The Orchestre National de Jazz was created by France’s Ministry of Culture in 1986. This prestigious institution is unique in its genre: in three decades the ONJ has been the bearer of 12 different orchestral projects, conducted by 11 successive artistic and musical directors for the duration of their mandates. In that time, the Orchestra has welcomed to its ranks no fewer than 180 soloists and recorded 30 albums. In the course of its history the ONJ has played a large part in the institutional and cultural legitimization of jazz, notably in offering a vast panorama of newly created works not only in France but also abroad.
As the leader of the Orchestre National de Jazz ONJ since January 2019, guitarist and composer Frédéric Maurin – he previously led the Ping Machine ensemble – has put in place a wide and unrestricted project translated by an active policy of commissioned works, collaborations with composers of singular styles, and associations with other artists including figures from other domains in the performing arts.
Three programmes have marked the beginning of his mandate: Dancing in Your Head(s), composed of material orchestrated by Fred Pallem, explores the galaxy of the saxophonist and composer of genius Ornette Coleman; Rituels plunges us into a poetic and fascinating world through a collective work for thirteen musicians and four voices that was cowritten by Ellinoa, Sylvaine Hélary, Leïla Martial, Grégoire Letouvet and Frédéric Maurin; and lastly Dracula, the first live show for a young audience in ONJ history and a work from the imagination of composer Grégoire Letouvet, stage-director Julie Bertin and actresses Estelle Meyer and Milena Csergo, revisits the legend of the most celebrated vampire of all time.
All the above creations favour experiment in forms and formats thanks to a variable geometry orchestra composed of some thirty male and female musicians of different generations and nationalities. A specific ‘cast’ was selected for each programme and repertoire to allow a greater variety of instruments, and also welcome a larger number of artists into the ONJ’s ranks.
In addition to these programmes, at the very beginning of his mandate Frédéric Maurin initiated the Orchestre des Jeunes de l’ONJ, ‘ONJ Youth Orchestra’. This ensemble is a first, and brings together students from French and European music schools and conservatories. Gathered under former ONJ leaders, the ensemble is dedicated to working on new performances of ONJ material with the ambition of handing down the incredible richness of the music that the Orchestra has produced over more than three decades, through works premiered by the full ensemble and the various small-group spin-offs associated with it.
Today, the ONJ has undertaken an ambitious project with a mission that has broadened and diversified to cover several domains – new creations, the promotion of music through cultural and educational actions — and at the same time accompany emerging fields while enriching the cultural heritage. In implementing those missions, the ONJ continues to demonstrate its openness and its readiness to share its resources in the service of jazz and all its diversity.