Welcome to the ensembles page of the Jazz School UK site, where you can find everything you need to know about our programme of regular jazz workshops for all instruments and playing levels, whether you are already a playing member, or if you would like to become one in the future.

The Ensembles are at the very heart of our learning programme at Jazz School UK - the regular meetings and carefully graded repertoire ensure steady and consolidated progress for players of all abilities and experience, from beginning improvisers right through to aspiring professionals.

Knowing the tunes in advance - exploring new improvising skills and coming back to them repeatedly to consolidate knowledge - establishing musical relationships in a regular group - all these things give purpose and meaning to your practice between each meeting. Improvement is unavoidable!



The language of jazz improvisation consists mainly of the melodies and rhythms of its repertoire. That's why good jazz musicians, as a matter of course, learn repertoire by heart.

Hence our Jazz Ensembles - tutored playing groups working through a set of tunes and standards that have been decided in advance, giving you the opportunity to acquire real jazz language.

We have put together a great collection of tunes - ranging from Fats Waller to John Taylor, and everything in between! We have chosen them mostly not only for the specific improvising challenges they throw up, but also because they are now in themselves part of the jazz lexicon.

Learning repertoire by heart, and learning how to transfer what you hear directly onto the instrument without conscious calculation - these are the most important steps in improving your jazz playing.

As we go through each season, we also explore the fundamental principles of the music - the rhythmic foundations both of swing and latin pulse, how to play both on and through chords (two different things!), how best to use all the scales and modes in different situations, how to lock in with the rhythm section, how to practise, how to create dialogue, shape and atmosphere in your solos, and much much more.

As you can tell from the tune lists, the higher ensembles become more and more challenging, musically and technically. The pace and intensity of the sessions also increase - and while Gollumites may do a lot of work on basic principles and skill development, the advanced Gandalfinis will concentrate more on advanced ensemble techniques and improvising concepts.

We run thirteen Jazz Ensembles (rhythm section plus frontline) covering the whole range of playing experience and ability from jazz beginner through to aspiring professional.


‣ ensembles and LEVELS

Gollum 1(jazz beginner)

Gollum 2 (improver)

Mordor 1 2 3 4 (improver/intermediate)

Bilbo 1 2 3 (intermediate/intermediate +)

Gandalf (advanced)

Jazz Singers and Accompanists (improver/intermediate/advanced)

The Shoefactory Band (intermediate +/advanced)

Organ Grounds (intermediate +/advanced)

For further details on playing levels, please look on the page for the specific Ensemble.



  • This is a programme of learning - players sign up for a group for the whole season.
  • Groups are streamed by ability and experience.
  • Each group has a set repertoire of jazz tunes and standards. With the help of a playlist, tunesheets that we supply, theory notes taken in sessions and available on the members website and in jazz school literature, players prepare the new tunes each month and come in to play them in their group under the guidance of one of our expert tutors. They then work some more on these tunes in the light of what they have learned in this session and bring them back for revision later in the season.
  • After six sessions each group chooses some of the tunes for further revision and performance.
  • The aims of the programme are - learning the essential tune repertoire which is the primary source of the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements of jazz improvisation - learning how to function correctly within a small jazz group - learning how to apply the theory of jazz harmony and rhythm to real-time improvisation - learning how to connect sound to feeling.
  • The main part of the programme work is done by the player in personal practice, performance and study;  the monthly meetings, as well as being guided playing sessions, provide a focus for this personal work, an opportunity to ask questions and to receive feedback and clarification of theory points, and are also very enjoyable social occasions. Sometimes there is cake.
  • The monthly meetings comprise four x 1 hour sessions and use a range of development techniques to explore and consolidate the ensemble skills, tune language and theory points arising in the performance of each tune.
  • We also have a Season Festival Day for all Ensemble members - a chance for students from all the groups to meet and perform for each other!


    The venue is the Shoefactory at Rushden, a beautiful Victorian building (with a grand piano in all three playing spaces), which is also the home of Jazz School UK founders Nick Weldon and Andra Sparks. More details, maps and links can be found on our About Us page. The Jazz Ensembles run on Saturdays and Sundays 10.30am-4.30pm.


    ‣ prices

    The Season Fee for the Ensemble Programme is £560. Payment in advance or in instalments.

    Fees includes annual membership bringing 20% discount on fees for workshops, 121 lessons and additional ensembles. Pricing is calculated on the basis of the fixed costs of running each ensemble, so no refunds are possible for missed sessions. However, an alternative ensemble day may be offered where a suitable place is available.

    Fee reductions possible for U18s - please enquire.


    ‣ TUTORS

    The main tutor for the Jazz Ensembles is Nick Weldon, one of the foremost jazz players and teachers in the UK. He plays piano and double bass, is an acclaimed accompanist, and currently also teaches at Trinity College Of Music and at the Royal Welsh College Of Music And Drama. Tutors for the 2019-20 Ensembles currently include Dave O'Higgins, Alan Barnes, Alex Merritt, Dominic Ashworth, Mick Foster, Dudley Phillips, Steve Watts, Nikki Iles, Dave Lewis, Pete Churchill and Steve Waterman.

