GETTING TO KNOW YOU: TOM STONE, MD NYJO NONET
CURATED NIGHT: NYJO NONET
This is the first in a series of curated events where we will be asking a number of supporters of the 606 Club, both musicians and non-musicians, to programme a night featuring an artist or band of their choice that is personally significant to them. Our first curator is Sebastian Coe, a long time member and great friend of the Club. As well as all his other numerous achievements Seb is also the Honorary Vice President of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and it was his suggestion and choice that we feature the NYJO Nonet, a showcase for current and former members of NYJO under the age of 25 that attracts some of the UK's finest young musicians. As Seb says “Contrary to the impression that is often given in the media, jazz is not just for an elite bunch of old fogies but is a vibrant and growing art form that is being embraced more and more by a younger generation of musicians looking for something different and more challenging than the ubiquitous popular music that has become the background of our daily lives. For over 50 years NYJO, and more recently the likes of the Jazz Warriors and Tomorrow’s Warriors, has provided a platform for these younger musicians to develop their skills in a supportive and professional environment. Similarly, Clubs such as the 606 Club have done much to support and encourage a steady stream of musicians to make the move from talented youngster to working professional musician. The 606 Club has helped nurture talent such as Jamie Cullum, Gwillym Simcock, Gwyneth Herbert and Paul Booth and so it seems fitting to recommend the current crop of excellent young musicians associated with NYJO to perform at the Club this evening. Helping to promote Jazz to as wide an audience as possible, both older and most importantly younger, is something that I am passionate about and the truly excellent band appearing this evening is a great example of how it should be done.” The Nonet (that’s a 9 piece, incidentally, for those of us trying to count it on our fingers!) this evening will be directed by the excellent young saxophonist Tom Stone. With a focus on small-group improvisation the Nonet plays compositions and arrangements by current and ex-members of NYJO and has established a reputation for consummately skillful performances, inspired soloing and wonderful ‘cool-school’ arrangements. The band has appeared at numerous clubs and festivals, including the City of London Festival, the Pizza Express, the Bull’s Head and the London Jazz Festival. This is a great way to start the series, promoting younger players, something that the 606 has always been keen to do (see our regular Royal Academy of Music gigs) as well as providing a platform for some seriously good music.
“..nine-piece form, mixing up classic swing with cutting-edge modern jazz arrangements….dazzling virtuosity” Time Out
606: How & when were you first exposed to jazz music? Do you recall who the artist was in particular? What was your first reaction?
TS: I was first introduced to jazz at school when I took up the saxophone aged 11. I loved playing along to the Jamey Aebersold playalong books and soon was involved in the school big band and small jazz bands. After getting really interested in big band music at school I went along to NYJO when I was about 14 or 15. I then joined the first ever Junior Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music where I was really stuck in the deep end playing with some amazing musicians. Teachers there included the great Stan Sulzmann, who has influenced me hugely and has been one of my favourite musicians since I first heard him.
606: What drew you to the saxophone? Do you play any other instruments as well?
TS: I wasn't really drawn to the saxophone in particular...because I used to play the violin. That was my main instrument, but when I went to secondary school, my violin teacher said I could take up a second instrument as long as it wasn't in the orchestra because I had to play violin in the orchestras. So I wasn't left with a lot of choice! But sadly for my violin teacher I loved the saxophone so much that after leaving school I completely stopped playing the violin and have since sold it!
606: When did you first become involved with NYJO, and why? What have you learned as a result of your experiences with the organisation?
TS: I first went along to NYJO when I was about 14. I did one rehearsal with NYJO 2 (now the NYJO Academy) and was quickly asked to rehearse alongside NYJO 1. I depped on a few gigs and when a chair became available I was offered the tenor 2 chair. I knew that NYJO would provide me with an intense learning experience with regard to reading music, and I knew that I really wanted to develop my reading and sight-reading skills. I can safely say that it was NYJO that gave me the reading skills I have today as I never experienced that level of difficulty and pressure to succeed anywhere else throughout my musical training. NYJO also introduced me to many of my close friends today, as well as many of my musical connections. It was a fantastic thing to be a part of and I hope that by continuing to MD the NYJO Nonet I can give something back to an organisation that helped me kick start my career.
606: Do you think your particular family circumstances & background influenced your interest in music, and decision to pursue a career as a musician?
TS: Well, my Dad is a musician, so that probably had something to do with it! I have taken a different musical path than him, but the love and passion for music, as well as the talent has probably come from him. My Mum has always been a huge music fan, although she doesn't play herself, she goes to many gigs and loves to listen.
606: Some people find jazz hard to listen to or even dislike it. Do you think that jazz has an image problem, and what could be done to change the perception of it?
TS: I think the a lot of jazz is hugely self indulgent. I used to be a bit of a jazz snob, thinking that jazz was the only 'proper music'. But since leaving music college and getting stuck into all types and styles of music I realise that all music is valid and can be truly meaningful. A huge part of the jazz problem is that people can take 20 choruses of blowing on a tune, and concentrate only on that. They don't look at the bigger picture - the whole piece of music.
606: Do you think that the "conservatory model" of jazz education is creating a new breed of jazz musician and therefore changing the music itself? Is this a positive development in your opinion?
TS: For me, music college was the best thing I've ever done. I learnt so much and met so many amazing and talented people. I don't think it is creating a 'new breed' of jazz musician because everyone I went to college with has gone in a different direction. It is an amazing place to learn, absorb and develop and I really think that time in a musician's life if priceless.
606: I think it is fair to say that jazz is considered a niche music. Do you think that's fine, or would you like it to have a broader, mainstream appeal?
TS: I think jazz is fine as a niche. But I am lucky because I love all types of music and am able to make my living playing music in all sorts of styles. If I wanted to just make my living from playing jazz music then I might feel differently because I know how difficult that would be. It's a strange balance between playing the music for yourself because you love it, and playing music that you want the audience to love it.
606: Who are the jazz artists, past or present, that you like to listen to?
TS: I am never happier than when I'm listening to Oscar Peterson. His album of Gershwin songs was one of my first jazz albums and if I've had a loud gig I always listen to 'Night Train' on the way home! Saxophone wise, I've always loved Mark Turner's approach and his incredible improvising.
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