Year 9 student James Lucas has been successful in an online audition to join The National Youth Jazz Collective. This is an ensemble which offers places to 14-18 year olds who are exceptionally talented in musical knowledge and performance. So, for 14 year-old James to acquire a place at the youngest possible age is testament to his hard work and dedication.
James’ talent is not confined to a single instrument, but he is proficient in both piano and guitar playing. In his audition, James was required to play through jazz songs on piano and guitar, improvising over the chord changes. The songs he performed were ‘Black Coffee’ on piano and ‘Autumn Leaves’ on guitar. There were also aural tests, where a melody was played and James had to play it back, by ear. As a principal feature of jazz is improvisation, it is vital that James has this good ‘ear’, as well as excellent knowledge of musical theory. It is this knowledge, particularly of scales and chord progressions, in harmony with his musical ear, that enables James to have a good sense of which notes are going to sound best where, as he improvises to an instrumental backing.
James has an eclectic taste, from Gnawa – the traditional music of Morocco – to hip-hop, rock and even classical music. But it is the ‘collective’ element of performing jazz that James enjoys so much. He claims that there is a feeling “Like no other when you are all in a room improvising off each other.” He loves the freedom that comes from not simply playing from the music set in front of you, but from being so in tune with the groove of the music and with the other musicians around you that the music just spills out, expressing who you are and what you feel.
Typically, being part of the National Youth Jazz Collective would involve joining together with other talented young musicians, from across the country, for a week of rehearsing together in Derbyshire before going on to perform for live audiences. But Covid-19 and social distancing mean that, this year, music will be sent out to James and other members of the Collective to learn, and they will play them together, performing their improvisational breaks, online. Live performance will have to wait until 2021!
As Principal Mrs.Wall says, James’ achievement is “brilliant news!” And we are delighted to be able to celebrate his success here.