Ubuntu Music

50 years of the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association, founded by John Ellis. Alumni playing on the album include Pete Beachill, Mark Ellis, Reuben Fowler, Sarah Potts, Nadim Teimoori  & Andy Vinter

More proof, if more is needed, that the North/South Divide is alive and bad. The Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra has been blowing up a big band storm for fifty years, and in my ignorance, I had never taken much notice of them, let alone heard them. Now I have. And I’m sorry for what I’ve missed.

In 1973 John Ellis was a peripatetic brass teacher (his words, not mine) in Yorkshire and suggested to the local education authority that Northern youth needed jazz tuition, much as Bill Ashton had been doing since 1965 way down South with NYJO, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Ellis also asked for and got £12 to buy an arrangement. And so it was that the Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra was born. DYJO and NYJO, have been variously entwined ever since.

I’ve never met John Ellis, but I have known Bill Ashton since his RAF, Uni, Blackpool and Paris days, and I am guessing that it’s as hard to say No to Ellis as it is to say Non to Bill Ashton. Both ended up with Honours, an OBE for Bill and an MBE for Ellis, thereby proving that sometimes the right people do get them. One of the tracks here, the nicely loping ‘You Know It Makes Sense’, was written by Tom Kubis to celebrate Ellis’s trademark motto.

Northern DYJO may not have hit the musical high grounds enjoyed by Southern NYJO but it has played at the Nice and Montreux Festivals as well as Disneyland which for years staged a regular big band spot. I once saw Buddy Rich there warning the audience that if we were late back from the interval, he would fine us. DYJO got to share the same stand there with the probably more friendly Thad Jones leading the Basie Band.

This double CD of Doncaster Jazz Alumni marks the fifty years milestone by featuring a mix of DYJO currents and ex-DYJO greats storming and weaving delicate sounds – as on ‘Mandeville’ with wonderful trombone work by Lee Hallam floating over a bed of French horns. Other soloing alumni include trombonists Rory Ingham, Winston Rollins and Pete Beachill, alongside remarkable tenor Nadim Teimoori.

DYJO is most definitely not a repertory rehearsal band. If you are looking for comfy slippers transcription arrangements of In the Mood, Skyliner and One O’Clock Jump , this is not for you. But if you are interested in adventurous charts by the likes of Bob Brookmeyer, Sammy Nestico, Bob Mintzer and Brit Allan Ganley, along with lesser-known tunes and new writing, then you have hit the right spot. The Bob Florence chart for Body and Soul, here with Andy Vinter’s piano, is a thing of special beauty.

The twelve tracks were recorded over two days at the super British Grove Studios, in West London, built by Dire Straits main man Mark Knopfler. So be careful of ever saying nothing good ever came out of rock and pop.

Thankfully most of the tracks use a real acoustic string bass, rather than a cricket bat, which has the black magical effect of completely changing the feel of any band it plugs into. (I still wince at the memory of the excellent Royal College of Music big band ruining a Basie tribute with an electric guitar playing the Freddie Greene parts).

One of a couple of exceptions to the acoustic bass rule here is the track Bitter Suite written by bass guitarist Laurence Cottle, very accurately described in the helpful sleeve notes as a ‘funky’ player. That’s also a good word to describe the Bitter track, with electric bass and guitar and Fender Rhodes piano. DYJO is veritably versatile.

As you’d expect the recorded sound is good although the driving drums of Steve Hanley and Joe Sykes sometimes sound a bit tubby for my Krupa/Rich taste. But doubtless that’s what was wanted.

All in all, this double CD captures a cracking band, having a great time celebrating the force of musical nature that is clearly John Ellis. Which makes me wonder – who and where are the next John Ellises and Bill Ashtons?

This seems a good time to make a general and doubtless contentious suggestion. Don’t take my word for it that this or any other album is a good buy, or waste good money on reckless experimental purchases. Beat the system. Go online to the streaming platform Spotify and take advantage of the fact that you can sign up and listen to music for free, albeit in pretty poor quality and ruined by intrusive adverts. Then, if you like what you hear,  pay to buy the CD rather than pay Spotify for a subscription to remove the ads. It’s the modern equivalent of going into a booth in an old-style record shop and playing a track before buying – or not buying as the case may be. In this case I’d be trying on Spotify and then buying the CD set.