By Darla Shelden
For Spring 2013, the Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra (OKCJO) is introducing a new educational outreach program, the Oklahoma Youth Jazz Ensemble (OYJE). The project’s mission is to expand artistic opportunities for aspiring high school jazz musicians by using high-level rehearsals, masterclass sessions, and live performances under the direction of experienced jazz musicians and educators.
“The four founders of the OKCJO, myself, Eric Leonard, Kirk Palmer and Chris Hicks were adamant about there being an educational component to our mission,” said Michael Anderson, OKCJO General Manager. “Not only so that we build our own audience from the ground up, but so that we could give something else to the arts culture of our community.”
The Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra features the state’s top jazz musicians including members of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and professors from six universities.
For the premiere season Roger Sharp and Floyd Haynes will serve as musical directors and Brian Gorrell will act as manager in coordination with the OKCJO Board of Directors.
“The upcoming inaugural season for the Oklahoma Youth Jazz Ensemble is really starting to garner lots of excitement from Oklahoma’s high school jazz band student and directors,” said Haynes, long time Oklahoma City big band leader and Del City High School Jazz Band director. “The format of this prestigious audition based jazz ensemble will be very similar to that of a professional band or orchestra. We will have evening weekly rehearsals at Oklahoma Christian University, thanks to Dr. Heath Jones, with several performances throughout the school year including opening for the OKC Jazz Orchestra at the Petroleum Club on the 34th floor of the downtown Chase building.”
The audition for the 2013 OYJE season will be held on Sunday, Jan. 27 from 1-5 p.m., at Oklahoma City University’s Wanda Bass Fine Arts Center, 2501 North Blackwelder. The audition is open to all high school students, grade 9 -12, who are involved in their school’s music program.
Head of the University of Central Oklahoma’s School of Music Jazz Studies Division, Gorrell said, “The Oklahoma Youth Jazz Ensemble is a brand new endeavor I have been spearheading with the OKCJO. I think Central Oklahoma will really benefit from having a weekly high school honors jazz ensemble rehearsing in much the same manner as the Oklahoma Youth Orchestra has done for many years.”
Anderson said, “For every concert we invite an area school’s band director and their jazz band students to attend our concert free. This has worked incredibly well and has connected many schools to what we are doing.”
“We know there are excellent high school jazz musicians around and we think our plan is the right way to get them together to rehearse and perform on a regular basis,” said Anderson. “It is critical that the school band directors don’t see this as something that will compete against their programs, so we require that all OYJE members be an active participant in their own school’s band programs.”
Reggie Irons, band director and leader of the 20 student jazz ensemble at the Classen School of Advanced Studies said, “I’ve recently had to replace several students who have graduated, so I have a young group who are doing a phenomenal job. I’m really proud of how they’ve progressed.”
“A foreign exchange student from Norway who plays jazz piano came in ready to get after it and he’s absorbing everything we’re doing,” said Irons. “When I have kids that seem really motivated like that, it inspires me to push them as far as I can. I look forward to talking to my kids about the Jazz Youth Ensemble. I have some pretty good players who I’ll encourage to audition.”
Regular weekly rehearsals will be held on Tuesday evenings in the Garvey Center, at Oklahoma Christian University, 2501 E. Memorial Road, in Edmond from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Students who audition and don’t initially make the group will remain on a call list throughout the season.
“These student musicians will not only be learning and performing great jazz band literature but will be learning the traits and work ethics of professional musicians,” said Haynes. “Students must be on time to every rehearsal and performance.”
On Monday April 1, the Youth Ensemble will perform with the Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra at the Petroleum Club in downtown Oklahoma City. A second concert will be performed on Monday May 20 at the UCO Jazz Lab in Edmond.
Gorrell added, “I am obviously very excited about this program. The goal is for the best high school jazz musicians to participate in this group, hopefully learn as much as possible, and then take these new skills back to their own high school jazz bands in an effort to elevate the overall quality of jazz education in Oklahoma.”