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What is PYJO?

The Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra has trained musicians from the Portland Metro Area since 2001. Many alumni have attend prestigious music schools across the country on scholarship. Many have continued in music or music education.

PYJO brings young musicians together to rehearse, study, and perform the American art form of Jazz. Students from Portland and the surrounding areas (as far as North Salem, Battleground, WA, Forest Grove, & East of Gresham) meet once a week in SW Portland at The Burlingame Space.

There are 6 PYJO bands of different levels and age groups. During the school year, sessions are 8-11 weeks long. In the summer, week-long sessions are offered. Each band performs at least one concert per session in a public setting. All students are encouraged to play at least one solo, most perform improvised solos.

Band members are responsible for preparing /practicing their music and their solos, they should seek out recordings of the music we are working on and spend time listening to it. They are also responsible for making it to the gig on time and communicating with the directors when conflicts arise with rehearsals or performances.

PYJO challenges up-and-coming musicians. Fast-paced rehearsals are packed with improvisation methods, music theory, exercises in all keys, rhythmic training, improving sightreading, listening, composition, and preparation of songs & solos for upcoming performances.  Students are expected to practice outside of class and are given tools to make practice more fun and effective.

Teacher education is a high priority for us. Clinics are available to local schools and student leaders are given opportunities to lead sectionals and work with younger students. Exceptional students who display traits of future educators are encouraged to become student directors in younger bands.

PYJO is fun! Rehearsals move fast and boggle the brain; but are always full of laughs. The Medlers have a great connection with their students. Getting results with positive energy.

PYJO thinks LOCAL. Concerts are performed mainly in Portland area venues and music festivals. Occasionally performances are held in other Northwest cities, but are planned well in advance. A world class Jazz education is available right here in Portland, OR! PYJO believes the ‘language of Jazz’ can be passed down to young musicians through strong classroom education and through local performances embellished with guest artists, guest bands, or clinicians.

PYJO has worked with Artists: Bobby Shew - Lead Trumpet extraordinaire (Buddy Rich, Bob Florence Bands etc), Charles McPherson -saxophonist, Scott Whitfield - trombonist/arranger, Terrell Stafford - Trumpet/educator with Essentially Ellington Program, Derrick Tabb-Snare Drum Rebirth Brass Band, Carl Sauders-trumpet, John Clayton -bassist, Darrell Grant -pianst/PSJeff Cumpston -late director of West Linn HS, Charley Gray - PSU Jazz Studies, Susie Jones - Mt Hood Community College Jazz Program, Rich Cooper - Lead trumpet specialist, Tall Jazz, Dave Mills - arranger / trumpet / Jazz Studies at Clackamas Community College, Brian Ward - piano and Jazz Studies at WSU, Jeff Uusitalo -trombone, Paul Mazzio -Trumpet, The Quadraphonnes, The Shanghai Woolies, and many of Portland’s finest Jazz musicians.

PYJO GIVES Back Student teacher program - School Outreach programs - Performance Experiences raise money for scholarship programs. Students are encouraged to teach, share, and pass on what they have learned to younger musicians in our program or in their communities. Experienced players are often asked to perform in small groups for gigs around the city:
Portland Jazz Festival events, private parties, corporate events, school fundraisers, community events etc.

PYJO alumni have attended: Berklee College of Music, Oberlin College Conservatory, Portland State University, William Patterson, University of North Texas, Univ of Oregon, Julliard, Univ. of Washington, Lawrence Conservatory, USC, New England Conservatory, Oregon State University, The New School, Harvard, Manhattan School of Music, Eastman School of Music @ U. Indiana, US Army ROTC, Mt Hood Community College, The Grammy Band, to name a few.

Alumni -Beyond college with careers in Music include:
Andrew Oliver (Piano, Trumpet, Cora, Drums)- traveling the world with his many bands / host of kmhd radio / established composer
John Nastos (saxophones, flute, clarinet)- very active in Portland's music scene as a musician and in web building/marketing
Ben Darwish (Piano) - bandleader / composer / event promoter
Tim Archer - settled into a career as a studio bass player / performer in Los Angles after attending USC
Ben Kelly (Trumpet) - music educator after finishing degree at U. North Texas (and sitting in the One O’Clock band)
Alex Rodriguez (Trombone) pursuing PhD in ethnomusicology at UCLA, preparing dissertation research on jazz in Chile. He is also a freelance contributor to NPR Music's jazz blog, A Blog Supreme.
John Storie (Guitar) - traveling with Guitar West
Eric Allen (Trumpet, Cello) - is a successful composer, arranger, bandleader, & cellist
Bryan Smith (Alto Sax)- Finished his masters in music at U of W & is currently teaching PYJO 3 & working as a freelance musician
Active freelance musicians: Nick Sweet (Trombone), Reid Neuman (Tenor Sax), Matt Tabor (Piano), Ryan Cheng (Alto Sax), Mitch Wilson (drums) Brandon Tabbal (trombone) Steve O’Neill (Alto Sax) - also finished music degree at PSU working on getting into medical school, Michael Galen (Drums) - also professional dancer/instructor (especially break dancing)

Other Alumni are teaching, working in other careers and still performing when they can. Many are no longer playing, but are educated audience members supporting art in the communities they live in. Not everyone is meant to take on the music business as a career. Those who study Jazz music (even just for a chapter of their life) putting their hearts, souls, and discipline into the art form will reap many life benefits.

