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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.


Yazz Ahmed - February 2017


Yazz Ahmed


Born in the UK, trumpet and flugelhorn player Yazz Ahmed's mother was a ballet dancer for the Royal Ballet and her grandfather, Terry Brown, was a successful jazz trumpeter in the 1950s. Terry played with the original John Dankworth Seven, Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, Jimmy Skidmore, Phil Seamen, and many other British jazz musicians. He later became a record producer for Pye and Philips Records.

Yazz took up the trumpet when she was nine, went on to study for a degree in music at Kingston University and in 2005, won a scholarship to study on the postgraduate jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. At the Guildhall she put together her first Quintet and released the album Finding My Way Home. The album is a collection of compositions and improvisations that explores her Arabic heritage from her early childhood memories in Bahrain, and contrasts these with the classic British jazz from the 1950s - the sound track to her teenage years. I first heard her play in 2009 at Posk Jazz Café in Hammersmith; I was immediately impressed and we put together a Profile of her for this website (click here). Much has happened since then. Yazz was tipped as a musician to look out for in 2011 by Jazzwise magazine and she has now established herself as a significant part of the jazz scene, playing with many top musicians.

In 2013 Yazz was selected for Take Five Edition VIII supported by Serious and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation;  2014 saw her debut on the Jools Holland show;  she was awarded a jazz fellowship from Birmingham Jazzlines in 2014, who supported her during the course of a year in writing a major new suite, Alhaan al Siduri, premiered in October 2015 at the CBSO Centre, and in 2016 she performed it again in her paternal homeland at the Bahrain International Music Festival. Yazz was also commissioned by Tomorrow’s Warriors with the support of PRS Women Make Music to write a suite inspired by courageous and influential female role models. Polyhymnia was premiered at the Purcell Room by a special all female line-up of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra at the WOW! Festival in March 2015.

She has recently been leading her Hafla band. 'Hafla' is an Arabic word meaning a social gathering.

I caught up with her again for a well-deserved Tea Break:


Hi Yazz, tea or coffee?

Ooh I’d love a cup of tea thanks!


Milk and sugar?

Milk, no sugar.


What have you been doing recently?

Well, let’s see, in October I travelled to Bahrain, my first home, to perform my suite, Alhaan Al Siduri, with my Hafla band and guest singers, Brigitte Beraha and Alya Al-Sultani, which was pretty exciting and a dream come true for me. It was also the first time my dad had ever heard me play live! He’s a very difficult man to impress, however, he did say that “the performance was very professional - I am very proud of you”, which is a huge compliment from him. 


[Here is a documentary of the Birmingham premiere of the suite].




After a few extra days with my family in Bahrain, I jumped onto a tour bus with '80s new romantics, ABC, for a two week UK tour. I love watching the audiences in these gigs as they’re always very animated. I’m thinking of one night in particular when a fight broke out between two very large hairy men in the stalls! When the tour was over, I flew to Germany to play at the very cool Berlin Jazz Festival with my Hafla band. The gig was completely sold out and was a lot of fun.

I’ve also been working on two very exciting recordings - my Women of the World suite, Polyhymnia, partly funded by PRSF, and the other, my second release, La Saboteuse, which I am bursting to share with everyone! The album will be rolled out in four streaming chapters with a full physical and digital release in May. Each chapter features a different work of art created by the super talented Sophie Bass which together will form the cover of the gatefold vinyl LP.


Tell us more about the Yazz Ahmed Hafla Quintet.

It’s a quintet specially assembled for a set at Ronnie Scott’s on the 15th of March 2017, as part of the Jazzwise 20th Anniversary Special. The Hafla Quintet combines members of my Hafla band, Ralph Wyld, Dave Manington and Martin France, with my frequent collaborator and good friend, ‘vocal sculptor’, Jason Singh.


[Yazz and Ahmed Family Hafla playing Lahan Al Mansour from the Women of the World suite, Polyhymnia
live at the 2015 Canary Wharf Jazz Festival].




If you could ask two past jazz musicians to join us for the tea break, who would you invite?

Sun Ra and Kenny Wheeler.


What would you ask them?

I would love to hear Sun Ra talk about his life changing trip to Saturn and how his cosmic philosophy influenced his music. I think he would be a terrific guest to any tea break!

I really miss Kenny, he was such a beautiful soul. I would love to hear him talk about his music and his musical journey from playing commercial music sessions, such as in the Top of the Pops backing band, to being one of the greatest artists of our time.


Hob Nob, Bourbon, Garibaldi or digestive biscuit?

I haven’t had a Garibaldi for years! I’ll have one of those please!


What have you got coming up in the next few months?

As well as my set at Ronnie Scott’s I’ll also be playing with the full seven-piece Hafla band at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival on the 19th of March, and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on the 30th of April.


So, we shall be hearing a follow up to your Finding My Way Home album?

Yes, La Saboteuse is definitely a follow up to my first album. It continues my exploration of the music of my Middle Eastern heritage, fused with jazz harmony and improvisation. But it also reflects the influence of musical discoveries made in my recent collaborations with creative musicians from the field of rock, ambient music and sound design. These include the incorporation of live electronics, manipulation of found sounds, and creating textures in the studio by overdubbing additional instruments, such as Dave Manington's ‘sponge bass’, Samuel Hällkvist's guitar loops, and layers of extra percussion from Corrina Silvester - including the bucket she played in the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics! 

On a spiritual level, the music explores the relationship between my conscious self and my inner saboteur, the seductive voice of my self-destructive inclinations, and the inner demons that I’m sure we all have experienced in our lives. Finally the album also documents the gradual development of my various live bands over the last 5 years - into what has become my musical family.


[Listen to a sample of The Space Between The Fish and the Moon - Chapter One from La Saboteuse].




Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

Trumpeter Arve Henriksen. I heard him play last year at LSO St Luke’s and was completely mesmerised by his sound. I’ve never heard anyone play the trumpet like him before. I’m a massive fan!


[Here's a video of Arve Henriksen's participation in a project, 'Found', a collection of unique performances by international musicians in ancient church settings across the north of England].





Another biscuit?

Yeah, go on. One more.


[Here's a video of Yazz playing with members of the London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke's in 2016. Yazz says it was composed for quarter-tone flugelhorn, bass clarinet, violin, marimba and percussion, and inspired by field recordings she made on a visit to LSO St Luke’s in December 2015. You can read more about it with the video].






[Click here for Yazz Ahmed's website].


Yazz Ahmed


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