Last night three different orchestras serenaded picnickers at the Quarry Ampitheatre for two hours of sizzling big band music. The WA Youth Jazz Orchestra’s final concert for the year was sold out, a fitting conclusion to a hugely successful year.

WAYJO 2017
Alana Macpherson conducting the WAYJO Monday Night Orchestra

WAYJO is WA’s leading jazz big band and the premier youth jazz orchestra in Australia. Under the enthusiastic leadership of general manager Simon Keen marketing and ticket sales have gone through the roof, resulting in fifteen sold out concerts in 2017.

Their 2018 program, launched last night, promises even greater things from an organisation which has become a major contributor to Perth’s jazz scene. Artistic Director Mace Francis has dreamed up a program which builds on the success of 2017 plus contains several innovations including a new festival to celebrate WAYJO’s 35th year.

The inaugural King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival (named after the famous Count Basie composition) will kick off with a gala night at His Majesty’s Theatre on 3rd July and during the following week jazz fans will be able to wander between venues in Kings Street and Hay Street listening to some of WA’s leading jazz artists, WAYJO artists and staff and students from WAAPA.

WAYJO is committed to supporting women artists with the Women in Jazz program which will return in 2018. However looking back over WAYJO’s history Francis discovered the organisation had only performed with women soloists who were vocalists. In 2018 he will rectify this with headline artists including  Japanese/New York composer and pianist Migiwa Miyajima plus Australian bandleader, composer and trumpet player Ellen Kirkwood and trombonist Alex Silver. There will also be Perth’s all-female big band the Artemis Orchestra and a performance dedicated to the top female composers working in jazz.

In an exciting coup WAYJO will feature at the Fringe Festival in January performing the world premiere of Slap and Tickle, a saucy collaboration with Helpmann Award winning actor, singer and cabaret star iOTA and local theatre group Kabuki Drop. They  will also perform with celebrated Australian performer Kate Ceberano at the Astor Theatre in May and give a big band performance of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker at the Quarry Ampitheatre in November.

The popular Jazz for Juniors school holiday program continues to grow and will feature extra concerts in 2018. All up WAYJO will offer 100 performances and events for WA jazz fans in 2018.

Mace Francis
Artistic director of WAYJO Mace Francis launching the 2018 program

On Friday night Francis described his ten years at the helm of WAYJO as incredible, saying it was “The dream job for a big band nerd like me.” He then went on to demonstrate  the richness he brings to WAYJO, conducting the Wednesday Night Orchestra in a program of his own compositions. Francis’ self deprecating humour and idiosyncratic conducting style (crouching, leaping, or simply standing to the side and letting the soloists shine) makes him a great entertainer. His big band compositions are some of the best in the country from the sweetly understated Melodica Melody to the sinister bass groove and contrary passagework in an arrangement of My Romance. The proof is in the pudding as they say and last night the Wednesday Night Orchestra were in fine form, with tight, well-blended sections, smoothly contoured phrasing and cool confidence navigating Francis’ often complex scores.

It was a fabulous night out and confirmed for me that WAYJO are punching well above their weight. I recommend booking them into your 2018 calendar now!