Ben and Michelle Medler Co-directors of the Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra, have been active performers, composers, arrangers, educators, producers, and bandleaders in Portland, Oregon’s music scene since the mid-1990’s.This husband and wife duo has co-directed the Medler Big Band; directed an award-winning band program at Wilson High School (1994-2001 as artists in residence); obtained Performance degrees in Jazz studies from Portland State University; and have performed together in numerous bands of all styles. The Medlers offer clinics to school bands around the region. In 2001, they founded PYJO after leading an all-star high school band for Mercer Ellington (Duke Ellington's son) for a Jazz Society of Oregon event.

Ben Medler is a talented mulit-instrumentalist performing and teaching: trombone, acoustic and electric bass, trumpet and vocals. He is on faculty at Portland State University in the Jazz department & as a Trombone instructor at Lewis & Clark College. Ben is the current bandleader & musical director of The Shanghai Woolies. He also directs and composes for Trombone 8 and the Trombone Encounters Project and is an active freelance musician in all styles.

Michelle Medler plays a myriad of saxophones, clarinets and flutes. She also sings, composes, arranges, and dabbles in various instruments. Michelle has an active lesson studio and works with woodwind sections in the schools. A tireless performer, Michelle plays regularly with The Quadraphonnes, The Shanghai Woolies, The Chris Baum Project and fronts a band under her name.

CD Baby - CD Tracks

Track 1 on the CD is the most advanced group, the bands get younger as you get to the last track.

You Tube Channel

You may find more videos by searching you tube for 'PYJO' or Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra
Since you will be leaving the pyjo site, links will open in a new window.


P.Y.J.O. is the future of jazz. It thrills me to see the excitement, the enthusiasm and the high level of musicianship that this band exemplifies. The program is a wonderful service to our community, and a continued testament to the ability of the arts to empower young people. Keep on swinging!

-Darrell Grant- Performer, Composer, and PSU Professor

"Oregon’s answer to the current music education crisis, Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra (of which we are extremely proud!)."

-Seattle's 'all about Jazz' magazine - Bill Royston Former Artistic Director, Portland Jazz Festival

“The Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra…[is] giving young players the outlet to further their talents outside of a traditional school setting.”  

-Jazzscene Magazine

"Ben and Michelle, I really can't thank the both of you enough for the leadership and education you are providing. PYJO has been an immensely positive experience for [my son]- for both his musicianship and his sense of belonging as part of a community centered around music."

-Heather I. - PYJO Parent


Supporting School Music Programs
PYJO has always encouraged it's students to support their school band (and/or other music programs). If a PYJO concert interferes with your band concert, we encourage you to play the school concert. (PYJO can hire pro subs or use older students in your place - REMEMBER TO GIVE US NOTICE so we can be fair to your sub!!).

PYJO also encourages it's students to stay in and be a strong part of their school music programs. In todays economy (with many budget cuts and music programs being drastically reduced or cut), your particiapation matters. If a band program has small numbers, it might be cut. It also may be cut if it is not performing well in competitions (unfortunately, principals etc. have to look at things like that in order to make the tough decisions about what to cut. Is it the award winning choir or the last place band?). Especially if you are one of the strongest members in your school band program, you should stay there. Be helpful, ask your director if you can run some sectionals or a daily improvisation lesson, be a leader!

Ideas on Getting Scholarships to college
Serious expenses are involved with a 20-piece-student-jazz-band traveling around the country to participate in festivals, (therefore, PYJO does not tend take these trips). Travel expenses are usually paid by parents/students and/or through fundraising efforts. The most serious members of the band are featured. These students hang on the edge of their seat hoping to be the one to win a scholarship to the school organizing the festival. Many receive wonderful scholarships this way!

Most go the traditional route of applying to schools. Researching the schools that match their needs and following the audition requirements. (e.g. by video/ audio recording or live audition at the school or at a regional search)

The cost (to the student) of traveling to band festivals can be put towards other methods of obtaining music scholarships:
~Video and audio recordings of PYJO concerts can be made by parents, professionals who are hired to document the show,
or from the directors when available. These can be submitted to colleges for scholarship screening or posted on YouTube if appropriate.
~Students can get help arranging time in a professional recording studio with professionals backing them (when allowed-usually OK for scholarship submissions).
~Student plans college visitation trips and live auditions with parents.
~Letters of recommendation and support from the director.