Musician aims to create jazz scene in Northern Ireland with junior ensemble

Jazz Juniors is made up of nine musicians, aged 10-16, from across Northern Ireland.

The Jazz Juniors ensemble rehearse in Belfast (Arts Council NI/PA)
The Jazz Juniors ensemble rehearse in Belfast (Arts Council NI/PA)

A Mobo award-nominated musician is aiming to inspire the next generation of talent through the formation of the first ever junior improvisational jazz ensemble in Northern Ireland.

Composer and drummer David Lyttle created Jazz Juniors because of the lack of opportunities for young players, which often forces them to move away to find work.

Jazz Juniors is made up of nine musicians, aged 10-16, from across Northern Ireland.

The Jazz Juniors ensemble (Arts Council NI/PA)

Lyttle said: “I am from Northern Ireland and am based here, but over a period of years I started to notice that many of the jazz musicians who reached a good level in Northern Ireland were forced to move. Most of my work is abroad.

“Jazz is something which lends itself to beginning at an early age. It is very difficult, it is the highest level of musical expression.

“It requires the technique and the discipline of the classical musician, but the main part is the improvisation and your personality as a musician. It is a lifelong quest.

“It is very difficult to start in jazz as an adult. We have never really had any jazz education here in Northern Ireland.

“It hit me that if there was ever a scene formed and musicians are going to stay in this country, then there needs to be some form of education and it needs to happen at an early age.”

David Lyttle with the Jazz Juniors ensemble (Arts Council NI/PA)

He added: “Many musicians get to a good level and they can’t find work, there is not really a scene here or a large pool of musicians to work with.

“The young people who are part of the first Jazz Juniors ensemble are from classical backgrounds, folk backgrounds, singer-songwriter backgrounds.

“It is a small group of nine people from throughout the country. They work very hard and I work with them once a month.

“Most of them don’t have a teacher on their instruments and they are learning jazz with me mostly by ear. It is a tough form of music and it requires a lot of work from the individual.

“The development in them all is just amazing because they really want to get better and every month they improve.

“This project is the first of its kind. There are plenty of schemes where young people can learn classical music and folk, rock and pop but we’ve never had a jazz scheme.

“There are always young people who are very gifted on their instruments, who have reached a high level of maturity and they are searching for something which is a bit different and will challenge them.

Young musicians playing in the Jazz Juniors ensemble (Arts Council NI/PA)

“We are encouraging them to learn the rich tradition of jazz and respect it, but ultimately to use that as a platform.

One of the outcomes is there will be more jazz musicians in Northern Ireland. This is our first ensemble, we are halfway through year one. In year two we will take on another ensemble and keep growing.

“Once we are fully operational in three-and-a-half years there will be around 40 young musicians who will be eager to learn jazz and will have the talent and ability to do so.

“There will be a bigger scene but the main thing is that these young people are getting a chance to explore their talent and to explore a type of music that really challenges them.”

Part of the Jazz Juniors programme, which is funded by Arts Council NI, allows the young musicians to play in venues with established jazz performers.

The Jazz Juniors ensemble will be opening for Lyttle and his band at the Black Box in Belfast this Saturday as part of the Brilliant Corners Festival.

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