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BMJazz Katz - “Work, Play, Inspire!”

by Ian Mann

March 14, 2024

Ian Mann enjoys a performance by Black Mountain Jazz Club's youth ensemble BMJazz Katz and their tutors at the Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 10/03/2024.

Photograph by Kasia Ociepa

BMJazz Katz – “Work, Play, Inspire!

Music education has always been a big part of the remit for the Abergavenny based Black Mountain Jazz Club.

BMJazz Katz is the Club’s youth jazz ensemble, formed as recently as 2023, who meet on a regular basis to learn about and to play jazz with tutors Jack Mac (saxes), Nick Kacal (double bass) and Ryan Thrupp (drums), these three better known as the BMJ Collective.

The Black Mountain Jazz website offers the following profile of the BMJazz Katz and their tutors;


Bringing together a handful of talented and experienced tutors, BMJazz Katz is a workshop project which gives young people the opportunity to learn to play together in a big band. Open to those who play any instrument, including voice, to a ‘reasonable level’ for their age, new members are always welcome. This is an amazing opportunity for kids who want an exciting and welcome space to share and present their musical passions.

The sessions incorporate a mixture of individual and group playing, focusing on rhythm, feel, balance and fun.

All professional musicians, our tutors bring their knowledge and enthusiasm and help students feel comfortable, capable and part of the conversation.

If this is of interest and you would like to join us, please come along to one of our workshops - perhaps sit in and see if you like it.  For more information, please get in touch via our Contact Form.


“We are Jack ‘Mac’ McDougal on saxophone, Nick Kacal on double bass and Ryan Thrupp on drums and we make up the regular tutors for the BMJ Jazz Katz. The three of us are all professional jazz musicians, performing regularly both as a trio group as well as in various other ensembles and collectives.  
BMJ approached us at the start of 2023 with the aims of expanding the youth jazz workshop series. Having all worked with and performed for Black Mountain Jazz, we were excited and enthusiastic to be a part of this new initiative.
The workshops are for students of all ages and run twice a month, once a Tuesday evening and once on a Sunday afternoon, with a monthly performance by the tutors with a featured guest artist happening afterwards on the Sunday evening. In these workshops we aim to teach Jazz performance and improvisation from a more organic, aural tradition, with plenty of listening and no sheet music involved.
It is a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere with the sole purpose of showing participants the enjoyment and fulfilment that can be had from jazz music with the aim that they take home the knowledge and confidence they gain from the workshops to be able to use in their future musical journeys.”

The Sunday afternoon BMJazz Katz workshops are often followed by an evening concert that features the members of the BMJ Collective performing with an invited guest. The idea of the tutors performing for the public in the evening is not only for ticket sales to contribute towards the teaching costs but also for the students to see their tutors performing at their best and embodying the BMJazz Katz motto of “work, play, inspire!”

I’m pleased to report that the ‘BMJ Collective with’ evening concert series has been very well received by the Abergavenny jazz audience and that attendances thus far have been very healthy. These gigs have also seen some exceptional performances that have certainly exceeded my initial expectations. As I have previously observed “this is a series of events that continues to punch above its weight” and which has offered far more than the average ‘house trio with guest soloist’ run of the mill session.

Thus far the BMJ Collective have performed in the company of pianists Ross Hicks and Michael Blanchfield, vocalist Sarah Meek and guitarist Chris Cobbson. These shows have been consistently excellent and all have been reviewed elsewhere on this site. I’m looking forward to more of these events taking place later in the year and it will be very interesting to see who else gets invited along to play with a house trio that has developed into a hugely impressive unit. Messrs. Mac, Kacal and Thrupp are all highly capable musicians who have established an impressive collective rapport that enables them to bring the very best out of their guests -  and also their students.

The 2023 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, saw the first public performance by the BMJazz Katz as ten young musicians joined Mac, Kacal and Thrupp on the theatre stage at BMJ’s regular venue the Melville Centre. This proved to be a hugely enjoyable event with all the youngsters acquitting themselves superbly as the three tutors provided them with excellent musical support and encouragement.

I reviewed the event as part of my Festival coverage and my summing up of the first ever BMJazz Katz is reproduced below;
“With so many friends and family in the audience the young BMJazz Katz enjoyed a terrific reception, but one didn’t need to be personally connected to appreciate the quality of the playing. Mac, Kacal and Thrupp did a great job of guiding them along and generally encouraging them, and the efforts of the tutors were also warmly applauded. This gig was a big event for these young musicians and they rose to the occasion magnificently. Let’s hope that the BMJazz Katz project is here to stay”.
Full review here;

And here to stay it certainly is with Sunday 10th March 2024 representing the second public performance from the BMJazz Katz in the company of the BMJ Collective. This was an early evening event that started at 6.00 pm and which was free of charge to enter, although advance booking was recommended and tickets were issued.

Once again a substantial and very supportive audience was in attendance to applaud the young musicians. Many of the players had taken part in the first BMJazz Katz event at Wall2Wall and there were also one or two new additions.

