My name is Joe Browne. I am a musician and workshop leader. I play saxophone in a host of jazz, world, classical and pop ensembles, mostly in live gigs, with a sprinkling of theatre and session work here and there. But I am perhaps best known for my education work…
One of my busiest education gigs is as Associate Educator for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO), running four of their regional academy programmes. The regional academies were set up in areas of the UK where jazz education is considered to be less accessible to the majority of young people, so I am frequently jet setting off to such places as Cumbria, Lancashire, Hull and – mostly recently – Deal! The Deal academy is the fruit of a long-standing partnership between NYJO and Deal Music and Arts, who are doing fantastic and creative things for jazz education in Kent. The regular, twice-termly Deal academy sessions are an opportunity for young people to get together and learn about all things jazz. Using a repertoire-based approach, we typically learn a couple of jazz standards (or sometimes more unusual or modern material) by ear, paying particular attention to strategies for improvisation. As well as ensemble performance skills, we work a lot on developing improvisatory vocabulary and fluency, ear training, free group improvisation and arranging skills. I always work in the company of at least two NYJO ambassadors – young people from the NYJO pool of musicians who have a particular passion and aptitude for education. They usually specialise in different instrumental sections of the jazz orchestra and their contribution is enormous. The young participants are hugely inspired by their brilliant playing, as well as their patience, expertise and sensitivity to the needs and learning approaches of the group.
Above all else, the academy days are a real celebration of jazz music. We have a lot of fun. Deal Music and Arts are hugely ambitious for the academy. The group is already booked to support the Ronnie Scott’s Allstars at the Deal Festival on 9th July, and there is talk of plenty more performance opportunities.
In the weeks between the Deal NYJO academy sessions, Deal Music and Arts runs a programme called Jazz Journey. I am joined by a NYJO ambassador for regular jazz workshops in several East Kent secondary schools. The workshops are kind of a condensed version of the academy sessions, still focusing on jazz repertoire and improvisation. They are partly a way of encouraging participation in the academy and other local jazz opportunities but are also a way of bringing jazz education to the wider community of young people.
Once a year in November, Deal Music and Arts and NYJO organise a “Creative Jazz Weekend”. This is an inclusive, inter-generational project, in which a large group of people (we’ve had as many as 60) of all ages, abilities, shapes, sizes and temperaments get together to create a programme of jazz. Much like the academy sessions, we learn mostly by ear and there is a strong emphasis on improvisation. Starting from nothing, we typically learn up to an hour of material which we perform to a local audience on the Sunday evening. The programme usually includes a creative piece, the nucleus of which is formed by the Jazz Journey school groups in the autumn term workshops, but is then developed and refined by the whole group over the course of the weekend. Once again, I am joined by a team of fabulous NYJO ambassadors, as well as a superb group of local tutors and support staff. The creative jazz weekend is undoubtedly one of the musical highlights of my year. Watching an 8-year-old girl patiently advise a 60-year-old man on his clarinet fingerings is the loveliest of sights and encapsulates what I think jazz – and all music-making – should be about.
I love the work I am doing in Kent and I hope it is an asset to the musical community.
Long may it continue!
Musician, composer, workshop leader
Written by: Guest Author
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