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Improving your jazz Improv!

Type “Jazz Improvisation” into your search engine and you get “making up new melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts. Improvisation is composing on the spot” (Wikipedia).

You can just about smell the fear of competent young musicians wanting to cross over into the Jazz genre and bumping up against improvisation as a reason not to!  Running a Jazz association means that there is no getting away from the importance of learning to improvise.  Ironically, improvisation demands musicians not just to play as individuals but to master playing as part of a whole, wider big band and team.

By its very nature, improvisation sounds as if it cannot be practised or rehearsed, that it highlights an on the spot ability to connect with, hear and respond to the music. It commands musicians to draw upon reserves of courage, musical creativity and sensitivity as well as set aside inhibitions and expose musical ability to peers as well as audiences. It seems strange, therefore, that there is method to this creative madness called improvisation.  So many do not realise that there is a musical process, an ability to improve and learn the art of Jazz improvisation….

Mark Ellis, saxophone tutor at the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association –  “Learning to improvise starts like anything else – with the basics.  The Blues is the foundation of all modern music and so I like to start with that. The beauty of using the Blues scale at first is that musicians can improvise without the knowledge of complex chords and chord changes.  Melodic concepts such as sequence and repetition can be introduced easily and in a very methodical way one a student has mastered just one Blues scale. It’s a skill anybody can learn once they possess the learning blocks to do so!”

On Sunday 4th June Doncaster Youth Jazz Association will open its doors to host our first Jazz Improvisation workshop with Mark Ellis. DYJA are opening this workshop to any musician, young and old, interested in gaining confidence with Jazz improvisation. How would you like to walk away understanding the basic concepts of jazz improvisation and coming to the realisation that this is not a “dark art” but rather a skill that anybody can learn?!  If this might appeal to you please do get in touch to book onto this session.  To book onto this session contact the office. Costs are £20 for a three hour tutorial! (Places limited)


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Mark Ellis, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, teaches saxophone, clarinet and flute to students in Yorkshire both privately and in several private schools of notoriety. He also leads his own Jazz quartet, a full Big Band (BUDO), a Jazz-Funk group (CTI Project) and recently set up his own agency that provides Jazz ensembles and function bands for corporate events (VIBE Music) – most noticeably providing all the live  entertainment at the last 3 St Leger Festivals at Doncaster Racecourse.  2011 and 2012 saw Mark’s most prolific years to date, performing as sideman in Dennis Rollins’ Badbone & Co at The Jazz Café, supporting Maceo Parker with CTI Project, not to mention sharing the stage (and solos) with funk legends Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley (James Brown’s horn section). He also performed at Ronnie Scott’s with a DYJA alumni group sharing the bill with Groove Armada.  Over the last few years he has also performed with Candi Staton, The Temptations, The Stylistics, Deniece Williams, Jimmy Ruffin, Percy Sledge, Ben E King, Billy Paul, Freda Payne, Dorothy Moore, Peabo Bryson.  Mark has performed at The Jazz Café, The Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, St. David’s Hall (Cardiff), Ronnie Scott’s, Montreux Jazz Festival, IAJE Jazz Festival and The United Nations (NYC).

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DYJA-AdminImproving your jazz Improv!

DYJA and Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation working together for 2017!

Doncaster Youth Jazz Association are excited to be delivering some of it’s 2017 music educational programme in partnership with the Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation. From January 2017 we have a host of new projects planned that are designed to get the Yorkshire region’s young jazz musicians engaged in music.  Look out for “Trombones on the Slide” a pilot programme engaging with local primary schools with the hope of producing a new round of trombonists. (more to follow in the next few weeks). Or perhaps, as a budding young musician one of our Masterclasses headed up by the likes of Quentin Collins (trumpet), Lee Gibson (vocals) and Dennis Rollins (trombone), takes your fancy. All activity is FREE to attend. Watch this space for more information coming in the next few weeks!

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DYJA-AdminDYJA and Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation working together for 2017!

Are you brave enough to “cross over” into the jazz genre?

