A BBM Jazz Scholarship
Jacob Parks – Jazz trombonist
2018 BBM Jazz Scholar
A Trial with The Danish Radio Big Band
In mid 2019 I stumbled across an opportunity to audition for a world-renowned jazz ensemble, The Danish Radio Big Band. This band has worked with some of the greatest jazz big band directors and composers in the history of big band music, and the prospect of playing with them seemed amazing to me.
I applied for the preliminary round by sending off some recordings and waited to hear back. I heard from the Danish Broadcasting Corporation about one month after submitting the recordings, and to my surprise they invited me to come to Copenhagen for the second and possibly third round of auditions, to be taking place in September. I purchased my flights and accommodation and waited to prepare for the job. I received my music excerpts for the audition one week before the audition date.
I arrived in Denmark on 20th September. I wanted to be in the best shape for the audition, so I left with a few days to adjust to the time difference and make sure I was in good playing shape. I had only received the music three days prior to leaving, so I had plenty of preparation to do. I was staying in a hotel, so over the 3 days before the audition I spent the time mostly practicing in the DR building and sightseeing.
Audition day. This big band is made up of five trumpets, five trombones, five saxophones and rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass and drum kit). The position I was auditioning for was the 2nd trombone chair.
I am not very experienced at the process of auditions, but this one was quite unique, I think. The audition was very relaxed, everyone did their best to make the audition as stress free as possible. Day One was with the four other trombonists in the band and the rhythm section, plus the judging panel. I was the first of ten applicants to audition, and it lasted around 20 minutes.
All of the applicants were invited to an ‘after audition hang’ with the other trombonists in the band, which I think speaks for how friendly trombone players can be, even in competition! It was lovely to meet so many young trombonists from all over Europe.
I was lucky enough to be asked back for Day Two of the audition. This was just the top 3 players from the first day and now it involved playing with the whole 19-piece band. This was the highlight of the trip for me. Even if I wasn’t asked back, I was excited to have experienced playing with this legendary band.
My last day in Copenhagen. Due to jetlag, I hadn’t managed to stay up late enough yet to go out in the evening, but with the pressure of the audition off my shoulders I managed to make it out to a gig. I went to a bar called Søhesten and saw a group called Jakob Roland “Late Night Special”. The band was a 5 piece, playing original modern jazz. It was really interesting seeing what Copenhagen has to offer in this regard.
This part of the trip was over, but I was asked back so my journey continues with an extended trial in 2020.
I arrived again in Copenhagen. This time I was staying in an apartment I booked through Airbnb. It was a 10 minute bike ride or two metro stops from the rehearsal space in the DR building, and a 20-30 minute bike ride to most of Copenhagen city.
I had a few days up my sleeve to settle in and finalise any paperwork before I started. I picked up a bike and a transport card so I could move around easily.
Copenhagen was hosting a winter jazz festival during February meaning there was an abundance of performances to see. I saw a performance celebrating an American saxophone player, Stan Getz, featuring some saxophone players who were his students while he lived in Copenhagen. It was nice to hear his music continued through them.
I visited a musician friend from Sydney who is currently studying in Aarhus in Denmark, west of Copenhagen. I hopped on a coach and he showed me around! It’s the second biggest city in Denmark.
A friend put me in contact with a local young trumpeter in Copenhagen. He sometimes plays casually in the Danish Radio Big Band that I would be working with. It was great to meet someone with experience in the city, and with some more info about how the band worked. He invited me to his gig a few weeks later which I enjoyed.
Week 1 (Feb 17-23)
Each week was scheduled with rehearsals early in the week, and performances at the end of the week. Week 1 was a project called ‘Gold from the Archive’, two rehearsals and three concerts. This week we would work with the band’s chief conductor Miho Hazama, a world-renowned composer. The repertoire was the music of the band’s chief conductors of the past, Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely and Miho Hazama.
On my first day working with the DR Big Band, everyone was incredibly welcoming to me. The standard of musicianship is superb, and the chance to play amongst these players was really inspiring. The repertoire of Week 1 was some of the standard big band music. A lot of this music I had played before in more junior bands but playing it with the original band it was written for was surreal and gave me a chance to develop my skills from the source of the musical style and from players that were informed from the original composers directly. Next to me was long-time band member Vincent Nilsson who shared his knowledge on trombone plunger-mute technique. A revelation!
