Joining Jazz Orchestra - Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras

Jazz Orchestra is open to high school-age students. No prior jazz experience is required, but students should have instrumental experience and know how to read music. Auditions happen each spring, with additional recruiting in the summer if spots need to be filled.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read frequently asked questions below. If you have additional questions please contact Karen Mari at .

What will my child learn in CYSO?

In addition to the musicianship and technical proficiency that students develop at CYSO, the orchestra environment provides young people with skills that translate to all areas of their life. CYSO musicians develop the ability to listen to others respectfully and intently, and learn how to work towards a goal.

Our students learn and grow alongside young musicians from across the Chicago region, developing friendships and learning to collaborate with students they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to interact with. Students leave CYSO with a strong sense of discipline, increased confidence, and a deep appreciation for music and the arts.

What makes CYSO programs different from other music training?

At CYSO, students have the opportunity to work alongside a diverse student body of like-minded young musicians who are passionate, hard-working, and ready to learn. We challenge students to achieve beyond their expectations. Students learn to work individually as musicians and collectively as an ensemble. We view the orchestra as a model for democracy in action; each student contributes to the good of the whole and in the end, the orchestra is greater than just the sum of its parts.

Is experience required?

To join our orchestra or jazz programs, we recommend that students have approximately two years of experience playing their instrument. No music or percussion experience is required for steelpan.

What is Jazz Orchestra?

CYSO’s Jazz Orchestra is a high school-level jazz ensemble program led by musician and educator Pharez Whitted. Rehearsals are held throughout the school year on Tuesday evenings from 6:00-8:30pm at CYSO’s offices in the Fine Arts Building (410 S. Michigan Ave in Chicago). The orchestra will perform throughout the season at locations around the Chicago area. 

What are Jazz Orchestra audition requirements and excerpts? 

Below are the requirements for the 2021-22 auditions. If you have any questions, please email Kaytie Faries at

Saxophones (alto, tenor, bari)

  • Saxophones (alto, tenor, bari)
  • Four or more major scales at your tempo (excluding drummers)
    • Two octaves, if possible
  • 2-3 Jazz Standards
    • Solo improvisation is preferred, but not required. If you do not feel confident improvising, simply play the head.
  • Brass (trumpets, trombones
  • Four or more major scales at your tempo (excluding drummers)
    • Two octaves, if possible
  • 2-3 Jazz Standards
    • Solo improvisation is preferred, but not required. If you do not feel confident improvising, simply play the head.
  • Rhythm (piano, guitar, bass, drums)
  • Four or more major scales at your tempo (excluding drummers)
    • Two octaves, if possible
  • 2-3 Jazz Standards
    • Solo improvisation is preferred, but not required. If you do not feel confident improvising, simply play the head.
  • Optional inclusions 
    • Three or more harmonic minor scales
    • Two octaves, if possible
    • If you wish to be considered on an auxiliary instrument (tuba, etc) prepare a single excerpt on that instrument of your choice in addition to the materials above prepared on trumpet.
    • Any additional materials that you think will showcase your talent
    • Brief statement telling us about yourself (under 2 minutes)

What will CYSO be judging in my audition?

Things the judges consider

  • Rhythmic accuracy
  • Rhythmic stability (steady tempo)
  • Intonation (playing in-tune with yourself)
  • Tone quality
  • Dynamic contrast
  • Instrument-specific technique
  • Musicality, expression, and phrasing
  • Appropriateness of repertoire for your technical level
  • Ability to recover if you make a mistake
  • Careful preparation of all audition music

Things the judges do not consider

  • The audio quality of the device you used to record
  • The video quality of the device used to record
  • Where you recorded your video and what it looked like (bedroom, living room, bathroom, etc. However, acoustics can be an issue if, for example, you record in your bathroom and the sound is unclear due to the echo. Wherever you record, make sure you can be clearly heard.)
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Gender or gender presentation
  • If you have a private teacher or who your teacher is
  • Other auditions you’ve taken or groups you’ve played with
  • How fancy or expensive your instrument is

When is the due date for my video audition? 

Video audition submissions are due on Monday, April 12 at 11:59 PM. Students may submit their audition video any time before the deadline. Students may register for an audition through our website.

Where can I find instructions for submitting my video? 

After you have submitted your online audition registration form, a CYSO staff member will email you your video instructions!

Can I edit my video? 

Absolutely no editing or sound enhancements of any kind are permitted. Your Audition video should be one continuous take. Audition videos that are suspected to have been edited or otherwise enhanced will be immediately disqualified.

What if I do not have access to an instrument at home?

If you do not have access to your instrument or have other challenges preventing you from submitting a video, please email Karen Mari at

Should I memorize the music?

Memorization is not required. If you would like to memorize your solos, you are welcome to do so.

How long should my audition video be? 

Your audition video should be no longer than 12 minutes.

What should I wear?

Wear nice dress clothes that are comfortable for you to perform in. Remember that this is the first impression you will make on those who will evaluate you. It is also a good idea to practice in the clothes you are planning to wear at least once before your audition.

When will I find out if I have been accepted? 

2021-2022 season audition results will be announced by mid-June. All auditioning students will receive correspondence, regardless of the outcome. Be sure to enter your email address correctly on your Audition Registration Form. Email is CYSO’s primary mode of communication with students and parents.

When are where are rehearsals held?

Though we are not currently meeting, Jazz Orchestra rehearsals are held on Tuesday evenings from 6:00 – 8:30 PM in CYSO room 833 at 410 S. Michigan Avenue, the Fine Arts Building.

When are Jazz Orchestra concerts? 

Jazz Orchestra performs three concerts each season in fall, winter, and spring.

What is the Jazz Orchestra attendance policy? 

Jazz Orchestra students are allowed up to two absences per concert cycle.

What is the tuition cost of Jazz Orchestra? 

CYSO program tuition is available online on our tuition page. We make our programs accessible to all students, regardless of their financial background. Need-based financial assistance is available for all CYSO programs.

What are the requirements for membership? 

Requirements vary for each orchestra, enrichment program, and by instrument. See the CYSO membership requirementsPDF for details.

Jazz Orchestra Audition Interest Form

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