Big name music stars step in as Doncaster jazz association bounces back after funding cuts

It may have been hit by austerity cuts - but one of Doncaster's best known music organisations is thriving again.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 22nd January 2018, 7:48 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd January 2018, 7:10 am
Members of Doncaster Youth Jazz Association at their Wheatley base
Members of Doncaster Youth Jazz Association at their Wheatley base

Just over five years ago, the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association was one of a number of organisations to be suffer from losing funding.

It had received assistance through public money for years, having been first set up in 1973, but after Government cuts started to hit in Doncaster, that ended.

Things looked bleak. But the organisation, whose former members have played with some of the biggest names in music, refused to let that stop its work.

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And after setting up new funding streams, including sponsorship, it has managed to keep doing what it always did - offering youngsters a chance to learn and play music.

For founder John Ellis, who is still involved in the running of the association, it was a difficult time.

He said: "We were there thinking 'we've still got to pay the bills, because we're in our own building'.

"We put out pleas for help, and it was agreed that we would continue fundraising. We also looked for sponsors, and one kind anonymous donor pledged £35,000 over three years.

"It was a difficult period, but so many volunteers rallied round. Former members came in and gave their services for free, because of their desire to give something back to an organisation which they felt helped them get to where they are today.

"It is lovely that people can be so generous."

There is now a Friends of DYJA group which is growing by the week, which helps keep it running with donations and support.

The result is that the group is still going strong. It has even been out to work with local schools. It recently ran sessions on learning the trombone at two local schools, Town Fields Primary School and Kirk Sandall Primary School.

The group runs three ensembles, who get together to learn, practice and perform. It usually runs four, but the oldest age group is being rested, until the next one down is ready to move up.

Youngsters play many different instruments. For instance Amelia Ashwood plays trumpet, Joe Sykes plays drums, and Tom Myerscough is a keyboardist. Owen Dungworth plays bass, Daisy Ashwood and Andriana Castellan both play saxophone, and Pedros Castellan plays trombone. But all receive tuition and help from experts.

Mr Ellis, now aged 72, first set the association up in 1973 while working as a music teacher. Early on, it had a base at what was the Don Valley Institute of Further Education in Mexborough, before moving on to Schofield Street School.

In 1996, it moved to its own site - a former council building on Beckett Road, Wheatley. It was paid for with a lottery grant. It had previously been a museum and libraries resource unit. It was full of stuffed birds and books in those days. Now it is set up with a stage, performance rooms, and even a grand piano once used by the composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

At present, the association is developing an education programme and wants to do more teaching, in partnership with the Doncaster Music Hub.

It is also about to create a new ensemble for younger children, for those aged from eight to 11.

Mr Ellis is confident for the future. He said: "We want to continue to perform, and to provide an opportunity for young people which we think is desperately important.

"The future is looking good, and we are lucky to be supported by many well meaning volunteers."

Success stories

Doncaster Youth Jazz Association has helped launch the careers of a number of big name musicians.

Those who have cut their musical teeth with the group include Andrew Cato, of Groove Armada, the group famous for the song I See You Baby, which was used in a high profile car advert.

He held a party in Ibiza which raised £15,000 for the association. He also ran a concert in London.

Another big name is the jazz trombonist Dennis Rollins, who is now a freeman of Doncaster and has performed with big name stars including Prince.

Other success stories in the music world include Reuben Fowler, aged 24, who now lives in New York and plays trumpet at shows. He returned to Doncaster at Christmas to take part in a Christmas concert for the association.

Ben Mallinder is now in London and has his own jazz band.

Nadim Teimoori is a saxophonist who has played with a number of big name jazz acts.

And John Escreet, aged 26, of Scawsby, is now based in Manhattan and has recorded albums as a jazz musican and composer.