The New Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1963 by Clive Burrows and resurrected and directed by Neil Ardley (b. 26 May 1937, Wallington, Surrey, England, d. 23 February 2004, Milford, Derbyshire, England) between 1964 and 1968. It provided the up-and-coming generation of British jazz musicians with the experience of working with a large jazz orchestra, its personnel including Harry Beckett, Henry Lowther and Ian Carr (trumpets), Paul Rutherford and Mike Gibbs (trombones), Don Rendell, Trevor Watts, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Barbara Thompson (saxophones), Michael Garrick (piano), Jack Bruce (bass) and Jon Hiseman (drums). It is not surprising that with such high-quality musicians The Times critic, Miles Kington, would write that the NJO ‘makes most big bands sound like trained elephants with two tricks’. It was not the only purpose of the NJO to provide such invaluable big band experience for these musicians; it also fostered a workshop atmosphere to provide its arrangers with a chance to try out scores.
Among those who wrote for the orchestra were Ardley, Alan Cohen, Gibbs, Rutherford, Garrick and Mike Taylor. ‘I learnt by my mistakes’, Ardley said later, and by the time he had become the leader he was producing major scores including the glorious ‘Shades Of Blue’ from the first album and ‘Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe’ from the second. All the material in the latter is derived from two/four-bar motifs in the main theme. There are no repeated chord sequences or scales; rather, the piece grows organically in the manner of classical music. This is not merely a third-stream piece but an attempt to write jazz in new way. It was the kind of experiment the NJO was formed to encourage and a score Ardley would have been lucky to have performed anywhere else. The NJO gave some concerts in London and at festivals. They also had a fruitful pairing with Colosseum. Despite what a contemporary described as its ‘fiercely swinging rhythm, first class solos and brilliant ensemble’, it gained no recognition abroad, though in time many of its members have become very well known on the continent.