    Are you interested in joining a Jazz School UK Ensemble? If so, don't delay...places are in high demand, so please get in touch to tell us about your jazz playing and to register your interest..

    register here →




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    Please use our general enquiry form to register your interest in joining our Ensemble programme. You can also contact us by email.





    "It has been brilliant learning with you and the other Jazz School UK teachers. I have learned much so far and I think that you run a brilliant school. I am indebted to you."




    "Thank you for a fantastic year and for all the help you have given me. I'm loving my time at Jazz School UK, working with great musicians and amazing and inspirational tutors. Really looking forward to next season!"




    "Just to let you know I passed my audition and have an unconditional offer to attend Middlesex University in October.. Yahoo!!!"




    "Can't think of any improvements needed in the programme. Many thanks for what you do."




    "I have learned a great deal, and loved every minute."




    "I've found the formula for this year {1 song in the same key each month and repetition of songs the following month} very successful for me. I have tried to learn the tunes where possible and think that this is such a good exercise."



    (drum parent)

    "Melchie has just been offered a place on the NYJC Summer School (by competitive audition), and is over the moon. It was not only your suggestion to apply, but without Jazz School UK this year he wouldn't have had a prayer of getting in. Thank you again."




    "I really enjoy the ensemble lessons. Thank you so much."



    (double bass)

    "Hard to know how to improve your format - I really enjoy each session and feel I'm really improving. Now all I need to do is shed some of the work and spend more time practising...."



    (baritone sax)

    "Keep smiling!"



    (electric upright bass)

    "Great venue, great hosts and tutors, lovely food and refreshments. Thanks a lot for being there and helping me fulfill my jazz jamming dreams."




    "What a great year. I feel I have at least gained confidence in improvisation. As a result I am now playing in a local big band, which is fantastic. THANKYOU."




    "I think that you have achieved just the right balance over the years, and bringing in different tutors really helps individuals absorption of different teaching methods even if it's the same topic! You have attained an excellence beyond expectations, especially helping mature students. Thank you thank you xxx"




    "Just to say how much I enjoy the workshops and that I've learnt loads - which I hope is becoming apparent in my playing. It's also very sociable, a really nice way to spend the day."




    "Love the course, can't think of anything to improve except perhaps you guys moving further north so I wouldn't have to to drive so far!!"




    "Many thanks for a great couple of days. Returned enthusiastic and full of ideas. Very best."




    "I'm really excited to be involved again next year and I've gotten so much out of the sessions I've done this year. I've now formed a trio with a few guys at work and I've been applying the skills I've learnt from you, Trevor and the other great tutors I've met through your school which has been really satisfactory. Many thanks."



    (bass guitar)

    "What I really like (and need) is the transferable knowledge you and the other tutors give us."



    (bass guitar)

    "Dear Nick, Andra, Trevor and Dave, just wanted to drop all you a quick line to once again thank you for accommodating me on the Easter Beginners Course, I thoroughly enjoyed it! You helped me kickstart my jazz playing. Keep up the excellent work, it is a rare opportunity indeed that you offer us. Best regards."




    "Nick, once again a big thanks to you, Andra and the tutors for a great course. I've certainly got plenty to work on now!"




    "Really enjoyed Saturday. It's a tall ladder to climb but I feel I'm a rung higher after every session…"




    "Thanks so much for the improvers' weekend. It was so enjoyable, and useful, I'm still living off it! In particular, being able to play with Andra singing was the fulfilment of a long held ambition for me."




    "I really enjoyed my time with you all last week, and enjoyed the range of tutors. You have such a slick operation there, everything so well thought through. Playing with others in a situation where there is tuition is a great help, rather than simply muddling along and hoping that nobody will comment on my patchy performance. Many thanks for making tangible opportunities available."




    "I just wanted to say - what a fabulous day it was today. Thanks to you both for everything. I came away hugely inspired. Dave Lewis is an amazing player - a rare and inspirational guy in so many ways - such brilliance in someone so chilled!  You seem to have a knack for finding the best. The outside world and all my worries just vanished for the duration, and you guys somehow contrive to unlock potential I never knew I had. I was trying to think - how could I re-live that experience in future? Of course, one can't except in memory. Honestly, if you could bottle it, you'd be richer than Coco Chanel. But as always, for the best things in life - we have to be there. I'm looking forward to the next one."




    "Thanks for organising a great day yesterday, you made me feel very welcome and at ease. Lovely food as well."




    "With Adam Frost's Guitar Improvers Ensemble we covered a tune in about 1hr which in my present class in London we would spend 10 weeks on! The class, people and standard you have are high and this has really given me a big push to catch up, and I feel I have learned a lot."




