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[KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA]

Formed in 2004, the Classic Jazz Orchestra’s mission is to explore the faboulously varied back-catalogue of jazz in an informative, entertaining and professional way. Its remit, however, is to re-interpret, not replicate, jazz styles covering the period from the early 1900s to about 1970. In other words, up to the point where rock rhythms began to supplant swinging jazz feel, and John Coltrane’s innovations changed the basis of improvisation. Up to that point, jazz had evolved organically out of what had gone before: Horace Silver could not have played as he did without Jelly Roll Morton having played as he did decades before. Over that time span it was effectively the one music at different stages of development, but recognisably the one timeless music.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to move well-constructed pieces backwards or forwards along this timeline and re-interpret them in a later or earlier style without losing their inherent identity and character. This is an important element in CJO’s musical policy, but there are also historic arrangements and solos which are artistically unsurpassable and this repertory element is also present in CJO’s policy, either in the form of direct quotation of historically important fragments, or reduction of entire arrangements to suit CJO’s instrumentation. It is not easy to find musicians with the necessary reading and interpretative skills to encompass such stylistic diversity, but the versatility and professionalism of CJO’s members enable it cover styles from New Orleans through Chicago, Dixieland, Swing and Bop to Hard Bop with accomplishment and conviction.

In the first couple of years of its existence, CJO has performed mainly in jazz clubs and festivals, but following the release of its first CD and its enthusiastic endorsement by Humphrey Lyttelton on his BBC Radio2 programme, there is growing interest from theatres, Arts Centres and general music festivals. The band's first CD, Jelly’s New Clothes, is an innovative and fresh re-examination of some of the works of the first great composer of jazz – Jelly Roll Morton. Indeed, in a remarkably short period, CJO has become established as one of the World’s leading interpreters of Morton’s music, and while that remains the cornerstone of its repertoire, there is also a wealth of material in its library covering such diverse talents as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby, Slide Hampton etc. Its breadth of repertoire means that the CJO is ideally placed to present a series of themed programmes without any repetition.