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No, this isn’t an In Memoriam piece for saxophonist, clarinettist, pianist and teacher Joe Maneri, who died this week. “Sigh Joe” is how the Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra (SYJO) refer to themselves.

Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra

RSAMD, 28th August 2009

There were actually two bands playing at this concert. In the first half, we got the SYJO Jazz School band, made up of children of secondary school age who are just beginning to learn about playing jazz and improvisation. They had an unusual sound and line-up: lots of saxes, particularly alto saxes, and very little brass. I suspect that everyone on the course was in the band, rather than the organisers decreeing “we need two altos, two tenors, and a baritone”. One of the alto players sat next to the trumpet player, and seem to be playing from the same music. The solos were all improvised and made good musical sense, rather than just being strings of licks. Given that the musicians involved are basically beginners, they were very good indeed.

The main SYJO came on after the interval. They consist of youngsters aged 16 to 24 with a bit more instrumental skill and some experience of jazz improvisation. In practice most if not all of them were students on Strathclyde Uni’s Applied Music course. They were much closer to the finished article: a good tight ensemble sound, and some pretty decent soloing. Singer Debbie Davis joined them for several numbers in the middle of the set. She has a good jazzy Ella Fitgerald – Peggy Lee style voice, but was occasionally drowned out by the band in its louder moments.

Two bits of trivia caught my eye. Four out of the five saxophonists were female, but there were no other women in the band. The SYJO had a standard big band line-up, but had to draft in a couple of players from outside to bring the trumpet section up to the right number. So, boys and girls, if you want to be a jazz musician when you grow up, buy yourself a trumpet.

The SYJO play at the West Brewery on Glasgow Green on the 1st Sunday afternoon of every month.

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