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Sean Jones and his National Youth Orchestra Jazz Ensemble makes their way to Detroit this weekend

Sean Jones conducting the NYO Jazz Ensemble.
Chris Lee
Sean Jones conducting the NYO Jazz Ensemble.


Michael Jewett: Friday night in Detroit, the NYO National Youth Orchestra from Carnegie Hall is in Detroit at the Fisher Center for, well, their debut performance in our area. And to tell us everything about the ensemble is trumpeter and the music director for the NYO, trumpeter, Sean Jones. Welcome back to our area. It's actually been a while since you've been here.

Sean Jones: Oh, my gosh. It's great to be back and thank you so much for having me. I'm excited.

Michael Jewett: Yeah, I got to say, the record is out. It's called "We're Still Here" from NYO Jazz, National Youth Orchestra Jazz. And I saw the song and everything, and I'm grooving and grooving, and I realized like, "Oh, this is I've heard about this ensemble." The membership of the ensemble are all young student musicians. I don't maybe I shouldn't say young, but it's ages 16 through 19. Can you give us kind of a just an introduction what is the NYO and kind of like who's it for and what's it about?

Sean Jones: Well, you are quite accurate when you say young. Yes, they are young. They are 16 to 19-year-olds chosen from all over the country. We begin the selection process with NYO, actually about six months ahead of time. We have a program out of Carnegie Hall called the National Youth Orchestra, and it began with the selection of almost 100 young folks to go on the roads to various parts of the world to be ambassadors for the United States. And we started off with the orchestra component of it, and they've been doing an amazing job. It was so popular ten years ago, which is when it started, that we had to add another component and have been NYO too. Well, my long-term colleague Joanna Massey approached the folks at Carnegie Hall and said, "Hey, we've got two orchestras. We're on the United States. I think we need to have a big band." And they said, "You know what, you're absolutely right." And when they decided to add the big band component to it. They called me up and they said, "Hey, Sean, would you be willing to run it?" And I said, "Of course I'd be willing to do it." And here I am five years later with the novel. And, again, we choose out of several hundred folks, we choose to continue to go on the road to represent not just the best sounds that our young people have to offer, but also the best leadership and representation of what our young folks who go here in this country. So, we're excited. When you hear this big band play, you're not going to think that they're a bunch of high school kids, right? You sound like Basie Band, the jazz orchestra, all of that. Yeah, like all of them.

Michael Jewett: Indeed. And that's what I said. You know, I, you know, I'm like, "Oh, Sean Jones." So, I throw on the record, I'm grooving to it. And I realize, "Wait a minute. These are..." You know, I hate to be like ageist or whatever. These are kids playing, but they're really...this is a terrific, terrific big band orchestral jazz project. The record is titled "We're Still Here." NYO Jazz. And then the word, of course, jazz. This ensemble with artistic director Sean Jones Friday night in Detroit at the Fisher Music Center making their debut in our area. Also performing with the ensemble is a special guest is the magnificent vocalist Jazzmeia Horn. So, quite an evening of music. Jazzmeia Horn is in her early thirties. You're in your mid-forties. You're both kind of like that generation of jazz artists that had the benefit of jazz education programs, probably fairly early on in your own life and career. So, how does it feel to be in kind of like this next level? You've gone from someone whose life was enriched by, you know, jazz education or had that opportunity. And now, you're, like, giving back. You're, like, in the middle of this. You're passing this on in this really, really high-profile setting. This is going to be a big thing for you personally.

Sean Jones: Oh, it's amazing. It's truly full circle, man. When I was coming up as early as the age 16, I wanted to be in education, and I never expected to be on the road as much as I was on the road in my career. But the road kind of wooed me to it. But education was always front and center, right along with performance. And so, to be able to pay it forward, to pass the torch, put the torch to be a link in the chain of humanity is a beautiful calling all my life, man, and I'm just thrilled to be doing it, frankly, at such a high level with such amazing young people. I'm excited.

Michael Jewett: Yeah, indeed. How would you rate the record? We're still here as a kind of like an introduction to what, you know, what someone might experience at the concert. You know, just from the record, there's some original music. There's compositions from some contemporary artists. Wycliffe Gordon. Miguel Zenon. There's some classic stuff. You score extra points by playing the music of the late Ralph Peterson, the much-missed Ralph Peterson. There's some of the original music. There's some stuff Neal Hefti's here. A bit of El Antonia. Is there something that the band members do they are they more excited by, you know, more of the classic stuff or they kind of like the challenge of playing some contemporary stuff? Is there things that they kind of like dig their teeth into a little more?

Sean Jones: Obviously, they gobble it all up. I sort of preach this message everywhere I go. And that message is that the orchestral format of the United States is the jazz big band. It's our big band.

Michael Jewett: Yeah.

Sean Jones: There is no ensemble that's more equipped to cover the depth and the breadth of the American music can it than the big band.

Michael Jewett: Beautiful.

Sean Jones: So, we cover it all. We cover R&B, gospel, jazz, some classical things, extended compositions, chamber ensemble format. Because the big band is a chamber ensemble. We cover it all, and they really gobble it up because they're diverse. They listen to a lot of different things. They're not just one trick pony. So, I would say that, you know, speaking to your question, that the record represents what we do best in the United States, and we are diverse. That is the secret to our sustenance. We can do a lot of things, and that's represented on that album.

Michael Jewett: And it's just, I mean, you're there playing just a great, great breadth of music from contemporary players and a great cross-section of classic stuff. Well, congratulations. Thrilled to be having you. NYO Jazz. The record is out now. "We're Still Here" as the title of the record. The NYO Jazz Ensemble. Friday night at the Fisher Music Center in Detroit, led by our guest trumpeter, bandleader, composer Sean Jones and featuring also the magnificent vocalists Jazzmeia Horn in some special, I'm sure, a very, very special role. Congratulations on this and thank you. And keep on doing what you're doing. We look forward to hearing the show this Friday. And the next time you're around, I'll bring in your own stuff. It's always a thrill to talk to you. Sean Jones, thank you so much.

Sean Jones: Thank you, my friend. And lots of love to you.

Michael Jewett: All righty.


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Michael Jewett is the long-time host of 89.1 Jazz every weekday afternoon. Besides his on-air work; Michael is WEMU’s Operations Manager. Mr. Jewett started working for WEMU in 1983. He’s been on the air longer than any other current WEMU music host.
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