Colin Towns’ idea for an exciting and innovative jazz ensemble began in his mind many years before it came to fruition. In late 1990 THE MASK ORCHESTRA was born. An 18 piece big band bringing together some of the greatest and most important new and established players in jazz today, THE MASK ORCHESTRA are an exciting and groundbreaking group. Together they take all that is great in the jazz genre, turn it on its head and produce music which, unlike so much ‘new’ jazz, actually looks forward instead of back.
BOLT FROM THE BLUE, which was released in the UK as the self-titled MASK ORCHESTRA, hugely impressed the British press and public alike. The Sunday Times described the album as one of the most heartening surprises of the past couple of years. The band, comprising some of the best jazz soloists in Europe, went on to do a sell-out British tour which was featured live on national radio. One of the performances was recorded and made into a film by Hollywood director, Stuart Orme.
The second album, NOWHERE & HEAVEN , added the haunting vocals of Italian songstress, Maria Pia De Vito, to the first class line up. The album went on to become a bestseller and the band were asked to do a special performance for the London Jazz Festival.
In 1998 Towns formed an off-shoot of the Orchestra, THE MASK QUINTET, whose songs album STILL LIFE was released that Autumn.
1999 saw THE MASK ORCHESTRA record once more, though this time the Orchestra were complemented with a sweep of some 70 musicians and vocalists Norma Winstone & Maria Pia De Vito to form The Mask Symphonic. This album is entitled DREAMING MAN WITH BLUE SUEDE SHOES and was released in June. It proceeded to receive rave reviews in the likes of The Guardian, Gramophone and The Independent. The Orchestra have recently appeared in Germany at the Berlin Jazz Festival, also in Cologne and at the Big Band Festival in Graz, Austria. UK dates include the prestigious Bath and Birmingham Festivals.
The album Another Think Coming was released in 2001. The Mask Orchestra were invited to play at the Getxo Jazz Festival in Spain and the Coventry Jazz Festival that year then the Europhonics Jazz Festival in Dortmund the following year.
The sixth Mask Orchestra album is a collaboration with world-acclaimed choreographer David Bintley on a new production of Orpheus for the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Apart from recording The Orpheus Suite for release the Mask Orchestra were also an integral part of the ballet, performing live at every show during the tours of 2004 and 2010.
After a break of ten years the seventh album 'Drama' was released in 2015 for which theatre and drama was the inspiration, featuring original music from Towns’ extensive work in theatre. Classic plays such as One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Equus and Macbeth, to contemporary works including The Cripple of Inishmaan, Copenhagen and Terry Johnson's Hysteria.
Members of the Mask Orchestra over the years have included amongst others: Guy Barker, Alan Skidmore, Phil Todd, Julian Arguelles, Henry Lowther, Dudley Phillips, Paul Clarvis, John Parricelli, Pete Beachill, Roger Williams, Graham Russell, Peter King, Dave Hartley, Ian Thomas, Ralph Salmins, Nigel Hitchcock, John Barclay, Richard Edwards, Andy Wood, Mark Nightingale, Nathen Bray, Martin Shaw, Iain Dixon, Jay Craig, Barnaby Dickinson, Liam Kirkham, Pat White, Thad Kelly, Steve Lodder, Julian Siegel, Chris Montague, Andrew McCormack, Tim Garland, Simon Allen, George Hogg, Rory Simmons, Harry Brown, Tom White, Stephan Maass, Arnd Geise.