Reviews

Jan ‘Bas’ Johansen, Jazz Presenter, Riviera FM, Devon

“I had a fabulous time at the Carlton Theatre in Teignmouth, South Devon last night where I went to see the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra led by trumpeter John Ruddick, but sadly the auditorium was only 1/2 full which this band nor the Carlton Theatre deserved, the band was absolutely fabulous. It’s amazing to think that the band members were all under 25 and I take my hat off to the management of the Carlton Theatre for having the guts to put on the event. I know that there are a lot of jazz fans not just in Teignmouth who also put on the “Teignmouth Jazz Festival” but throughout the English Riviera from Star Cross to Kingsbridge and I am not only disappointed that they didn’t show up. I am angry; it doesn’t say much for the community spirit which supposedly exists throughout our area.  “Well it was only a youth jazz orchestra” you will no doubt excuse yourselves by saying No, it was not just a youth jazz orchestra, it was one of the best big bands in the UK and, I will add, in Europe.  Their musicianship is exceptional and the direction by John Ruddick was wonderful showing not just how good he is a musician, but that he approaches a serious musical task with fun, and humour – and the band repays him in grand measure with some fantastic swinging ensemble play that makes you bop up and down like a fishing float to riveting solo performances of such technical quality their young years belie.  I was especially impressed by young Callum Roxburgh’s arranging ability showing a rare musical talent, and among the musicians Alex Woods solo alto play was exceptional as was Callum Roxburgh on tenor, Nick Dunham on trumpet showed a rare tone quality and a lovely flowing technique, but the musician who for me took the biscuit was the drummer Dave Tandy.  He never missed a beat, was technically amazing and should be an inspiration to every aspiring young drummer around.  He didn’t beat the drums, he played them. He plays with the traditional grip like Buddy Rich and was sensational with the brushes. But what amazed me was his ability to make everything swing. To me he is going to be one of the very best drummers ever to come out of Britain or possibly even Europe. My final comment is on John Ruddick’s direction, John is and has always been one of the very best big band trumpeters alongside Kenny Baker within British big band jazz, but not only that, he has an extraordinary and in-depth knowledge as well as an inherent love of the music his band plays mixed with a terrific sense of humour which is truly contagious, and as such it makes him the ideal leader and teacher in a situation like this as his tuition does not become a drudge, but something you the band member really look forward to each and every day. So it is no wonder that he has been rewarded and awarded an honorary Doctorate in Music by Birmingham University it is in my humble opinion wholly deserved and it shows in the fabulous big band he has created and all I can and want to say is: Good on you, John and may you long continue.”

Solihull Times “MYJO with John Etheridge at Birmingham. This was a cracking session from a gifted guitarist backed by an irrepressibly swinging big band.”

BBC Big Band Club Magazine, Tony Sturgess “I have just managed to see the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra in Christchurch, and what a brilliant concert it was.The band is a mixture of young men and women, and how marvellous they are. Directed by John Ruddick,they exuded enthusiasm and happiness apart from their obvious talent, which was transmitted to the responsive audience who reacted accordingly. They played some difficult arrangements, such as “My Man Bill” by Rob McConnell and Giant Steps by John Coltrane, brilliantly performed, and other numbers too numerous to mention. Their maturity is unbelievable with this kind of music. If MYJO comes down your way, give yourself a treat and go along and see them; you will be astounded at their talent and performance.”

DIGBY FAIRWEATHER honestly, I haven’t heard a better big band since the days of Herman, Ellington and Basie.

THE MUSICIAN surely, one of the finest big bands in the land.”

THE STAGE…arguably, the finest of its kind in the UK…. big band jazz MYJO style….does not get any better than that.”

BOBBY SHEW….one of the finest youth bands I’ve ever performed with…..in the world. MYJO IS HOT!

BILL WATROUS “one of the best bands I have ever played with – just fabulous – some marvellous players, great ensemble work, and they really

swung too.”

GODFREY SMITH, Sunday Times “shattering talent….played with a power and precision that would not have shamed Stan Kenton himself. Catch them if you can.”

KEN RATTENBURY, Crescendo & Jazz Music “vibrant, confident, highly professional peak of performance……definitely the quickest 150 mins of sheer enjoyment and musical excitement I can recall ever having had the privilege to attend and absorb.”

MYJO at the IAJE Toronto 2004 – Jack Bowers, All About Jazz

The mood was brightened considerably by a delicious spaghetti supper followed at eight o’clock by a half-hour-long ‘preview’ concert in the Centre’s Constitution Hall by Great Britain’s strapping Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra with guest vocalist Lee Gibson, who’s as lovely to look at as she is to hear. Ms. Gibson was fabulous on ‘Over the Rainbow’, as was the ensemble on every number including the thunderous finale, Bill Holman’s spine-tingling arrangement of ‘Malaga’. MYJO, ably directed by John Ruddick, would present an encore performance, again with Ms Gibson, at eleven o’clock Saturday morning.

