©Brett Delmage, 2019
CYJO Director Nick Dyson with Eric Littlewood at the CYJO concert in Nov. 2014. Littlewood is performing in the 10th Anniversary Alumni Band. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

During the past 10 years more than 120 post-secondary and advanced high school musicians developed their skills in and enthusiasm for big band performance in Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO). They presented a variety of well-rehearsed and frequently very well-received public concerts. Behind that was CYJO founder and director Nick Dyson, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge and love of big band music with students, including arrangements by Canadian and local composers.

This spring marked the 10th Anniversary of the founding of CYJO, although it was not active this season. The CYJO 10th Anniversary Alumni Band, comprised of former CYJO players - many who are now working, professional musicians - performs a free special concert on Wednesday at noon on the Ottawa Jazz Festival’s Confederation Park Stage. The music selections will be 100% Canadian.

Two CYJO alumni told OttawaJazzScene.ca about their positive experiences in CYJO, including how it helped them develop as musicians, their favourite moments, and what they are looking forward to playing in next.

Saxophonist Brady Leafloor was a founding member of CYJO and played (as he recalls) the first four seasons. CYJO had a maximum age for members, and the most proficient members like Leafloor had to retire to make room for new members.

“It was a really great thing to be a part of building. A small group of us got together with Nick Dyson and talked it out to form the group,” he says.

Clayton Connell was CYJO’s pianist from 2011 to 2013. He received a highly-competed for-scholarship to The Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst (University for Music and the Performing Arts) in 2014.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What did you specifically learn and/or further develop in CYJO that helped you advance as a musician?

©Brett Delmage, 2019
Clayton Connell plays in a Patterns of Change performance ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Clayton Connell: Playing with this band really helped me to adjust to the moment. Often times within a big band setting there are a multitude of notes being played over the course of a tune and finding your spot to add to the composition is key. Placement is key.

Brady Leafloor: CYJO really drove me to consider and develop my sound differently within a large group setting, and to think more critically about phrasing choices within my own section. Decisions need to be made within the group, and nothing highlights that like being the one guy who doesn't cut the note at the same time as everyone else. Nick always had an idea or opinion about those decisions that I would take home and think about when approaching my part.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Is that something listeners can hear from you in Wednesday's CYJO concert?

Brady Leafloor: Great question; I love it. Come on out to the OLG stage at noon to get the answer.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Do you have a favourite song or composer you remember playing in CYJO?

Clayton Connell: I recall playing at the National Library and Archives featuring a tune by The Souljazz Orchestra called "Consecration". This song was memorable as it was a piano feature but had to be played in a more creative manner. Muting the piano strings etc. creating an incredible atmosphere. Cheers to Pierre [Chrétien] for writing such a great tune!

Another favourite was the band going on the road to play with the Crane Latin Ensemble in Potsdam New York. We were challenged with playing Par Metheny’s "First Circle". If you’ve heard the tune it is filled with odd meters and independent parts from different sections. Challenging at the best, but we played it and succeeded in a very proud moment for the band. [watch CYJO perform First Circle in their 2013 concert at the National Library and Archives]

©Brett Delmage, 2019
Brady Leafloor in performance with fusion group PreDestined ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Brady Leafloor: Oh, I loved so much of it. Playing Christine Jensen's tune "Sylvan Vale" was a definite highlight, as were the Mulligan Concerto (or Chicago Concerto) by Richard Peaslee and Bob Curnow's L.A. Big Band arrangement of "First Circle" by Pat Metheny. Oh, and playing Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" was a real treat and a great challenge. There were so many more I loved playing but those really stuck out to me. I guess this also adds to a previous answer in that I developed a much greater love for big band music in CYJO.

Playing a show with the Crane Latin Ensemble from Potsdam and seeing my friends dancing out in the audience. If my friends have fun at a show that really pumps me up and makes me feel a lot of gratitude to be doing what I'm doing. It's a wonderful thing to share. The other thing would be the post-rehearsal hangouts with the band. Those made Sunday nights something I looked forward to a lot.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Anything else you would like to share about CYJO or this concert?

Brady Leafloor: This is a fun throwback with some great musicians, some of whom I have had the pleasure to play with many times and others where it has been a long time since we've gotten to share a stage. It is a happy thing to do. I would definitely recommend CYJO to any eligible players who want to get into big band music and stretch themselves musically in a larger group.

Clayton Connell: Get ready. This is going to be a fantastic show featuring some of Ottawa and Canada’s finest!

What’s next?

Connell and Leafloor are now working, professional musicians, and can be heard in other shows during the festival, and throughout the year.

Clayton Connell performs in the Ottawa Jazz Festival with with Mack and Ben opening for the Roots on Saturday June 29, and in Patterns of Change on Sunday June 30. [review]

Brady Leafloor is currently active in soul band The Hornettes, hyper-groove band Eru-Era, Sly High (Tribute to Sly and the Family Stone - July 13th at Bluesfest and August 10th at the Landsdowne Woodstock North Festival), and fusion group PreDestined. Anyone looking to catch a public show can check his website www.bradyleafloor.com (which he noted “I now realize I need to update again”)

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