When it comes to the world of jazz we have often encountered sharp intakes of breath from experienced, classically trained musicians. Recently, one jovially remarked that it would be like “crossing over into the dark side,” not quite understanding the types of jazz on offer and the palm sweating arena of musical performance. For certain, there seems to be reluctance by some to even consider venturing into the “jazz” genre. Never has there been a little word such as this one. “JAZZ,” that simultaneously captures a rich heritage of music but fails to define the vast spectrum of different types of jazz on offer.

So what are the major differences you need to consider as a musician perhaps classically trained but interested in giving it a go?

One major area of concern is improvisation.

We’ve all sat in awe as we’ve watched musicians trill away happily having been given the conductor’s “nod” to go for it within a set piece. The younger they are the less inhibited they seem to be and the easier improvisation comes to them….And yet for all its organic splendour improvisation requires the most steely of disciplined musical minds.  The irony of improvisation is that some of the finest youngest improvisers at the centre can be heard week in and week out in the rehearsal room practising, practising, practising. Improvisation is about learning a whole host of scales; major and minor bebop scales through to the altered scale are just a few of them, developing the listening “ear” through a variety of ear training exercises, and a relentless exploration of theory to give them an understanding of the immediacy of jazz. The bigger your toolkit of understanding the easier improvisation becomes.

“But wait a minute” insists John Ellis “improvisation is an option. Not everyone wants to improvise and being given the freedom to be able to play within part of a Big Band environment is just as rewarding.  Enjoy the orchestrations and the challenges they present within themselves. There are many different jazz elements dependent on what you play.  And don’t forget you will become musical heavy weights with the ability to play for continuous periods of time, perhaps a key difference with other genres of music.”

As an organisation DYJA has started looking into some of the issues young people face when coming into our centre as jazz novices albeit excellent musicians.  In preparation for our upcoming educational season (launching with a joint weekend of jazz with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) from the 16th – 18th September this year), we will be hosting workshops open to all interested in “crossing over” into and de-mystifying the jazz genre. We’ll be posting further more in-depth articles on learning and getting involved in jazz genres over the coming months.

In the meantime our range of Jazz Education Workshops start on Saturday September 17th 2016 and can be booked here.


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DYJA-AdminAre you brave enough to “cross over” into the jazz genre?

The Supa-Dupa Big Band Bonanza Weekend in partnership with NYJO is almost here!

Do you want to learn how to play an instrument?  Perhaps you play an instrument already and want to learn how to move across into the jazz genre? Or maybe you’re a budding or accomplished young jazz musician already and would relish the opportunity of learning from the best?

In partnershipqIWuq9XL with the National Youth Jazz Organisation and proudly sponsored by Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation and the Doncaster Music Hub, Doncaster Youth Jazz Association is excited to be hosting the first Supa-Dupa Big Band Bonanza between Friday 16th and Sunday 18th September 2016 aimed at attracting anyone and everyone interested in learning or listening to jazz from across the Yorkshire region.

On Friday DYJA and NYJO Jazz Ambassadors will be engaging with Doncaster secondary school students, and on Saturday a range of workshops designed to encourage budding young musicians develop their jazz talents will aim to attract a regional audience to the CAST theatre and the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association Centre on Beckett Road.  Details of these workshops and how to book onto them can be found on the DYJA events pages.   A team of support Ambassadors will be on hand to encourage, discuss and support young musicians. “This is an unmissable weekend” says John Ellis MBE. “We have a unique opportunity in providing a focused learning experience for the next generation of jazz musicians and lovers. Learning from the likes of Mark Armstrong (Musical Director NYJO) or Dennis Rollins (Associate Musical Director DYJA) as well as being exposed to the high standards of jazz expertise from the country’s finest young musicians on our very own doorsteps should be on every student’s priority list.”

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) is Britain’s longest-running ensemble for young people up to 25 playing big-band jazz. Its mission is to perform exceptional music to excite audiences and engage with young people of all backgrounds around the country. In addition to the main performing orchestra, the organisation also operates the weekly NYJO Academy which contains several training bands and a vocal ensemble, and a nationwide series of inspirational workshops and educational events which inspire children and young people with a love of music and jazz. The organisation has helped launch the careers of many of the UK’s most-renowned jazz musicians including Amy Winehouse. Sir John Dankworth CBE “From an educational point of view, I think that NYJO in 2016 is one of our most valuable institutions in this country. The Hon.Richard C. Lyttelton, Former President of EMI Classics and Jazz.

