Every year for the last five years, the process of selecting another Carnegie Hall National Youth Jazz Orchestra starts again.
“We begin, in essence, by getting the word out there to students all over the country — ages 16 to 19 years old — to put their best foot forward, not just musically, but as ambassadors for the country,” said Sean Jones, a Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter, composer and artistic director of NYO Jazz. “We want to know their personalities and what their ambitions are.”
After a lengthy pre-screening process, Jones said that there are generally 10 to 20 potential students per instrument in the band who still need to be narrowed down.
Those young musicians are then vetted, and they end up with the final 22 student musicians who will become NYO Jazz.
At 8:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1 in the Amphitheater, Jones will lead NYO Jazz in performance for a Chautauqua audience alongside singer and Grammy Award-nominee Jazzmeia Horn.
“I start thinking about programming a year out from the concerts, so that it fits the timing of current events in the world, and that also speaks to the people we’re going to perform for,” he said. “This particular year, we are going to the United States — we’re staying home. I wanted to make sure there was a program that reflected some of the challenges that we face in this country.”
That being said, according to Jones, it’s also important that the program for this year’s ensemble represents the “great majesty and beauty” of this country.
“This year’s program has some jazz standards, music by Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams, and music that was written for a video game,” he said. “We’re going to be playing some Charles Mingus and Endea Owens, who wrote a piece for Ida B. Wells, which celebrates the endeavors of journalism in this country.”
Jones said he plans on opening the show with an arrangement by John Clayton that features “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” combined.
Horn will be performing music from her latest album, Love & Liberation, Jones said.
“One thing listeners should understand is that when they close their eyes, they’re not going to hear 16- to 19-year-olds,” Jones said. “They sound like any professional band that’s out there, and I treat them as such. Arguably this will be the most diverse big band program (Chautaquauns) have ever heard in their lives. So hold onto your hats.”