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Jazz Bands & Combos

Jazz is meant to be played with other people, and at Jazz Workshop Australia you have the chance to do just that. You can join a jazz band (called combos), whatever your age or experience. We have groups for musicians aged from 4 years. We teach kids, teens, adults, emerging professionals, late-starters, beginners to advanced. All are welcome.

At JWA beginners learn jazz ensemble skills, how to play jazz, and how to improvise. We help more advanced players build on their skills and to excel. It is important to us that your jazz combo experience is enjoyable as well as valuable.

Our bands are available for hire, as part of our performance program for our students. Call or email for details.

A highlight at Jazz Workshop Australia is our famous JWA jazz combos program – small groups providing playing experience, structured coaching in jazz improvisation, jazz styles, and small-group performance techniques, and a vibrant creative community of musicians of all ages. We are also proud to sponsor and host the Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra (SYJO), an acclaimed youth big band for school-aged musicians.

When you apply to join one of the combos we will place you in the best one for you. The SYJO Big Band program is for the most keen and motivated young students, providing them with the opportunity to extend themselves in a group of like-minded peers. Entry to the Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra ensembles is by audition and/or invitation only for school-aged musicians.

In our experience, students participating in jazz combo tend to do significantly better in school music and beyond than those who miss out. They also make enormous gains in self – confidence, instrumental technique, aural skills and musicianship. It transforms your experience, understanding, and control, and passion for music.

A jazz combo is a small improvising jazz group (up to 8 members) and not at all the same thing as a “big band” (aka jazz orchestra, stage band). Think Miles Davis Quintet (click for video)Sandy Evans TrioCharlie Parker, or Bireli Lagrene Quartet. Big band is a very different thing. Some examples include the Count Basie OrchestraDuke Ellington, or Benny Goodman Orchestra. Many big bands are called “orchestra” because they play orchestrations, just like a classical ensemble. If you want to be a stong big band player or an improvising solosit, then learning to play and improvise in small combos is the way to go, just like the stars of these examples.

A jazz combo is a small band, of up to ten musicians. It is really a flexible “combination” of instruments. At Jazz Workshop the combos rehearse once per week, tutored by one of our experienced teachers. Combos give you the chance to apply and put into practice the work and theory you learn with your teacher, and really give your playing a boost. This is an excellent way to dramatically improve your skills on your instrument, and to boost your self confidence.

A big band is a larger jazz group, usually 12 to 20 players. They are called “big bands” because, compared to most jazz bands, they are big! Of course, compared to a concert band or orchestra, they are still quite small. In a big band the emphasis is on playing carefully arranged pieces, each musician playing off a written part.

A standard Big Band has five saxes (2 altos, 2 tenors and one bari); four trumpets, four trombones, guitar, piano, bass, and drums. The line up in a combo is completely flexible, though most include bass and drums.

Also, to confuse things even more, some people still call this kind of group a “stage band”. this was actually a term invented in the USA in the early days of jazz education as a way of disguising the fact that students were playing jazz. Jazz was, at one time, banned from schools and universities and considered unsuitable for young people! Luckily such narrow-minded attitudes, based as they are in snobbery and racism, are less common today.

Of course, you don’t have to study with one of our teachers to play in a combo. Musicians of all ages are welcome. Call or email today to join!

Here is a summary of the bands and other ensembles we offer. Some of the groups are by audition only, such as advanced combos, the JWA Little Big Band and the Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra. These groups form our High Performance program. The other groups are open to all, but depend on space permitting and level of the group (read below for details). We recommend coming in for a short assessment before joining so we can recommend the best groups for you or your child.

Enrol now in combo or SYJO big band or find out more via email.


Jazz Combos

  • $825/ semester (18 weeks).

There are groups for all ages and levels. Various combos meet Monday- Saturday.

Places are generally limited to eight people. A combo can involve any “combination” of instruments, there are no set parts. Here is a summary of the groups:

  • Adult 18+ combos: weekday evenings. Introductory & beginner, intermediate, advanced groups.
  • Young people (u18): introductory/beginner, intermediate, advanced groups.
  • Younger children: Little Jazzers (ages 4-7), introductory (ages 7-9).

The groups are led by JWA faculty including Dr. Saul Richardson, Gavin Ahearn, Deven Rahman, Michelle Shih, Ragan Kang, and Jack Stoneham. Contact us for current rehearsal schedules. There are many groups at different stages and there is a combo for everyone.

The JWA combos are for students to learn and develop their playing in a small jazz ensemble, and improvising in a jazz idiom. These groups work through a program designed to develop, reinforce, and enhance:

  • fundamental performance skills
  • self – confidence
  • instrumental technique
  • sophisticated ensemble skills
  • teamwork
  • understanding of jazz theory
  • appreciation of jazz history and styles
  • jazz improvisation
  • aural skills


JWA Advanced Combos

Led by Dr. Saul Richardson, Jack Stoneham, and Ragan Kang.

The JWA advanced combos form our ‘High Performance’ program.

The JWA advanced combos are for older or more advanced players with a strong background in small group jazz playing and jazz improvisation. These bands are designed to challenge and inspire the best young musicians. They cover advanced concepts and the hardest tunes. An ideal preparation for anyone considering auditioning for Jazz Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium or other tertiary institution.

The advanced groups for younger students are for those who show special interest, aptitude and potential. Members generally progress through the program. Anyone who sticks with it and does some work (learns the techniques, practices etc) can expect to become an advanced player over time. 

Places are limited to eight people. By audition only.


Combos for Adults

  • ages 18 +
  • weekday evenings

Read more about the adult combos.


Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra

  • For school-aged students. SYJO takes occasional overnight trips, so it isn’t suitable for very immature people.
  • Wednesdays 6:45pm – 8:15pm
  • Directed by Dr. Saul Richardson
  • To join the band: a) there must be a vacancy and, b) audition & probation period.

Jazz Workshop Australia is proud to sponsor and host the acclaimed Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra (SYJO).

The Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra is an award winning big band aimed at talented and motivated young musicians. It is ideal highly-motivated young players to develop big band performance experience in an excellent group. It is also good for people who can benefit from playing in a band in which the focus is on musical excellence in a fun and welcoming environment. It is open, through audition, to school-aged musicians who would like to challenge themselves in a band made up of like-minded outstanding musicians from the Sydney region. SYJO is independently operated by a volunteer committee from the Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra inc. association. Visit the Sydney Youth Jazz Orchestra page for more information.