The orchestra that jazzes up Fife’s musical scene ...

Richard Michael
Richard Michael

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and this is exactly how Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra’s musical director described his award-winning big band.

Richard Michael has led Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra (FYJO) for 38 years and is very proud of the orchestra he established back in 1976.

He said: “Kirsty Adam, in her capacity as arts adviser, knew I was interested in jazz and told me a grant was available to start up a jazz band.

“She asked me to start a youth jazz orchestra. I knew nothing about running a big band so it was a huge learning experience for me.

“Dr Colin Thomson, a chemistry professor, ran a big band in St Andrews in which I played piano.

“He was the obvious person to work with to start what became FYJO.

“Colin and I worked together for three years before his work commitments at the university took over. But he had amazing drive and was totally committed to the band.

“We advertised around secondary schools for young people to join and I remember seeing them with finger charts in front of them when we first played the C Jam Blues!

“I knew in my head what I wanted them to do and how I wanted them to sound. But I didn’t know how to get them to sound the way I wanted!”

Michael said it took time for the band, which had around 20 members initially, to gel, but over the years everything started to run more smoothy.

FYJO offers players aged eight to 24 the chance to play, enjoy and develop an interest in music, especially jazz - regardless of initial standard or location.

The big band’s first concert was held in Lochgelly Centre - it was quite an occasion and the first time FYJO performed in public.

At rehearsals FYJO was concentrating almost exclusively on how to play the Big Band charts. But in 1978 FYJO was of sufficient quality to be invited to take part in the Festival of Youth Orchestras in Aberdeen where the members performed some concerts.

A few years later FYJO went to France to Brive-la-Gaillarde in the Dordogne and by that time it had really began to establish good jazz playing.

The early soloists who came through included Tom Gordon, Keith Ferris, Keith Hutton and bass player Andy Hamill who has gone on to perform with musicians and singers including Kylie Minogue.

Over the years FYJO has played with many of the greats of the jazz scene including Tommy Smith, Carol Kidd and Fife’s own ‘Big’ Joe Temperley and has played live on BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Jazzhouse’ programme.

But one of Richard’s personal highlights, which also includes performing with Joe Temperley, is working with Annie Ross.

He has a lot of good memories but Richard is always looking to the future.

He said: “In two years time we will be marking 40 years of FYJO and I would like to have a weekend where we can bring back the former FYJO players who are now professional musicians and I can write some music for them so they can play with the current group of FYJO players.

“They can show them what can be achieved.”

Today FYJO has 46 members and Richard is assisted by tutors Carlo Madden and Pete Petrie.

Richard added: “It’s all down to team work - every member is a little cog in the machine and when each one is swinging like crazy it’s a fantastic feeling. Money can’t buy that.”

FYJO is looking for new members. No auditions are required and youngsters of all levels and abilities are welcome.

The group rehearses at the Lochgelly Centre on Thursday nights from 7.00-9.00 p.m. An open night is taking place on Thursday, September 4, at 7.00pm at the centre and anyone interested in playing is welcome to come along.

For more information contact chairman Alison Thomson on (01334) 650417 or secretary Lesley Gudgeon on (01383) 732982.

Great pool of young talent in Fife ...

Alison Thomson is chairman of the FYJO committee, which is managed by volunteers.

She said: “Richard is obviously a big factor in the success of FYJO – he is immensely talented, enthusiastic and a great teacher. We also have two other great tutors Carlo and Pete.

“The standard of performance which FYJO delivers is a result of the great tuition and the enjoyable music.

“The young people get huge enjoyment form playing in FYJO and are motivated to do better and better.”