The performances for this week took me to some smaller cities in Denmark. I was told they were some of the smallest venues the band has ever played in! The smallest concert had around 150 people.
Week 2 (Feb 24-Mar 1)
This week’s project was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Miles Davis album, Bitches Brew. It involved working with some outside artists. Our composer and conductor this week was Soren Moller. The featured artists were Palle Mikkelborg, Arve Henriksen and Marilyn Mazur. Palle is a trumpeter and a legend in Danish jazz. He produced an album for Miles Davis in the late 80s. Arve is a brilliant Norwegian trumpet player. Marilyn is a fantastic Danish percussionist who was in Miles Davis’ band for a few years.
This week gave me an extra challenge. I was put on lead trombone for the section as the normal lead player was away for a few days. This wasn’t new to me. It was a bit more pressure at first, but it was a fun opportunity.
The performances were all in a short, four day tour around Denmark.
- Thursday 27th Feb – Kolding
- Friday 28th Feb – Aarhus
- Saturday 29th Feb – Odense
- Sunday 1st Mar – DR Studio 2 in Copenhagen
Week 3 (Mar 2-7)
This week was the week of ‘Jazz Alive’, an annual production of the DR radio channel P8. Each year they put on a live TV broadcast showcasing jazz artists from around Denmark and the world. The DR Big band is always featured and used as a support band for the featured artists. This was the beginning of the end of my trip as we started getting some interruptions due to COVID-19. The band spent all week rehearsing with each of the artists, and on the morning of the concert they had to exclude live attendees due to crowd size restrictions. The concert still went ahead and was broadcast, but it was a very different atmosphere to the planned performance, meant to be played to 1800 audience members.
This week gave me some more experience in the workings of live performances on TV. This is largely a test of patience! It did however give me some more opportunities to get to know other band members better.
Week 4 (Mar 9-15)
This ended up being the last week of my trip. We started rehearsals for a project with a guest conductor named Tom Walsh. This was playing music with horn section work by trumpeter Jerry Hey, arranged for full big band by Tom. This featured music by Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Dionne Warwick, George Benson, Chaka Khan, Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.
Each day of rehearsals during this week we were told the size of the concerts would be cut to adjust to the new rules of social distancing. First by half (400-200 people) and then updated to a third (150 people). We would still be recording the concerts for radio, so all was not lost, but when the COVID-19 cases spiked on the 11th March, the concerts were totally cancelled. We got 3 rehearsals in before everything in my remaining contract was cancelled. Disappointed, I bought a plane ticket home and left on the 14th.
Week 5 (Mar 16-22)
This week didn’t happen, but it would have been a series of interactive concerts for children involving some circus performers.
Throughout these weeks I made it to various gigs and jam sessions on my nights off. I went a couple of times to the jazz jams at La Fontaine and De Hvide Lam on Mondays and Tuesdays respectively. Each time I met some new people and consolidated relationships with people I’d met before. I had been invited by a local trumpet player I’d met to join the house band for a jam at Galathea Kroen on the 14th and 21st of March, but these were cancelled before they could happen. I was really excited by this opportunity to be more than just a jammer, and it showed I had proven myself to some of the other players there and started making some friendships.
Some other gigs I made it to included Horse Orchestra at Gaarden & Gaden, Jakob Sørensen – Bagland at Paradise Jazz and Lettuce at Loppen. I also met an Australian expat jazz clarinettist at one of his gigs. Copenhagen has a lot to offer in terms of a modern jazz scene.
Each week of my trial was such a stark contrast to the week before or after. It was amazing to be given such a wide variety of musical settings and repertoire and was such a lesson in versatility. Fulfilling the required work involved a fair amount of preparation work during my time off, but it was incredibly rewarding to be given this chance to play with such a brilliant band. I feel as though I have grown massively as a player throughout this whole trip. I was given opportunities to improvise each week and received positive and helpful feedback. There were also a number of opportunities most weeks to develop my skills on the baritone. The trip was a real insight into how the music industry works in cities other than Sydney. I truly hope to go back and build on what I started!
As of mid-April I am still awaiting news of the result of my audition, the decision has been delayed by COVID-19.
Thank you so much to the following people:
- Judy Bailey at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for teaching and mentoring me for the last few years and for nominating me for the BBM scholarship.
- BBM for enabling me to gain experience in an international job audition and to develop my trombone skills at a high level.
- The Danish Radio Big Band for being a great band to work with and for providing such varied and exciting opportunities.