EASY TO LOVE – Bobby Shew and MYJO – Jack Bowers, All About Jazz

As guest trumpeter Bobby Shew says in his liner notes to Easy to Love – and I certainly won’t disagree – “the MYJO is hot!” Bobby adds that the Midlands-based ensemble is “one of the finest youth bands” with which he has ever performed. Again, no argument from this quarter. I’ve been an enthusiastic partisan since hearing the band’s first recording a couple or three years ago (in concert) with alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan. Its second recording is in some respects even more impressive than the first, which was merely spectacular. The band sounds even more together (how can that be?) while the rhythm section, despite the “graduation” of premier drummer Ian Palmer, never skips a beat or drops an accent. Soloists? For players who’ve only been shaving or driving a short time, nothing short of hearing is believing. As for Shew, he is his usual dazzling self on the eight selections on which he appears (all except “Miracle Mile,” “Hot and Sweaty” and “Easy to Love”).

Wonderful as he is, however, this would be a superior album even if Bobby had called in sick. The MYJO is that good. Of course, maestro John Ruddick’s forces would have had considerable prime solo space to fill, but I’m sure they could have managed. While all the charts are topnotch, a few stand above the rest – Raul Romero’s “Baile Indio” and “Tristesse,” Ruddick’s “Anita” (arranged by Martin Williams), Oregonian Jim Olsen’s swinging treatment of Monk’s “Straight No Chaser,” Herbie Phillips’ Latin take on “Body and Soul,” and of course Rob McConnell’s definitive arrangement of “Easy to Love.” But this implies that others may be less than rewarding, which simply isn’t true. Everything here shines like newly minted gold. If this near-perfect album doesn’t appear on some British Jazz critics’ Top 10 lists this year, I will be as mystified as I am disappointed by their lack of awareness.

Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra at Stratford Civic Hall

by Sandy Holt of the Stratford Herald

ONE of the UK’s leading jazz singers, Jeff Hooper, joined the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra on stage at Stratford Civic Hall last Sunday night for a swinging evening of big band sounds.

Before his appearance, the orchestra – led by top trumpeter John Ruddick – warmed the audience with their exciting collection of big band sounds. It is not surprising they have been nine times winners in the BBC Radio 2 Big Band Competition, the vibrant and skilled musicianship of this young orchestra takes a lot of beating. Not only have they toured in both Europe and the USA, appearing in many top jazz festivals, these talented musicians have also supported the likes of Jamie Cullum, Georgie Fame, Lee Gibson, Gary Wilmott and John Dankworth.

The second half continued in the same professional way, featuring the wonderful sounds of Mr Ruddick on trumpet as well as a welcome return to the stage by Mr Hooper.

John Ruddick has appeared with the Don Lusher Big Band, the BBC Big Band, the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Fat Chops Big Band, and the All Stars Big Band, and has worked with such musicians as Peggy Lee, film composer Lab Schifrin and drummer Pete Erskine.

It has been several years since the orchestra has appeared on a Stratford stage and the only disappointing part of the evening was that so many people missed out on this wonderful performance. Let’s hope it doesn’t put them off coming again soon.

BBC Music Live – Claire Campbell-Smith

West Midlands Co-ordinator

I am writing to those people or organisations who made a particularly imaginative or significant contribution to BBC Music Live…………………

MYJO’s performance during Jools Holland’s visit to Birmingham International Airport was a real highlight of the festival in the West Midlands. “Midlands Today” were very pleased with what they were able to cover, and I’ve had numerous appreciative comments about MYJO, not least from Jools himself. The airport staff were thrilled and their Press Department were very pleased with the whole event – I’m sure they would like it to happen every day!

I look forward to the next time our paths cross, and thank you again for supporting BBC Music Live.

SUNDAY TIMES – Review by Godfrey Smith

Serendipity took me to the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich to hear some shattering young talent. The much garlanded Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra was on stage, playing with a power and precision that would not have shamed Stan Kenton himself. The average age of the 19 musicians was around 20, but many had been with the MYJO since they were 11 or 12. Most are students, mainly at Birmingham University or Birmingham Conservatoire, and three girls in the line-up swung with the best of them. They owe their inspired playing to John Ruddick, the musical director, a lead trumpet with many top bands. He showed that night in his one solo slot that he still blows a mean horn, too, and the band’s sizzling final number, the Buddy Rich arrangement of West Side Story, transcribed by Roger Myers, lifts you clean out of your seat. Catch them if you can.

