Jazz pianist, composer and teacher Jim McNeely is coming to Perth with a modest ambition: "to raise expectations".
The nine-time Grammy nominee and collaborator with such major artists as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and Stan Getz will perform with the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra and give a masterclass at the Ellington Jazz Club this month.
"My role in a situation like that is usually to raise the level of expectations with young musicians," he said.
"And to give them just a taste of what it's like to work with somebody like me. When they first start working on the music, sometimes students think, 'Gee, this is really difficult, I don't think we can do it', then it comes together and at the end they can look at each other and say, 'Hey, we actually did this.'
"My job is to kind of raise the bar of what's expected of them and try to spur them to get up to their next level of achievement as musicians."
WAYJO has been working with musical director Mace Francis on charts sent through in advance for the Ellington gigs and also a live recording with the ABC.
McNeely will go on to Sydney for gigs with the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, joint organisers of his tour, but meanwhile he is in Germany with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, where he is chief conductor.
"In Europe there are still are a few radio companies left that do have their own big bands and most of them are very good and I enjoy working with them," he said.
"There are the big bands in America but they are very shoestring operations. They're organised by people who love the idiom and it gives them a chance to hear their music played and nobody really makes any money out of that."
Exceptions to the rule are the Lincoln Centre in New York, led by trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis, and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which McNeely first joined in 1996.
In Europe, money makes a difference: "The taxpayers of Germany are paying for these things and I hope they enjoy what they're getting for their tax money," McNeely laughed.
Another point of difference is style.
"In the US, because that's where jazz developed - it was born and raised in the US - there is a lot of emphasis given to the tradition and the history of the music," he said.
"In Europe, there's certainly some of that but also they are not quite so tied to questions like, 'is this in the tradition' or 'is this real jazz?'. A lot of times in Europe there are people looking to combine jazz with other kinds of music, matching them up and seeing what comes out."
In Australia, McNeely is closer to the scene in Sydney having visited in 2008, whereas it is 20 years since he came to Perth.
"The recordings I've heard of WAYJO, it seems like they're a really good organisation," he said.
"In the 20 years that have passed people have been making a really strong commitment to giving young musicians something to aim for. That's really what you need when you're a young player, you need some kind of institution that you want to get in. You want to practise and work hard so you can play with that group.
"WAYJO gives that to the young musicians in WA, it gives them a great opportunity.
"You can have two cities of roughly the same size and one might have a very thriving jazz scene and the other may not and often it's because of an institution that somebody puts together and has this crazy idea, 'Well, let's do this thing and give the young players something to aim for.' It might take a while for it to take off but when it finally does, the effect snowballs."Jim McNeely appears with WAYJO at Ellington Jazz Club on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, they will record a concert at noon at the State Theatre Centre for ABC Jazz.
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