On Tuesday, during their normal rehearsal time, the Big Band were treated to a master class delivered by renowned trumpeter Mark Armstrong. Mark is Artistic Director of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, a Jazz Trumpet player and composer, and Professor of Jazz at the Royal College of Music.
Mark engaged the boys by getting them to sing and coordinate swing patterns using body rhythms without their instruments; the audience also joined in this part enthusiastically sometimes outdoing the boys’ efforts! Moving the boys on to their instruments, Mark then set up the rhythm section, piano bass drums and guitar with a twelve bar blues pattern. He then warmed up the blowers by getting them to play a modal scale encouraging them to emphasize the offbeat to create swing patterns in their playing. He then doubled the tempo of these scale for flexibility and it was fascinating to watch the boys looking, listening and interacting using this effectively simple by-ear task.
Clearly warming to his brief and enjoying the repartee with the boys, Mark saw an opportunity to introduce an entire blues piece to the band by-ear which he succeeded in doing so using ‘Centrepiece’ – made famous by Coleman Hawkins as his model.
Just before the hour was up, Mark invited the band to choose to play a piece from their repertoire to conclude and ‘Born to be Wild’ was the boys’ choice in true rock style. Freddie Woolf on drums was encouraged to make a ‘Wembley stadium’ ‘Blat’ to set up the start and this fired up the band for an electrifying finish in the Music School Concert Hall. The audience were enthusiastic in their response to the boys’ efforts and each improvised solo by the trumpet section was given rapturous applause encouraged by Mark.
We finished up in the foyer where tea was served and Mark was able to answer individual questions and he expressed his favourable impression of the band to members as they left. A really positive occasion for all participants and very helpful to the bands’ development this year; we look forward to hearing the effects of the master class on the band at its next performance at the JAGS Charity Jazz Night on Friday March 24th in the Holst Hall.