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Young jazz orchestra hits the high notes

The Shanghai jazz community is nurturing the stars of tomorrow, with a new youth jazz orchestra hitting high notes with audiences.

Launched last August by JZ Big Band Director Nicholas Bouloukos, the Shanghai Youth Jazz Orchestra has 17 members between the ages of 10 and 17 from eight different nationalities.

American Bouloukos conducts and writes arrangements for the group, which played their first concert in May, opening for the Big Band at JZ Club on Fuxing Road.

Bouloukos has big plans for the orchestra, saying he hopes they can gain experience playing concerts in Shanghai, around China and eventually abroad.

Their next performance is planned for the JZ Music Festival in October where they are set to open for the JZ Big Band which in the past has performed with major international acts.

Band members come from a range of nationalities, including French, Japanese, Italian, American, Australian, South Korean, Indian and Chinese musicians.

The group gives its members a chance to gain invaluable experience playing in front of live audiences, says the director.

"One of our saxophonists is 10 years old and he is playing an alto saxophone in front of 50 or 60 people at the main jazz club in town - and that is incredible, I didn't do something like that until I was 16," Bouloukos says.

The young musicians have focused on expanding their repertoire, learning music from Duke Ellington and as well as what Bouloukos describes as basics, music from the "great American song book" sung by Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald.


Bouloukos has also arranged some of these classics to take in influences from other musical styles such as salsa so that musicians from a broad range of cultures can find something they can relate to.

Also lending their expertise to the students are various local and international musicians who have held master classes. These have Ilja Reijngoud, an award-winning trombonist, composer and jazz department head at Codarts in the Netherlands, who conducted a class in May.

The band includes five saxophonists, three flutists and three clarinetists, a trombonist, trumpeter, baritone horn player, pianist, drummer and young Italian vocalist Emiliano D'Angio.

Grace Wang, 15, plays drums. She is in the ninth grade at Xunhang Middle School.

Wang learned about the group after walking past JZ Club and catching part of a performance. Being with people from a range of nationalities who share a love of jazz makes for a creatively supportive environment, she says.


"I found so many people around me who are so passionate about jazz, and now have our own band. I really enjoy it," says Wang who has been playing drums for more than a year.

She has learned more than music.

"During each rehearsal and performance I learn how to cooperate both with strangers and with friends from different countries, and I have learned to care more about others' feelings, not just mine," she says.

Bouloukos says orchestras like this are vital for developing jazz in Shanghai and can nurture the next generation of professional musicians.

Having first started playing and performing music at the tender age of four, Bouloukos went on to discover jazz in his teens before the New Yorker joined the prestigious Empire State Youth Orchestra.

He has played across America and Europe before first coming to Asia in 1996. He arrived in Shanghai in 2002 and has played a role in the development of the local jazz, which now can attract serious international players and has a growing number of high-quality local musicians.

"When I first came to Shanghai, the level of jazz musicianship was poor and the education of jazz was even worse," he says.

"So, it is obvious you need to grow your own market and grow the education and awareness of jazz in the community if you want it to sustain itself."

Bouloukos says they hope to expand the band to about 30 musicians and they will hold auditions in the first week of September.

Anyone who wants to join must first submit an MP3 file of their playing online by the end of August. Audition requirements will be posted in the next couple of weeks.

Anyone seeking more information can e-mail Boukoulos at


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