As one of Oxford’s oldest concert providers, Music at Oxford is always looking to bring exciting projects to the city, and as their new season begins, they branch out into the world of jazz, folk, brass and big band. One such exciting project features the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) in a celebration of pop legend Amy Winehouse on the 4th November. We caught up with their Musical Director, Winston Rollins to find out more:
What is your enduring memory of Amy as a musician?
“A wonderful free spirit with every note that she sang coming from the heart revealing her vulnerability and passion for the music and life she so loved.”
What were the main reasons for doing this tour of Amy Winehouse’s music now and what would you want audiences to take away from it?
“With this being the 10th anniversary of her passing, I thought this would be an excellent way to pay tribute to one of the UK’s brightest shining stars, who left us too soon, as well as having her music re-imagined in a way that I think she would have enjoyed!”
When were you first interested in music and has it always been jazz?
“I was interested in music from a very young age, it was when the school brass band played a concert in the school’s morning assembly that I realised “that’s what I want to do”. Eventually, getting a trombone and playing in the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association, so yes, jazz has always been first but as a Yorkshire man, I played in a lot of brass bands too!”
Is it right that you played with Amy Winehouse? When and what was that for?
“Yes, I did play for Amy, I was on the sessions for the Frank album in 2003 (that seems such a long time ago now). There was this shy girl sitting in the corner of the studio, we were wondering who’s that? Anyway, the engineer started to play the first track we were about to record and he said “that’s her”! Our jaws dropped at the amazing voice that came out of this young girl’s mouth, who was Amy Winehouse.”
You joined NYJO in 1987, have you been involved with them since then and what positions have you held?
“I have always been a part of NYJO, it is responsible not only for my musical up-bringing but a lot of musicians working in film/session/theatre and the rest. I’m currently the assistant Musical Director and Head of Professional Development with NYJO.”
Olivia Murphy has written the arrangements for this project, what made you choose her arrangements and has NYJO always worked with young composers as well as performers?
“Olivia is an amazing arranger who currently holds the composer/arranger chair in NYJO, so I felt it was only right to give her this opportunity to re-imagine Amy’s music and get creative! In the past, the young musicians of NYJO have always had the opportunity to present their arrangements, with some of those musicians going forward to write for film and TV, but this is the first time we have had a dedicated composer/arranger to write for NYJO and this will continue in order to give young writers the chance to develop their skills.”
How important is it for you and NYJO to showcase a wider spectrum of our society here in the UK?
“It’s very important. Simply put, if someone sees someone like them “doing it” they are more likely to give it a go.”
NYJO has nurtured the talent of many stars like Amy, who do you think are the main stand out stars that have been through NYJO and who should we look out for in the future? “Everyone is a star in their own right, follow them all on our NYJO Insta page [@nyjouk]!”