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Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra

Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra, Kidderminster Jazz Club, St. Ambrose Parish Centre, Kidderminster, Worcs. 06/10/2023.

by Ian Mann

October 07, 2023


An excellent evening of big band jazz from a highly talented young band that was admirably tight as an ensemble, but which also included some outstanding individual soloists.

Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra, Kidderminster Jazz Club, St. Ambrose Parish Centre, Kidderminster, Worcs. 06/10/2023

John Ruddick MBE – Director

Sean Jenkins (lead), Max Asprey, James Borland, Will Davison, Ella Clark – trumpets, flugels

Eleanor Page, Joe Smith, Mae Bennett, Robert Brooks – trombones

Jack Jones – bass trombone

Liam Brennan, - alto sax, soprano sax, flute

Beth Fisher-Dewhurst – alto sax, flute

Noah Calloway – tenor sax

Matt Maidment – tenor sax, clarinet

Tom Spofforth – baritone sax

Thomas Ward – piano

Dougie Hills – electric bass

Michael McCourt – drums

Based in Birmingham but featuring musicians from right across the Midlands area the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra (hereafter MYJO) is regarded as one of the UK’s leading youth big bands.

Directed for the last thirty years by John Ruddick MBE the band has toured extensively in the UK, Europe and North America, collecting a numerous international awards along the way and also releasing a number of CDs.

It has also worked with an impressive roster of guest instrumental soloists and vocalists, among them saxophonists Alan Barnes (a previous KJC visitor), Courtney Pine and the late Peter King, singer Elaine Delmar, and pianist / vocalist Jamie Cullum. However this list barely scratches the surface, for the full list of the many illustrious guests that MYJO has collaborated with over the years please visit

With numerous friends and family in attendance there was a pleasingly large and supportive audience at St. Ambrose Parish Centre, helping to create a warm and encouraging atmosphere that was conducive to good music making.

KJC likes to present one big band event per season and previous visitors to the Club have included the Wyre Forest Big Band and the Steve King Big Band. I recall enjoying seeing an earlier edition of MYJO at the Huntingdon Hall venue in Worcester some time back in the 1990s so I was expecting to hear some high quality big band music tonight. I was not to be disappointed.

My thanks go to Nichola Ruddick, John’s wife, for providing me with a full list of MYJO’s personnel during the interval and for answering a couple of queries about a set list that included some very interesting compositions and arrangements and which didn’t just stick to familiar big band staples.

Slad in their band uniform of black shirts and red waistcoats MYJO kicked off with a rousing, rollicking version of the Horace Silver tune “Hippy”. This included solos from trumpeter James Borland and pianist Thomas Ward, plus something of a feature for drummer Michael McCourt. I had feared that an eighteen piece band like MYJO might be too overpowering in a small venue like St. Ambrose but this proved not to be the case and the sound was excellent both in terms of quality and volume. There was still an authentic big band sound but the subtleties of the compositions and arrangements could be readily and properly appreciated.

The standard “Who Can I Turn To?” represented the first of several arrangements by the prolific American saxophonist,  composer, arranger and bandleader Tom Kubis. Less frenetic than the opener it was introduced by Ward at the piano and featured the sound of muted trumpets. The saxophone section was featured prominently with tenor men Noah Calloway and Matt Maidment both taking solos.

“Suspect In You” is a composition by trumpeter Nick Dewhurst, a former member of the band who played professionally in London before returning to his native Lichfield and renewing his involvement with MYJO.  Although not present tonight Dewhurst runs another of the MYJO Association’s ensembles and his wife, Beth Fisher-Dewhurst was in tonight’s sax section playing alto. I recall seeing Nick Dewhurst play on a number of occasions in a variety of different contexts over the years. He really is an excellent musician and a talented composer.
Dewhurst’s tune brought a more contemporary sound to the proceedings with Ward deploying an electric piano sound on the keyboard. Featured soloists included Liam Brennan on alto sax, Borland on trumpet and Jack Jones on bass trombone.

Borland was the featured soloist on an arrangement of “Body and Soul”, written for MYJO by one of their former collaborators, the American trumpeter Bobby Shew. Effectively this was this set’s ballad, with Borland again proving himself to be a wonderfully fluent soloist.

A second Tom Kubis arrangement, “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” was performed as an ensemble piece, but with the sax section featuring prominently.

The Maria Schneider composition “Lately” represented another relatively contemporary item with the sounds of muted trumpets and alto saxes prominent in the arrangement and with Ward on piano and Joe Smith on trombone the featured soloists.

The first set ended as it began in rumbustious fashion with “Cruisin For a Bluesin”, written by Andy Weiner and arranged by Peter Blair. This featured another extended solo from the excellent Borland followed by more concise cameos from the members of the sax section, Brennan, baritone specialist Tom Spofforth and twin tenors Calloway and Maidment. Drummer McCourt was also featured towards the close.

Following a short break MYJO kick started the second half with “Magic Flea”, written by the American composer and arranger Sammy Nestico, ushered in by a glorious big band fanfare and featuring solos from Ward on piano and Maidment on tenor.

Ward was the featured soloist on “What A Difference A Day Makes”, arranged by the late Frank Mantooth (1947 – 2004), an American pianist and arranger and former MYJO collaborator.

Johnny Mandel’s ballad “Time For Love” was a feature for trombonist Joe Smith, one of the more senior members of the ensemble. Smith impressed with his warm, rounded tone and overall fluency as he soloed above a chorus of soft reeds and muted trumpets.

Perhaps the most distinctive performance of the night came with an arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” by valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (1929-2011). Brookmeyer’s imaginative arrangement still sounded stunningly contemporary with the sparsity of Ward’s solo piano passages contrasting effectively with the lush textures of the reeds and brass.

Kubis’ “Samba Dees Gotta Do It” introduced an upbeat Brazilian flavour with Brennan switching to soprano sax and Fisher-Dewhurst to flute. Max Asprey delivered a fluent and fiery trumpet solo and we also heard from Robert Brooks on trombone and Calloway on tenor.

Introducing the last tune of the set, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Ruddick called for a round of applause for young bassist Dougie Hills, who was playing his first gig with the band and acquitting himself admirably. While Brennan was moving to flute Maidment was featured on both clarinet and tenor, playing the former on the famous intro and then soloing more expansively on tenor. Other featured soloists were Smith on trombone and Borland on trumpet, arguably the band’s two outstanding instrumentalists.

MYJO enjoyed a rapturous reception from the audience and after some discussion it was decided to encore with the Gordon Goodwin chart “Count Bubba”. This included ‘section features’ for the reeds, trombones and trumpets plus individual solos from Smith on trombone, Calloway on tenor, Brennan on alto and the splendidly moustachioed Asprey on trumpet.

This was an excellent evening of big band jazz from a highly talented young band that was admirably tight as an ensemble, but which also included some outstanding individual soloists. John Ruddick is to be congratulated for choosing a consistently interesting programme featuring some distinctive and imaginative arrangements.

Kidderminster Jazz Club’s successful series of big band events is surely set to continue next season.


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