringing such a diverse, inspiring, and talented group of young musicians – who are themselves starting their careers – with us on this journey is incredible rewarding and has the potential to have a great impact on those watching.
We are delighted that this year’s tour was such a success and look forward to getting back on the road next year, to bring the genre we love to more schools and young people across the country.