Joining Mac, Kacal and Thrupp were;

Rueban Carter – tenor sax
Daniel Keevil – acoustic piano
Paola Scarpetta – electric guitar, vocals
Millie Rees – drums, percussion, vocals
Oliver Charrington – drums, percussion
Gia Skilton-Breakey – drums, percussion
Eloise Knight - vocals

Introducing the event Rod Cunningham thanked Abergavenny Rotary Club for their financial support of the BMJazz Katz project. The Black Mountain Jazz Facebook page includes a statement from Abergavenny Rotary Club,  part of which is reproduced below;

“Abergavenny Rotary Club has provided funding to support an exciting and welcoming space for young musicians to share their musical passion at the Black Mountain Jazz Katz 2024 Workshop Programme in the Melville Centre Abergavenny.

The Rotary funding has been used to refurbish a range of musical instruments to allow the young people to play instruments of their choice. The Town Council has also provide a grant to support this project.

The workshops started in January 2024 and are held on one Sunday afternoon per month and one Tuesday evening per month at the Melville Centre. The workshop on Sunday 10 March was followed by an evening performance at the Centre. The workshops will continue twice a month through to September 2024 with regular performance “gigs”. The students have been invited to perform at the Town Council’s D-Day celebrations in the Market Hall on Thursday 6th June 2024.

Seen pictured are Rotary Club President Dean Christy presenting the Rotary cheque with a group of tutors and students.

If you are interested in joining the workshops and want to find out more please email Mike Skilton of Black Mountain Jazz at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or phone him on 07958 612691. “

Turning now to the performance itself, which began with the full ensemble of students and tutors playing the Sonny Rollins composition “Sonnymoon For Two”, a tune chosen to introduce the students to the concept of improvising around a blues theme. Eloise Knight, who hadn’t featured at the previous Katz show, contributed scat vocals with instrumental solos coming from tutor Jack Mac on alto sax and students Rueban Carter and Daniel Keevil on tenor sax and piano respectively. There was also a feature for the four strong drum / percussion section with Thrupp at the kit augmented by Oliver Charrington, Millie Rees and Gia Skilton-Breakey on various items of percussion.

The Charlie Parker tune “My Little Suede Shoes” was presented in a Latin style arrangement ushered in by the drummers / percussionists and with Knight’s wordless vocals and Carter’s tenor sax stating the melody. Carter and Keevil again featured as soloists, as was Oliver Charrington, who had taken over from Thrupp at the drum kit.

Paola Scarpetta moved to the front of the stage to sing and play guitar on the song “I Wish You Love”, accompanied by Kacal’s double bass and Thrupp’s brushed drums. It took some time for sound engineer Sean to re-arrange the stage, which could have been unsettling, but Scarpetta remained unflustered and delivered an assured and confident performance of a beautiful song. In Mac’s words she handled the disruption “like a pro”, as did Mac himself who combined with Thrupp to provide a short snippet of incidental music (“The Girl from Ipanema”) during the changeover, thereby keeping the audience amused and diffusing any tension.

The singing of Eloise Knight was featured on the Olivia Rodrigo song “Lacy”, which saw the young vocalist accompanied by the three members of the BMJ Collective, with the versatile Jack Mac featuring on piano. It’s significant to note that although BMJazz Katz is a jazz workshop the tutors acknowledge the fact that the students don’t live in a ‘jazz vacuum’ and encourage them to bring their favourite pop and rock songs to the sessions – i.e. material that the youngsters can relate to which is then reimagined within a more obviously jazz context.

The Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol song was a vehicle for the tenor sax playing of Rueban Carter as he performed in the company of the tutors. At the Wall2Wall show Carter had featured on alto but today he swapped roles with Mac, with solos coming from Carter on tenor, Mac on alto, Kacal on double bass and Thrupp at the drums.

Scarpetta stepped forward again to perform the Laufey song “Valentine”, accompanying herself on guitar and with Millie Rees providing vocal harmonies and singing alternate lead lines. Laufey obviously represents something of a touchstone for Scarpetta and Rees, the duo having performed another of her songs, “From The Start”, at the 2023 Wall2Wall event.

The full ensemble returned for George Gershwin’s “Summertime”,  with Rees now taking up position behind the drum kit. Knight sang the first verse accompanied by Rees’ cymbal shimmers before Carter took over for the first instrumental solo on tenor, followed by Keevil at the piano and Kacal on double bass.

The hour long performance concluded with the Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht song “Mack The Knife”, with Mack acknowledging the fact that although the lyrics might not be the ideal choice for a youth ensemble it’s still a gloriously swinging tune – “a bit of a banger” in modern parlance. Eloise and Millie shared the vocals with instrumental solos provided by Mac on alto, Carter on tenor and Keevil on piano. There was also a feature for the percussion section, with the ensemble’s youngest member, eight year old Gia Skilton-Breakey, enjoying her moment in the spotlight. The daughter of saxophonist Martha Skilton and granddaughter of BMJ promoter Mike Skilton she must surely have a bright musical future ahead of her and already has her first gig and her first review under her belt!

Once again the BMJazz Katz had delivered an excellent show, and one that introduced some fresh personnel and plenty of new material. As before all the youngsters performed admirably and to a remarkably high standard, ably assisted by their tutors who once again provided brilliant support and encouragement. Well done to everybody concerned.

The financial support of Abergavenny Rotary Club and Abergavenny Town Council will help to ensure that the BMJazz Katz workshops will continue throughout the summer, culminating with the students making their next public performance at the 2024 Wall2Wall Festival on September 29th.

In the meantime the BMJ Collective will continue their series of gigs at the Melville Centre with specially invited guests with shows on 12th May, 7th July and 11th August. Details of these are yet to be finalised but will appear on the Black Mountain Jazz website in due course.

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