The weekend culminates in an unmissable Supa-Dupa Big Band Bonanza held at the CAST theatre, Doncaster from 2;30pm onwards where NYJO will be performing alongside DYJA’s very own NYJO.  Tickets are now available to buy through the CAST box office.

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DYJA-AdminThe Supa-Dupa Big Band Bonanza Weekend in partnership with NYJO is almost here!

“Feeling Good” – Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra’s new vocal EP out now!


Our new EP, “Feeling Good” launches tomorrow night at our joint concert “Swing on a Summer’s Evening”. Following on from Doncaster Youth Jazz Association’s successful exchange tour in Germany in 2015 many people suggested we record our current young musicians alongside our talented vocallists, Max and Ruth. Perhaps the fact that they were only 17 and 15 when this EP was put together should make the impact of listening to this EP more memorable. It seems fitting that this EP launches when it does and will be out on sale at our CAST performance on Friday 1st July (Swing on a Summers Evening) with our Herten friends from the Erich Feeling GoodKlausener Schule (EKS).  After all it was through this exchange relationship and on our 2015 trip that we were inspired to put this together. Having to date, mostly recorded instrumental pieces this EP is a nod to posterity as it not only celebrates the enormous talent of our young musicians but commemorates the 2015 relaunch of the Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra (DYJO) under the very capable hands of Dennis Rollins (DYJA Alum) our new Associate Director. We hope you enjoy listening. John Ellis MBE




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DYJA-Admin“Feeling Good” – Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra’s new vocal EP out now!

The Herten to Doncaster 2016 Exchange Season is almost here!

The Herten and Doncaster exchange season is almost upon us! Here at HQ we are all busy with getting the upcoming Doncaster/ Herten 22nd Year exchange ready and underway. This is one of the few times in the year where many different social, educational, and musical strands come together in a week long community of exchange activities.  There are those amusing phone calls and emails between countries where language barriers are laughed off and replaced with excitement that another exchange is happening, concerts in over 5 schools where a new wave of young students get inspired and have the chance to listen to Big Band swing, jazz and rock music, street performances in York and Doncaster, Ceilidhs, party nights, a large scale professional performance concert at CAST, and exchange students living with Doncaster Swing, Stage and Jazz Orchestra host families… All in the space of 7 days starting from Sunday 26th June.

Doncaster Youth Jazz Association has been responsible for exchange related activities for over 30 years between countries in Europe and Doncaster.  Following highly successful performances at the Montreaux and Nice Jazz Festivals in 1979/80, ADDIM Rhône (a regional French council) contacted John Ellis MBE to encourage a new partnership. The exchange programme was launched and annual trips to the Rhône based region of France was the beginning of exchanges across Europe.  Every year saw a different town financed by the French ministry of Culture. Then came Germany, Poland, and eventually the US. “All concerts” says John were a series of “animation” (French for entertainment) concerts in schools with public evening concerts in major town venues.” The format of these exchanges form the foundation of the exchange programmes we run today.  They encompass all of the community. Music is an international language that communicates to all audiences through the pleasure of performance whether you are young or old.”

Hundreds of Doncaster residents will get the chance to hear the EKS Herten Big Band play across the week.  If you have the time to join us why not stop by for a range of free and paid for events including Sandall Park on Sunday 26th June from 2pm where they will be accompanied by the Doncaster Concert Band, York town centre on Parliament Street on Wednesday 29th June from 10:30am, or on the 1st July where they will be accompanied by bands from Doncaster Youth Jazz Association at the CAST theatre.  Tickets available on the CAST website…And should your children be fortunate enough to hear them play at one of the special school assemblies across the Doncaster borough do make sure to ask them about it! After all, many of our greatest towns’ musicians all started by attending these exchanges.

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DYJA-AdminThe Herten to Doncaster 2016 Exchange Season is almost here!


Look who’s coming to town!

Between the 16th – 18th September 2016 DYJA, in partnership with Doncaster Music Education Hub, will be welcoming NYJO for a weekend of Jazz education across the region.

A series of free workshops running across schools as well as at CAST and the Doncaster Jazz Centre will look to encourage anyone interested in learning to play an instrument, develop their skills further or learn more about the jazz genre to get involved.

