Transforming Communities

School children get a taste of Jazz in Northern Ireland

Almost 2,500 school children across Derry and Strabane are getting into the swing ahead of this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival, as part of Live Music Now’s primary schools programme.

Fifteen local schools are enjoying a series of jazz taster performances delivered by LMN Northern Ireland musicians, John Leighton and Meilana Gillard, also known as renowned local jazz duo ‘Joyology’.

Ardnashee School had over 100 pupils taking part in the workshop event last week.

Brid Cutliffe is a senior teacher at the school and she said it was fantastic to be able to take part in this year’s festival, after what has been a very challenging two years for local school children.

“The feedback from today’s event has just been brilliant. When we were offered the opportunity to engage with the programme this year we just jumped at the chance”

“Music is so important for our pupils, it really gives them the chance to express themselves and we missed this kind of performance so much throughout the pandemic. They’ve been in bubble for far too long and this has given them something to really look forward to.

“It’s really important for the children to have goals and to set themselves challenges and they have been working hard on their performances. The students had so much fun today with John and Meilana, and one of the classes where the children have multiple difficulties in particular just loved the singing and dancing.”

Over 7,000 children have engaged with Live Music Now’s jazz outreach programme since it first began working with the Festival in 2017, reaching out to the younger generation of musicians as part of the Jazz festival’s wider outreach programme.

Meilana Gillard, singer/saxophonist
John Leighton, pianist

John and Meilana are familiar faces on the Northern Irish jazz scene, though Meilana originally hails from Ohio. Together they make a big sound, with Meilana’s gutsy, soulful vocals and John’s funky piano playing. Their short performances are interactive and fun, including familiar jazz standards, and are the perfect introduction to jazz for wee ones.

Alice Lewis is Branch Director with Live Music Now in N. Ireland, working to bring free live music experiences to people in a wide range of settings including schools, hospitals, care homes and community centres. She explained the importance of giving young people the chance to see professional musicians perform.

“Pupils are familiar with genres such as pop, country, classical but jazz is something they have little experience of.

This is the first year since the pandemic that schools will get to enjoy some live jazz and it’s just fantastic to be reconnecting once again through music.
Pupils are familiar with genres such as pop, country, classical but jazz is something they have little experience of. So this is the perfect opportunity to give a platform to some of our fantastic local musicians to reach out to new audiences and let them have a taster of what the Festival is all about.”

Find out more about the full programme for this year’s much anticipated Jazz Festival return at