Facing the music: Durham University Big Band (DUBB)


Durham University Big Band (DUBB) are an annually auditioned ensemble playing a mix of repertoire that stretches from traditional big band music to classic swing to neo-soul. As Durham’s premier jazz ensemble, we pride ourselves on featuring the greatest composers and arrangers currently in the scene, including Jacob Mann and Bob Curnow. Alongside the classics, DUBB plays some innovative arrangements of tunes by artists such as Moonchild and the Jacob Mann Big Band, creating an exciting mix of tunes to entertain an audience. The band consists of a mix of Durham University students, selected from a thorough auditions process across the whole student body. The diverse range of interests and degrees at the table leads to a highly creative musical environment that thrives to continuously challenge and push the sound that the traditional big band ensemble can produce.

The band also regularly enters the Great North Big Band Jazz Festival, winning awards there every year for the past five years of entry. The band is especially recognised for playing interesting contemporary repertoire by young composers, some even coming from the band itself. In the past, we have performed with other university big bands, the Jazz Café Newcastle and performed gigs at various venues around the university and Durham. As well as this we have worked with UK jazz professionals such as Mark Armstrong, Pete Churchill and Stan Sulzmann among many others. Past band members have continued their performing endeavours at The National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Trinity College – London, Royal Academy of Music, and Leeds College of Music. Along with this success and the band’s expansive repertoire, a series of the band’s musical directors have put their skills to use. Chris Jones (Musical Director 2014/15) was a pioneer in encouraging in house arranging, resulting in many successful and well-received pieces to add to the band’s material. His arrangements of classic J Dilla, Fatima and Noname Hip-Hop tracks, along with Daniel Garel’s (Musical Director 2015/16) stunning arrangement of ‘Already There’ – Taylor McFerrin, which has received international radio play, are but a few examples of the musical ingenuity the band has in its ranks.

At the end of each year, we record an album — the only Durham University ensemble to do so! Our album ‘twenty’ was released in 2019, marking the band’s 20th birthday, and features some iconic charts such as ‘Spanish Joint’ and ‘Diddy Bop’. After this anniversary, we wanted to celebrate a new era of DUBB to which our album ‘Breathe’ was born. Breathe is a project designed to show the band’s breadth. Swing, hip-hop, Latin, 7/8 – the variety goes on. The band has a long-running tradition of celebrating arrangements by past musical directors and this album is no exception. This EP features two such arrangements – ‘Ah Yeah’ (Arr. Zach Fox) and ‘Breathe’ (Arr. Chris Jones). The band’s versatility is astounding, with ‘Breathe’ demonstrating the band’s sensitivity and ‘Blues for Des’ its powerhouse potential. Whilst Covid has prevented our ability to record albums for the past two years, we are very excited to be back in the recording studio this summer for our 2022 album!

The highlight of the year is our annual mini-tour to London when we play at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as well as gigs with Oxford University Jazz Orchestra. This year the tour started with an evening gig at Magdalen College, Oxford with Oxford Uni Jazz Orchestra. After a fun and intense night of big band-ing and trading solo’s, we had an early start the next morning to head to the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. This sold-out show was a hit, with the band performing all their charts this year. We were greeted by many of the DUBB Alumni, who even after having left Durham, support the band each year! Recordings from this gig will be available soon, and we’re very excited for you to hear them!

Image credit: Caroline Derrett

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