A team of NYJO Ambassadors will be joining us to offer valuable insights, techniques, skills and encouragement to participants across the weekend.

An intimate performance session at the Jazz Centre early on Saturday evening will bring the weekend workshops together.

This collaborative weekend will culminate on the 18th September, a Sunday afternoon concert directed by Mark Armstrong and Dennis Rollins, both respective Artistic Directors of NYJO and DYJA.

This collaborative weekend will culminate on the 18th September, a Sunday afternoon concert directed by Mark Armstrong and Dennis Rollins, both respective Artistic Directors of NYJO and DYJA.

“The last time NYJO visited Doncaster was in 1975 – over 40 years ago” says John Ellis, Musical Director of DYJA.

“A lot has changed in music education during that time and now more than ever collaborations of this kind are fundamental to encouraging our young people to push the boundaries of learning.

We are so lucky and privileged to be hosting NYJO for this weekend.”

If you know of any young musician that would love to be involved with this weekend series keep your eyes open for further information….

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Swing on a Summer’s Evening…

Life is all about the friendship and the love and the music. It sounds silly, but it is.” – Fiona Apple.

Who would have thought that this musical extravaganza now in its 22nd year could convey so much more than a collection of young people playing jazz?  “It’s always been about giving young people the opportunity to discover themselves as well as other young people from other cultures, and different life experiences” says John Ellis MBE. The music they play, the instruments they share and the week they spend in one another’s company whether here in Doncaster or in a partner town in Europe such as Herten gives these talented young musicians a sense of friendship that underpins a fierce passion for the music they play together.  Seeing as this is the 22nd and un-interrupted year of this musical tour de force they can’t be going far wrong.

This year’s Swing on a Summer’s Evening line-up will prove no different.  Dennis Rollins is set to join Thomas Vennes with the talented EKS Big Swing Band and our very own John Ellis MBE on stage.  Here at HQ preparations are underway with local schools and CAST to put together a week that represents the launch of the summer season and is the highlight of many people’s calendar.

We are so proud of these talented musicians that need to be seen – and heard – to be believed. An exhilarating and foot –tapping programme, plus a whole lot of fun is guaranteed with swing, blues, ballads, latin, samba, rock, funk, fusion, popular vocals, and straight ahead jazz, plus a sprinkling of surprise guests!

To buy tickets for this event, head over to CAST.

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DYJA-AdminSwing on a Summer’s Evening…

Snake Davis Live

What do Jonathan Ross, M-People, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, George Michael, Take That, and Doncaster Youth Jazz Association have in common? Snake Davis…

On the 10th April 2016 Doncaster Youth Jazz Association was privileged to host Snake Davis one of the UK’s leading saxophonists. In demand from the biggest names in the show business world and with a hectic schedule, including resident saxophonist on “Tonight with Jonathan Ross,” Snake arrived ready to host one of DYJA’s first resident masterclasses supported by long term DYJA Friends Richard and Ann Bell.

A group of 16 DYJA young musicians arrived to meet Snake and the session began. Well-planned and well-paced Snake was able to manage a range of different ages and abilities with creative flair whilst communicating with each participant individually. “I always find it inspiring and emotional to spend time with keen committed young musicians. The students were completely fab. They listened intently, played their hearts out, behaved impeccably, asked great intelligent questions and even laughed at my jokes!” recalls Snake.

As part of DYJA’s educational programme the Association is keen to develop links with well-known musicians to inspire, encourage and motivate young musicians. Keen to get the project started Richard and Ann Bell, long-time supporters of DYJA sponsored this inaugural event.

“We have always been wonderfully entertained whenever we have attended DYJA concerts. We have also been greatly inspired by the achievements of the young musicians and of the Association in general, so we felt that we wanted to help DYJA in some small way, if we could. After establishing with Mark Ellis, a DYJA board member, that a Snake Davis workshop would be welcomed, we asked Snake if we could sponsor such a workshop at Doncaster Jazz Centre. He agreed immediately and Snake and Mark made all the arrangements after that.”


The Association will aim to run more resident masterclasses for their members later on this year so watch this space. If you are interested in joining as members please contact the office for further information.

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DYJA-AdminSnake Davis Live