The Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw (JOC) is one of the world’s great jazz ensembles. I’ve known some of these musicians since the late ‘90’s. But I’d never worked with the whole JOC until January 2020. Then Juan Martinez, JOC artistic director (and baritone saxophonist), emailed me. He proposed that I write a CD’s worth of music for the band, featuring all their soloists. After many more months of Zoom rehearsals (ugh!), scheduling delays, and even more Zoom (ugh!) we got into the studio in Hilversum for three intense days last November. (Jim McNeely)
The Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw (JOC) – the Netherlands’ best big band with the most swing, according to many – was founded in 1996 by Henk Meutgeert and others as the New Concert Big Band. Since 1999, on the initiative of then-Concertgebouw managing director Martijn Sanders, it was proudly given the name of Het Koninklijk Concertgebouw ['The Royal Concert Hall'].
The JOC performs worldwide with jazz greats such as the likes of Benny Golson and Oleta Adams and talented young blood, with José James and Christian Scott among the pool. The JOC connects with its audiences, whether in large or smaller settings and makes jazz, in the broadest sense of the word, accessible to audiences of all ages and expectations. Through its shows abroad, the JOC manages to bring Dutch jazz far afield and to the stages of famous concert halls. Approximately 35,000 visitors are drawn to the JOC's concerts each year.
Principal conductor Dennis Mackrel
As of November 2015, the JOC is led by principal conductor Dennis Mackrel (1962). Mackrel started his professional career at the age of ten and at twenty became the Count Basie band’s youngest ever drummer. Mackrel played with orchestras such as The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, The Carla Bley Very Large Band and the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band. He grew from sideman to band leader in his many partnerships with European orchestras such as the UMO big band from Helsinki (Finland) and the WDR big band from Cologne (Germany). In 2010 he returned to the Count Basie Orchestra as bandleader, where he remained until 2013.
The partnership with the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw dates back to 2004, when he made several appearances as a drummer. Starting in 2014, Mackrel conducted the orchestra on numerous occasions, including in the historical main hall of the Concertgebouw.
As pioneers in the Dutch jazz scene, the JOC has initiated two projects for top talent in (jazz) music: Rhythm Changes and the Arrangers project. Over the course of these projects, young talent got given the opportunity to experience large(r) stages in a professional environment. These projects bring new life and new music to the big band genre and build bridges between the generations on stage as well as reach out to audiences.