    "Just to say again THANKS to you, Trevor and Andra for such an enjoyable and useful weekend – plenty of stuff that they don't teach you in books or anywhere!! Will now have to put things into practice in the Sauron group!!"




    "I just wanted to apologise for running for my cab yesterday without properly thanking you, Trevor and Andra. It was a fantastic weekend! There wasn't a moment when I wasn't learning something, and having a blast at the same time. What's more, I now know exactly what I need to do, and how to go about trying to get better. Who could ask for more? So, to all three of you, thanks! It was brilliant - really helpful, and really fun too!"




    "Just a note to say a big "Thank you" for a great day's learning experience yesterday. Finding out about your Jazz School has been a major milestone in my music learning programme."




    "I would just like to thank you for yesterdays tuition and hospitality. I found the day very enjoyable, enlightening and worthwhile."




    "Just wanted to thank you for having me on the Summer Course. I really feel I learnt a lot from it and I feel like a much better player. I truly don't believe I would be attending University this year had I not received teachings from you. (And going to University for me was a Big Deal!) Many thanks."




    "Thank you for being there and improving my musical life - I may not be the best student but what you do for me is immeasurable. My finest felicitations to you and Andra. Thank you both for being part of my world."



    (sax tutor)

    "It was a joy being part of your Shoefactory set up. You and Andra have created something very special- It's perfect for students and tutors alike. A profoundly creative and welcoming space. Absolutely brilliant."




    "Thank you for a very enjoyable and rewarding Summer School at your wonderful Shoefactory. The teaching was excellent and during the whole week there was a great atmosphere with everyone being very supportive of each other. I enjoyed it immensely and now have plenty of new topics to digest and work on. Little did I know what I was taking on when I started my musical journey!"




    "Got lots to practise. I went on a beginners jazz course at a University ages ago and they started with Mack the Knife and we stayed with it for weeks. I learned more with you in one hour than in weeks on the University course. So that is good!"




    "I played a couple of numbers at the Harborough Jazz jam session today and had SUCH a good time and even got some applause from the audience. My solos were probably not technically perfect but I thought to myself... just go for it and enjoy and...it worked! So, thank you to you, Trev and Andra for the help and confidence you've given me."




    "Bless you! So enjoyed the whole experience … there were moments when I thought I had died and gone to heaven. So much expert help and learning and such lovely fellow students … made it all very memorable. We'll be back!"




    "I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to both you and Andra for the hospitality that you showed. Great course of discovery, well run with exceptional hosts."




    "A big thank you for another great year. The big plusses for me are: having a few weeks between sessions to allow the brain to consolidate the day's inputs, working alongside a great bunch of jazz learners with similar aspirations to myself, a well thought through reasonably paced syllabus, learning through playing together as an ensemble and the insights we get into directing a rhythm section. Altogether, a great catalyst for enjoyable learning. I am really looking forward to making more progress next year. Thank you both!"




    "Another triumph for the Weldon/Sparks hospitality, really enjoyed my two days. Was able to mull over the pearls from all three tutors on the way home and live in hope they might sink in. I dont ever remember having such likeable profs at vet college! Best wishes and many thanks"




    "Thanks for a brilliant course - one of the best! Great atmosphere and tutoring. My brain hurts in the nicest way."




    "Thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable three days. I came away feeling that I'd really achieved something....so onwards and upwards!!"




    "Thanks to Nick and all his tutors for their inexhaustible patience with us in putting across more content than in any other course I've been on. Magic! Thanks also to Andra and her team for looking after us over the five days. Everything went like clockwork!!"




    "Thank you both for another fantastic summer school. I've come home with tons of material to work on, as always, but also feeling really pleased with how much I've learned so far. I can't imagine how I could have made the same progress without Jazz School."




    "Just a few words to say how much I enjoyed the your jazz course. Even though it was very intensive, I survived, just. I also think I learnt more in that one week than several of the other recent courses added together.Thanks again!"




    "Brilliant Tutor Band day with Trish Clowes yesterday - what an exceptional opportunity to play that sort of music with such a great artist. "




    "Thank you so much to yourself & Nick for all your hospitality I really appreciate all the trouble you went to with the food, Andra.I enjoyed working with the bands & I feel inspired with loads of ideas from the expert tutoring I received. Also studying in such a lovely environment made it for me. Many thanks again xx "




    "I was so impressed with the course I want to thank you all so much and am looking forward to the summer. I felt so included with my harp and had lots of fun whilst learning heaps! Kind regards"




    "I had a great gig with my sextet on Monday. I even had the presence of mind to use some of Trevor's asymmetric phrase/play-rest ideas in my solos."




    "My concert went well last week, with 60 strong chorus, soprano soloist and jazz trio. I had lots of nice comments about my sparkling piano playing, which I couldn't have done without all the coaching, especially from Nick and also all Trevor's help with my comping. "




    Thanks for reading!