JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band

Established in 2006, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band (YBB) is a free educational program that provides the opportunity for selected middle- and high-school students to rehearse with an 18-piece big band and perform with international jazz luminaries. The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band program is designed to provide outstanding educational instruction that allows participants to develop musical and social skills while interacting in a diverse, professional setting.

The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band is led by musical director Michael Arthurs, who has more than 25 years of experience as a composer, arranger, music teacher, freelance musician, and recording artist both in Toronto and internationally.

For middle and secondary school students, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band provides an opportunity for exceptional student musicians to hone their skills and interact in a diverse, professional setting. Under the direction of Michael Arthurs, the band rehearses each Saturday at the JAZZ.FM91 studios in Toronto’s Liberty Village. The students receive regular workshops on improvisation, ensemble playing and jazz techniques from some of Canada’s foremost music educators and musicians.

The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band performs extensively throughout the year with appearances at our Sound of Jazz Concert Series, as well as various festivals and special events.

For nearly a decade, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band has shared the stage with legendary jazz figures, such as Joey DeFrancesco, Bucky Pizzarelli, Tom Scott, Lew Tabackin, Guido Basso and Al Jarreau. They have appeared with Canadian guests, including Shirantha Beddage, Kelly Jefferson, Alistair Kay, Brian O’Kane, Sundar Viswanathan, Ron Westray, Alexis Baro, Dave Dunlop, Don Laws, Mei Kelly and Jim McGrath.

Additionally, they have performed with the Thelma Yellin Big Band (Tel Aviv, Israel), Jazz Ensemble I (Montreal, PQ), the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra (Monterey, CA), the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, and the York University Jazz Orchestra. Alumni from the group have gone onto further their studies at the Berklee College of Music, the Brubeck Institute, Humber College, McGill University, the New England Conservatory and the University of Toronto.


How long has the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band been around?
Since 2006, so almost 200 young musicians have gone through the program and moved on to post-secondary music education (some appear on JAZZ.FM91’s Jazzology) followed by professional careers in music.

How many people are in the YBB?
There are 19 members, ranging in ages from 12 to 17. Many members stay with the band for two or three years. Students come from schools all over the GTA and beyond. In recent years we have also launched the JAZZ.FM91 Seminar Big Band (see below) for talented young musicians who still need some work on their technique and skills. For many it is a stepping stone to the main YBB.

Does the YBB play a lot of shows?
They sure do. After a couple months of rehearsals the YBB will play as many as 18 shows from November to July at venues such as The Pilot, The Old Mill and Koerner Hall, and at festivals across Ontario such as the TD Niagara Jazz Festival and the TD Toronto Jazz Festival — often including guest artists from Toronto and beyond.

That must take a lot of rehearsing…?
Yes, yes it does. The YBB rehearses up to 35 times a year, mostly on Saturday afternoons at the JAZZ.FM91 studios. Rehearsals include session work and visits by music professionals to work with students and share their experiences.

When do you hold auditions for the YBB?
We hold them every September just after Labour Day. Registration opens in mid-August and is announced on the air and on our website. Approximately one in three of those who audition are accepted — so get your chops ready!

If I play the zither, the erhu or the glockenspiel can I audition?
If that is all you can play, then sadly no. But if you play saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass or drums, then yes you can. If you can also play another instrument (clarinet, baritone, etc.), even better!

Does it cost anything to be part of the YBB?
It costs the students exactly $0. The Youth Big Band and Seminar Big Band are supported by JAZZ.FM91 and our donors as part of our charitable community and education programs.

I am a big-wig in the marketing or community relations department of a large corporation, foundation or financial institution. Does the YBB accept sponsorship?
Yes, indeed. We are always interested in partnering with individuals, institutions or business that want to support music production, performance and education. The YBB performs in front of thousands of people every year across Ontario and into the US. We would be pleased to publicize your support for this important, widely recognized and well established program.

To learn more about the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band program, please contact musical director Michael Arthurs at youthbigband@jazz.fm.

If you are interested in supporting the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, please contact Jelani Watson at jwatson@jazz.fm.