“This has been a bucket list item, a wish, a dream of mine to do in Dayton for a long time,” said ensemble director Bill Burns. “I directed the Cincinnati Youth Jazz Orchestra for a number of years. This is a cool thing because there are youth jazz orchestras all over Ohio. There was one in Dayton, but it’s been years since anything like this has happened. It’s fantastic there is support for this. I’m getting good feedback from students.”
Burns is consumed with a variety of musical styles as a music instructor for Centerville City Schools and Sinclair Community College. However, the baritone saxophonist gets to explore his passion for jazz with his group, the Bright Moments Quinet, and as director of the Sinclair Jazz Ensemble. Now, Burns is overseeing the new Sinclair Youth Jazz Ensemble, which has its first rehearsal on Monday, August 29.
How to prepare
Auditions will be held in-person Monday, Aug. 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The deadline for online submission is Friday, Aug. 19. The ensemble will rehearse at Sinclair on Mondays from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. There is no cost to student participants.
“The way it works is basically any music educator can nominate a student,” Burns said. “I’m gearing it toward band directors and private lesson instructors with kids they think would love (the ensemble) and would be a good shot in the arm for them. It will be a challenge for the students, but they will go back to their school band and be more jazzed about jazz.”
Nominated students will be provided a link to Google Classroom, which will have full information for online and in-person auditions.
“Because it’s online learning and because of all the craziness, students are pretty familiar with Google Classroom,” Burns said. “There is some audition material in the Classroom and they can choose something to play. They can e-mail me a video of them performing, if they choose to. There’s an in-person audition date as well. Whatever works better for that particular student, and we’ll work from there. I’m asking them to play a Charlie Parker song, the full range of their instrument and full chromatic scale. Improvisation is optional. I don’t want (to stop) anybody (from auditioning) because they don’t feel like they’re gifted improvisers. That’s something we’ll work on in the ensemble.”
According to Burns, a citywide group like this is important because it offers opportunities for students with limited options to explore jazz at their own schools. Programs for jazz combos and other small groups are often overshadowed by larger ensembles like marching band and concert band.
“I’m not anti-marching band, I’m not anti any ensemble, group, band, orchestra or whatever, but there aren’t enough opportunities for students to play jazz,” Burns said. “If someone feels the calling to play this music, this is a chance to do it.”
A youth group like this can also help raise awareness of the music Burns is so devoted to.
“In terms of pop culture and accessibility, jazz ensemble is a little bit off the path,” he said. “The connotation is that jazz is old, but it is very much alive. Jazz is not old. Jazz is new and vibrant. Jazz is America’s art form. It’s America’s music, and Ohio has contributed a lot to the development of jazz in America and around the world. We’ve had a lot of great jazz musicians come from our state. Many of them have gone on to play with Charles Mingus, the Count Basie Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. We want to get the next generation of Roland Kirks, Joe Hendersons and Norris Turneys.”
Burns, who worked with the aforementioned Cincinnati Youth Jazz Orchestra in the 2000s, is looking forward to his new educational venture.
“I certainly feel a calling to try to help young musicians follow their path because I had people help me when I was in my teens and early 20s,” he said. “I still feel inspiration now from people I play with that are twice my age. There is a member of my Sinclair band that just turned 80 and he’s rocking and rolling. Inspiration is ageless and timeless. I want to inspire kids and I want kids to inspire each other, and this is a good laboratory for that to happen.”
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