THE STAGE Light Entertainment Review by Stan Woolley

The Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra is, arguably, the finest of its kind in the UK. The 18 piece band boasts an extensive repertoire (and) features a lot of material by Tom Kubis and Bob Florence, two key figures of the American West Coast big band scene. The former’s chart of Alexanders Ragtime Band spotlighted the saxophone section, while the latter’s working on Chicago was nothing short of a tour de force for all concerned. Canadian bandleader Rob McConnell also contributes to MYJO’s book and his beautiful arrangement of Street of Dreams with its latin overtones, was another memorable performance. The band is not short of home grown talent and its trumpet playing leader, John Ruddick, was responsible for a fine flowing piece called Anita, while tenorist Martin Williams was the composer of the funky-sounding Hot and Sweaty. But it was the band’s interpretation of Florence’s music which impressed most of all, numbers like Sound Sketch, Lonely Carousel, and the magnificent performance of Willowcrest. For its closing piece the band chose the dramatic and very spectacular Buddy Rich version of West Side Story and roared through it in grand style, thanks to some dynamic drumming. This was big band jazz MYJO style – and it does not get any better than that.

BOP NEWS Jazz Concerts Close To Home – by Peter Green

Bobby Shew returned to The Spinney Hill Hall here in Northampton last Autumn. Once again the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra was there to back this very great American jazz trumpet player. Did I say ‘back’? Nonsense! The band is a star attraction in its own right and the presence of Bobby was just to put the icing on a very hot jazz cake. The audience was right there in their support of this band from the Midlands, so ably lead and directed by John Ruddick, whose enthusiasm means so much to the band. Once again MYJO demonstrated just how good they were and pleased their audience with precision ensemble work and very good solos came from all the band. So after they had ‘warmed up’ the audience, on came Bobby Shew. Once again we had a demonstration of just how a top American trumpet player can shade the rest of the world’s good ‘uns’……………On that Friday night at Spinney Hill Hall, Bobby Shew proved once more how great a jazzman he is.

EVENING MAIL “The Sound of Youth” Novotel Hotel – Birmingham by David Yeats

Trumpeter John Ruddick’s Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra has undergone a number of significant changes recently, so there were several new faces in the line-up for the Novotel’s regular Sunday night big band session. However, the high-precision musicianship for which the band is famous never faltered, even though the newcomers are barely old enough to drive. An indication of their abilities came when talented Tamworth trumpeter Kevin Wedrychowski, back from four years study at Florida International University, plonked his tricky Bye Bye Barnet in front of them and they sight read it perfectly, no trouble. Top marks to Worcester pianist John Holmes playing only his second gig and Much Wenlock guitarist Chris Hooper, while saxists Gina Clatworthy, Nancy Burgess and brothers Daniel and Simon Meredith continue to mature. Another Miami graduate, trombonist Carl Sanders was back in the section, and the boss blew hot horn on Martin Williams’ peppy Anita. Tenor saxist Williams quit MYJO for the BBC Big Band and Ruddick often helps them out on trumpet, so it was appropriate to invite the BBC’s top trombone star, Gordon Campbell to make a guest appearance. Displaying ample taste and bravura, Campbell proved a worthy protagonist for the powerhouse local ensemble who charged through his challenging charts like seasoned professionals.

CRESCENDO and JAZZ MUSIC – An evening of top quality big band jazz by Ken Rattenbury. MYJO with Bobby Shew at Tally-Ho Conference Centre Birmingham.

Heavens, what an ear-opener this splendid session was! Right from Note 1, this outstanding 20 piece orchestra literally exploded into a vibrant, confident, highly professional peak of performance. And, during the 2 1/2 hours of concert time, this vital standard, with its intense committment, never faltered for one instant. Definitely the quickest 150 mins of sheer enjoyment and musical excitement I can recall having ever had the privilege to attend and absorb. An 18-item programme of cannily chosen big band charts (including scores by the likes of Rob McConnell, Bob Florence, Don Menza, Bob Ojeda, Frank Mantooth – all names to conjure with, in truth!), wherein the sheer dynamism of the well trained ensemble carried the jazz message ever onward and upward with an assurance and confidence which certainly guarantees the on-going well-being, development and survival of our music…. ….With a music organisation like MYJO, the sky is the limit – the impact and sizzling energy imparted through this fine orchestra’s collective output has really to be heard ‘live’ to be believed: 11 brass, 5 reeds, 3 rhythm – nary a duff note anywhere – so meticulously trained – ‘drilled’ might be a more accurate term! by John Ruddick, who has been musical director for MYJO….(with)… eyes-down dedication and unremitting industry….But now – how about Bobby Shew? A trumpet player of exceptional power whenever this is called for, and a lyrical delicacy whenever moods and tempi dictate. A thrilling display of consummate professionalism and sterling creativity, possessing a lip in a million, and a range of tones; plus a digital dexterity which beggars description…. the tour de force to cap all such phenomena! Bobby either powered or tip-toed his way through nine of the eighteen items on the programme with ease, style and sympathy, displaying, the while, a platform manner of warmth and wit…. He was full of praise for John Ruddick’s MYJO….. But to return to the concert package – simply stunning, an evening of wonderful, stimulating music, of exceptional achievement.