Striking the right chord at Cork School of Music

Ronan Leonard looks forward to an exciting collaboration between The New Irish Jazz Orchestra and the Gloaming’s awardwinning fiddler Martin Hayes in the Cork School of Music
Striking the right chord at Cork School of Music
Martin Hayes.

THE world-renowned fiddle player Martin Hayes has already left a huge impact on music with a variety of projects, currently front and centre is his work with The Gloaming.

That group’s first album was released in 2014 and won Meteor Choice Music Prize for Irish album of the year, but his pedigree also includes winning six All-Ireland fiddle championships before the age of 19; becoming the first musician to win the BBC Folk Awards Instrumentalist of the year in 2000; and last year he became the inaugural RTÉ folk instrumentalist winner.

On June 17 he will be collaborating with the New Irish Jazz Orchestra in the Cork School Of Music for what promises to be one of the most interesting and exciting concerts to be put on in recent years.

Paul Dunlea, the founder of the New Irish Jazz Orchestra, spoke of his delight to be working with Martin.

Paul Dunlea of New Irish Jazz Orchestra
Paul Dunlea of New Irish Jazz Orchestra

 “I’ve been a huge fan for years, I’ve been to see The Gloaming a few times at the National Concert Hall so the prospect of working with Martin was always more of a pipe dream than anything else really to be honest,” he said.

“My sister Imelda got married last November and the reception was held at the Ambassador Hotel. On the same night, Martin was playing ‘Live At St. Lukes’ with Steve Cooney. I saw him at the bar in the Ambassador after his gig and just introduced myself as a big fan. He looked me up online and here we are collaborating on a concert,” he says.

Paul knows that the orchestra itself will be an able match for Martin’s abilities.

“It is a professional large jazz ensemble that provides a platform for Ireland’s finest jazz improvising talent, big band virtuosi and , most importantly, new composers and arrangers from home and abroad as well as classic big band repertoire; entire concerts of ours have also been broadcast nationally on both RTÉ and BBC radio.”

While both styles of music have an understood structure, the meshing of a virtuoso instrumentalist with a larger orchestra will restrain the ability to improvise passages of music.

Paul Dunlea.
Paul Dunlea.

“There is a structure to it all, there has to be with at least 18 people playing at any one time. The rhythm section (drums, piano, guitar and bass) probably have the most ‘freedom’ as their parts, although filled with instruction aren’t notated note for note as it were, but the horn section players (trumpets, trombones and woodwind) do stick to orchestrated parts for the most part until their individual solo sections,” he says.

The material they will play is based on new compositions from Irish composers who all have already worked with diverse musicians, which is crucial to the orchestra that Paul started.

“The composers highlighted on this concert represent the best that Ireland has to offer especially when it comes to writing for large jazz ensemble. Cormac McCarthy, Paul Frost and myself have come through CIT Cork School Of Music. While all three of us are busy freelance performers, we also are kept busy writing our own material as well as writing and arranging for other projects and groups including Dublin City Jazz Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Cork Pops Orchestra, Mick Flannery, Cathal Coughlan, Camille O’ Sullivan, Jack O’Rourke, Brian Deady, The Frank & Walters, Band of An Garda Síochána, Defence Forces Bands-Ireland, Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra & CSM Wind Ensemble,” he says.

Paul Dunlea conducting.
Paul Dunlea conducting.

There will also be work by Irish performers not based in Cork, “Brian Byrne moved to LA in 2003 to expand his career as a film and television composer and since then he has consistently worked as a composer, conductor, songwriter, arranger and pianist in both, for instance he composed the music to Heartbeat Of Home, a new show from the producers of Riverdance.

“We also have a piece by Ronan Guilfoyle, he is a major figure on the Irish jazz scene since the early 1980s, when he started with Louis Stewart’s group, and has developed an international reputation as a performer, teacher and composer. He has now a large body of composed work that ranges from solo piano pieces, to chamber works, to orchestral compositions. He has had commissions from a wide range of ensembles and organisations including the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in Dublin, The Opus 20 String Orchestra in London, and the European Jazz Youth Orchestra.”

Paul has an interesting challenge as conductor and arranger to marry the traditional Irish and big band jazz styles. “I’ll be arranging Martin’s music for the ensemble so it’ll have a massive traditional influence, although I’ll be arranging the music for a jazz big band so obviously the harmony will differ. It’s a really exciting prospect and presents a huge challenge for everybody involved.”

 The New Irish Jazz Orchestra and Martin Hayes perform on June 16 at 4pm in The Cork School Of Music. Tickets at

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