NRC Youth Jazz Orchestras with James Morrison at Lismore City Hall – 12 March 2021

One memorable Friday in March 2021 members of the Northern Rivers Conservatorium Youth Jazz Orchestras – that’s right the juniors too – participated in a workshop and performance with Australian Jazz legend James Morrison and his quartet which features his sons William on guitar and Harry on bass, along with drummer Tim Firth. The instrumentalists were joined by awesome vocalist Emma Pask.

The visitors were transported from Ballina Airport to Lismore City Hall by members of the Northern Rivers Vintage and Veteran Car Club in their incredible vehicles.

The afternoon was a chance for our YJOs to meet the band and hear about their lives and experiences; and rehearse with them the pieces they’d been working on in the lead up to the day. Our young players were supported by NRC tutors, led by NRC Resident Creative Artist Sean O’Boyle, whose brainchild the event had been.

Sean said later “It was a great pleasure to have my old friend James Morrison, his band and Emma Pask as guests of NRC. The benefits to our students, faculty and supporters are immeasurable. Thanks to Anita and the board for making this first event of our guest season such a huge success. James was asking me “when’s the next time?”


In the evening, the City Hall was at capacity. It was the first time that Morrison and his crew have visited Lismore for some years and the sense of anticipation was high. To see our students and colleagues on stage was a thrill even before the lights came up and the great man appeared.

NRC’s newest brass tutor, trombone-tooting Lawson McGuinness and young cellist-cum-composer-cum-bass-clarinettist Tilly Jones joined the solo line up for the opening number All of Me (Marks/Simons) and the evening was off to a flying start.

While the pre-publicity said our YJOs would perform ‘a couple of numbers with the band’, it turns out they were on stage for the entire performance and played in more than a half a dozen classics and some of Morrison’s own compositions. Mr Morrison was a congenial host who dazzled us with his high notes on trumpet, flugel horn and trombone and his amazing showmanship. Who knew he was also an outstanding pianist, as he played a sparkling accompaniment to Ms Pask in Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose.

And while some of the charts were arranged with young performers in mind, our indefatigable student musicians insisted on playing a professional arrangement of Hoyt Curtain’s Big Band classic ‘Meet the Flintstones’ from the 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, much to Morrison’s obvious delight.

“Working with the student jazz orchestras from the Northern Rivers Conservatorium was enormous fun. To see the growth through the rehearsal period and into the concert was fantastic and so rewarding: said James, my band absolutely loved the experience. Here’s to the next time we all meet making music!”

And James Morrison’s commitment to supporting young musicians – indeed he first met Emma Pask at a workshop similar to this when she was just 16 – was unmistakeable. The closing number, Louis Armstrong’s Basin Street Blues , featured elegant solos by NRC alto saxophonist Charles Lloyd and trumpeter Mawgan Watson.

As an audience member I could feel the thrill of our young musicians as they created memories, live on stage, that will last them a lifetime. A parent who attended contacted Director Anita Bellman as few days later with this email message:


“I just wanted to say that the concert on Friday night was sensational … the best I have seen in a long time! Made me sooo pleased to be living where I do. It really highlighted how lucky we all are to have such a great Conservatorium. I loved Tilly playing with James Morrison [and] the two boys improvising with him brought me to tears. The look of awe on Leo’s face for the entire concert was priceless! So thanks so much for that experience for my family and for giving all these kids and teens an experience they will absolutely never forget”.

The program finished with a completely improvised and unrehearsed encore rendition of Route 66. The crowd roared to its feet; celebrating this uplifting experience. This is why we love teaching. This is how we know music makes a difference.

Geoffrey Webb

NRC Faculty