Amy's 'first' orchestra under threat
Posted 14 January 2010 - 09:05 PM
Ben Hoyle, Arts Correspondent
Before the beehive, the drug habit and the multimillion-selling records, Amy Winehouse was a young singer who found an outlet for her talent in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.
For almost half a century the NYJO has been nurturing the next generation of British musicians. Although its musical stock is as high as ever after a three-night residency at Ronnie Scott’s, it is facing bankruptcy and could collapse within the next few months, The Times has learnt.
Its plight has emerged after the cancellation of this year’s Festival of British Youth Orchestras because of a shortfall of £50,000.
Nigel Tully, a former sales director at IBM, who was recently named the orchestra’s chairman, estimates that he needs to raise £105,000 by April to secure the band’s survival. “If we fail to raise the money we need, one of two things would happen. Either the NYJO would have to fold more or less instantly, or it might limp along for a bit but still eventually fold. If we don’t raise it, it’s a tragedy: a national cultural jewel down the tubes.”
Five peers — the lords Bragg, Puttnam, Coe, Clement-Jones and Colwyn — will be patrons of a fundraising appeal. Sir John Dankworth and his wife, Dame Cleo Laine, two veteran standard-bearers for British jazz, are also supporting the effort. So, too, is the all-party parliamentary jazz appreciation group.
“I am confident we will do it, but nobody can say for sure,” Mr Tully said. “We cannot go straight to big institutions and ask them to save us from bankruptcy, but if we can secure £35,000 in pledges for each of the next three years then we can show that we are on an even keel.”
The orchestra costs £200,000 a year to run, of which £60,000 comes from Arts Council England and the Musicians Benevolent Fund. The rest is raised from concerts and private donations. Three years ago Youth Music, Britain’s biggest children’s music charity, withdrew its grant of about £25,000 a year.
The NYJO was founded in 1963 by Bill Ashton, a teacher who formed it out of the London Schools Jazz Orchestra. For 47 years he has run the band from his home, with the orchestra’s tour bus parked in his driveway, his wife Kay dealing with much of the administration and his children performing or helping to stage concerts.
Mr Ashton was appointed MBE in 1978 for services to jazz. Hundreds of musicians have passed through the ranks of the orchestra, including Winehouse and Guy Barker, the trumpeter nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.Other alumni who have developed significant careers as jazz musicians include Nigel Hitchcock, Mark Nightingale, Stan Sulzmann and Matt Wates. The orchestra also acted as a gateway to the industry for many of the musicians now playing in West End theatre bands and the big bands featured on television shows such as Strictly Come Dancing.
Mr Tully said: “Bill has made Herculean efforts to keep the show on the road but he is now 73 and it’s time to turn NYJO into an institution.”
Requests for further funding from the Arts Council have been rejected until the NYJO can demonstrate that it is operating as a more structured organisation, can point to greater social and ethnic diversity among its intake and adopts a more progressive musical direction.
Under Mr Ashton, now life president, the repertoire has tended to be closer to the style of Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Duke Ellington than the more experimental music that has revitalised London’s jazz scene recently by embracing punk, hip hop and dance music. The NYJO now has a diversity committee and a roster of guest musical directors lined up.
Helen Sprott, Arts Council head of music for London, said: “The NYJO has led the way but probably needs to find a new way of maintaining its status as a truly national leadership organisation with young people that really represent where jazz is today.”
'Memories mar my mind, love is a fate resigned'
Posted 14 January 2010 - 11:32 PM
Edited by Winehousedrunk, 14 January 2010 - 11:35 PM.
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