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Jazz Labs hit the right note at Oakgrove College

22 April 2024

Jazz was on the agenda last week, as the students at Oakgrove College got into the swing ahead of the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival, with the help of some top local musicians.

Pianist John Leighton and double bassist Rohan Armstrong were supplying the tunes at the special Jazz Lab held at the school last week. The interactive jazz workshops offer the chance for young people to experience the thrill of a live performance, with over 1,200 pupils from eight schools enjoying a fun introduction to jazz through the interactive sessions.

Delivered by Derry City and Strabane District Council with support from Diageo and Ulster University, the City of Derry Jazz Festival isn’t just about entertainment, it aims to create a lasting legacy which will inspire future generations of musicians. The artists taking part in the programme are introducing the students to familiar jazz standards and improvisation techniques, creating a new generation of jazz fans.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to flock to this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival which takes place over the May Bank Holiday weekend, from 2nd – 6th May. There are a number of opportunities for young musicians from local schools to showcase their talents, with outdoor performances and parades throughout the five-day event.

Festival Coordinator with Council, Andrea Campbell, explained more. “Over the years we have been working with Live Music Now to engage with local schools to give them the opportunity to work with some of the best local musicians and find out more about live performance. We always have a brilliant response and it's fantastic to see jazz music filtering down to a new generation.

“The festival provides a platform for young musicians to learn from some amazing mentors as well as show off their own talents, which will hopefully inspire them to go on to follow musical pathways. It’s an amazing legacy and it’s what that Jazz Festival is all about – bringing people together through music.”

Music teacher at Oakgrove College, Rachel Coyle, said it had been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all the students. "It was a such a pleasure to have these highly talented musicians with us today, sharing their knowledge and craft. Our students were both impressed and inspired,” she said. 

School Principal, John Harkin, noted: “Live music in school was a real treat for everyone.  Nothing compares to the experience of hearing music created before you, and our students felt that first hand. Watching the faces, I was so pleased to see students caught in the magical spell of music. I’m sure that some future musicians were inspired by the time John and Rowan spent with us.”

Alice Lewis, Live Music Now Director, Northern Ireland, said that thousands of young people had connected with the programme since it first started. “Since 2017 Live Music Now has brought jazz to over 12,000 children and young people across the Derry City and Strabane District Council area through the Festival’s outreach programme. This year represents an exciting new development as our professional musicians deliver two four-week masterclass series working with their established jazz bands. We recognise the wealth of talent in our young people and look forward to inspiring the next generation of jazz artists.”

Among the other schools taking part in the programme this year are Lisneal College, Lumen Christi College, St Columb’s College, St Cecilia’s College, St Patrick’s & St Brigid’s College, Holy Cross College and Strabane Academy.

The City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival runs from Thursday May 2nd – Monday May 6th supported by Derry City and Strabane District Council, Diageo and Ulster University.

For info on the full programme of events – most of which are free – go to 

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