The Rialto Youth Jazz Orchestra was founded in June 2011 by Dr. Gordon Vernick. Consisting of one Big Bands and 6 jazz combos, RYJO exposes students to the full spectrum of jazz music and education.

The big band is under the direction of Dr. Vernick and meets on Monday evenings. The combo program is under the direction of Kevin Bales with assistance from our GSU Jazz Faculty: Billy Thornton, Ben Weatherford, John Sandfort, Randy Hoexter and current GSU Graduate Teaching Assistants. The combos will rehearse either on Sunday or Monday. You can read the bios of these outstanding teachers and performers or go to their websites.

Jazz is American music and it is important to protect and preserve this important musical and cultural heritage. The best way to do this is to teach young musicians about the art form through performance. Our big bands and jazz combos perform music that is both historically significant and challenging. The students receive outstanding instruction in jazz performance, jazz history, and jazz improvisation from our faculty. In rehearsals we stress personal responsibility, musicianship, team work, and artistic expression.

I have envisioned this select high school group as a continuation of our middle school jazz program, Rialto Jazz for Kids. I treat the musicians as professionals, even though they are still of high school age. Many of the graduating high school students go on to become music majors in college. Former band members are currently attending the University of North Texas, Juilliard Conservtory, Manhattan School of Music, The New School, NEC, Georgia State, the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State, Florida State, Berklee Colleg of Music, and the University of Miami.

Last year participating high school students came from the following counties: Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Clayton, and Fayette. The students are selected through auditions. Home schooled students are also encouraged to audition.

Some highlights from this past school year include two concerts at Georgia State University, a featured performance at Café 290, and our combos performing at Atlanta’s premier jazz club, Churchill Grounds and the Red Light Cafe as well as the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, SC. In past years our groups have performed at the Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park and were invited to perform at the Governors Inaugural Reception at Philips Arena in 2011. The top RYJO Combo was recognized this year by Down Beat Magazine as being the best HS level Jazz Combo in the Country.