Swinging party

• Perth rapper Zero Emcee is one of the artists performing at WAYJO’s (left) 40th birthday bash.

IT all started in 1983 when a bunch of jazz musos and enthusiasts led by Adrian Kenyon and Pat Crichton decided to form an organisation to promote young jazz musicians in WA.

Fast forward to 2023 and the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra is well, not so young anymore – preparing to celebrate its 40th birthday with a special weekend of concerts and events at the State Theatre Centre in Northbridge.

Over the past four decades the way music is purchased, performed and consumed has drastically changed, but despite all this, WAYJO is doing better than ever and expanding.

“When I became artistic director in 2008 we only had one staff member and three music directors and now we have five staff and six music directors,” says WAYJO artistic director Mace Francis.

“The orchestra has grown from just one 18-piece big band to three bands over time. At one stage one of the WAYJO bands included classical string and woodwind players and was solely dedicated to performing new music created especially for the ensemble.

“I am excited about the WAYJO family coming together to celebrate all these years of creating music – It is quite mind blowing to think about the lives WAYJO has impacted over 40 years.”

For some, the Youth Jazz Orchestra is literally a family – sax player Tim Forster, who is head of a high-school music program, played in the orchestra in the 1990s.

A few years back his son Sam was in WAYJO, and his daughter Holly currently plays lead alto sax in the band. Sam and Holly will take to the stage for the 40th anniversary celebrations.

“It is so amazing to have an organisation like WAYJO where generations of the same family can have similar musical experiences,” Francis says.

Aside from the musical performances there will also be a historical photo display, footage of pervious performances and notable alumni attending like trumpeter Mat Jodrell.

Famous ex-WAYJO members include the 2023 grammy winning bassist/composer Linda Oh, who has performed and recorded with artists including Pat Metheny and Kenny Barron.

“I am excited to hear stories about people’s experiences in WAYJO before my time and to meet people who were in involved. It will be a really fun celebration,” Francis says.

The celebrations begin with a gala performance featuring all three WAYJO big bands – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night Orchestras – with special guest alumni including Perth jazz vocalist Libby Hammer, trombonist Catherine Noblet, saxophonist Gemma Farrell and vocalist Lucy Iffla. Farrell is the founder and musical director of the Artemis Orchestra, a predominately female big band which performs the original music of Australian women, non-binary and transgender people. 

She is also leader of WAYJO’s Progressions program and winner of WAM’s best brass, string or woodwind instrumentalist in 2020.

There will also be a nod to the wide range of musical genres that “jazz” encompasses with rapper Zero Emcee doing some hip hop with the Wednesday Night Orchestra. 

The second day of the festival will be an intimate trip down memory lane with small group jazz ensembles, the photo display, conversations with artists and some big band performances.

“Jazz for me is best experienced live and in the moment,” Francis says.

“I love the interaction, the spontaneity, the energy and I love how jazz feels and makes me feel. Jazz is a way of thinking about and playing music and it can work with any style.”

WAYJO’s 40th Anniversary Weekend is on May 26 and 27 at the State Theatre Centre of WA. For more details see wayjo.com 

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