Two West Students Accepted to NYO Jazz Ensemble

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Colman Burks and Connor MacLeod auditioned and made their way into the New York Orchestra (NYO) Jazz ensemble. This prestigious ensemble group performs annually at Carnegie Hall and tours. Due to COVID restrictions this year, instead of touring, they are recording an album.

“In the past, the band has toured Asia and Europe, getting to play at world-class venues after finishing their week-long residence at New York’s Purchase College. Unfortunately, given this year’s conditions, we will not be able to tour,” MacLeod said.  “Instead, we will spend a month at SUNY Purchase, recording an album and hopefully performing at Carnegie Hall. There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding our performance schedule, so I’m not sure if we will get a chance to play at many venues. Even with all of these restrictions, I’m still incredibly excited to get to play in the group.”

The audition for NYO Jazz consisted of audition videos, essays, and short video interviews. Burks and MacLeod worked together for their audition tapes. 

“The process of auditioning for NYO Jazz was pretty simple. I got together with my friends Ahmed McLemore (Bass), Isaac Byrd (Piano), and Connor MacLeod (Sax) to play music together and record the requirements,” Burks said.  “I didn’t necessarily choose to audition for NYO exclusively as I auditioned for many other jazz ensembles as well, but NYO is definitely the best of the best and the ensembles I was most interested in.”

Both students have had an interest in music and band since middle school, Burks from a young age, and MacLeod a bit more recently. 

“I first became interested in playing music in eighth grade when I started checking out jazz records from the ’50s and ’60s,” Macleod said. “Since then, I’ve drawn most of my inspiration from listening to the greats like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis.” 

Burks was influenced by family influences in his music career and started music at the young age of five, playing the piano. 

I became interested in music because it was an integral part of my upbringing. I come from a musical family (my dad is a classical trumpet player),” Burks said. “I heard a lot of music growing up, in the car, at home, and going to concerts. Some of the people who have greatly influenced me on my musical journey are my Dad, my cousin Stanton Moore, and my teacher Stockton Helbing.”

The jazz ensemble teacher, Preston Pierce, had his own two cents for his MacLeod and Burks.

“Enjoy and treasure every moment of this special and prestigious moment,” Pierce said. “If this past year has taught us anything, it is to count our blessings and not take them for granted.”