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Yazz Ahmed on her lockdown explorations and performing at EFG London Jazz Festival 2020

This year, EFG London Jazz Festival (LJF) is themed as “Living in Two Worlds”, blending live music and digital streams in a wide-ranging programme delivering 110 live shows and 25 specially created streams, taking place in 30 venues.

Yazz Ahmed is one of many exciting names set to perform live with an audience alongside Shabaka Hutchings, Seed Ensemble, Binker Golding and Tenderlonious to name a few. Catch the full line up over on the LJF site here and check out Ally's guide of what to see.

Ahead of this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, we caught up with the unique and brilliant Trumpet player, Yazz Ahmed. We're excited to celebrate her live performance at the festival after these past months of live music drought.

Yazz! It’s so good to be speaking to you, how’s the last crazy few months been for you?

It's been a creative period. I was really worried that I would have nothing to do when lockdown was announced, but I’ve been really busy with commissions and recording projects. I’m just missing gigging and seeing people!

I’ve had to think in different ways because I haven’t been able to see my band or get in a studio. I’ve learned drum programming, using keyboards on logic, using samples, and also making more music from pre-recorded sounds, like material of my own which I’ve recorded previously and making loops out of those.

I wrote a piece for the New Trumpet Music Festival, where I recorded the bird sounds in my garden and made grooves from their tweets. I’ve been using technology more and working out how to make my music sound big without all the instrumentalists.

Your 2019 release 'Polyhymnia' was received so so well.

As a musician releasing music, you never know how people are going to respond. And the music I write, I just write it for myself. I’m not trying to impress anymore or bring in a different audience. It’s quite different to my previous album, La Saboteuse. I was worried that people who love La Saboteuse wouldn’t like Polyhymnia. But, it seems like people have gone with me through this journey and enjoyed it. It’s reached a new audience, traditional jazz fans, and because it’s on an American label I’ve managed to get some attention from the US. Getting mentioned in the New York Times was a great breakthrough!

How’s all this been without the band?

I have really missed seeing the band. When we locked down, I saw all my gigs disappear, and the majority are with my quartet, and all of our dates vanished, we were supposed to go to America, Canada, Tunisia, France. That put me in a bad place for a long time, and now there’s some hope on the way. I just can’t wait, it's going to be a wonderful experience at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

And where have you been practising and creating?

I have a studio, 20-second walk from my house. It’s a converted garage, made into a room and we use it as a studio and practice from it. It was very handy having that. We probably would’ve gone mad without a place to play and record music!

How've you found switching to performing mostly online?

It feels more like a recording session. I don’t feel like I’m playing to an audience. With the majority of the ‘live’ performances I’ve been doing online, a couple of them have been with my partner Noel, so I’ve had someone else to communicate with musically which has been really nice. Our first session was a Boiler Room session which videoed, which was so much fun.

I miss the audience, I like to make a connection with the audience and greet them before the gig. I really enjoy that connection, it’ll feel quite strange but a lot of fun. There have been bands playing to no audience, and that’s really strange!

I’ve had to learn a lot of skills, like filming, we bought a couple of cheap tripods so we can get some different angles so we can get more creative with the set. We learnt how to do a bit of set designing, but more a bit DIY! It’s taught us to think not just sonically but visually as well.

Are there plans to get the big ensemble back?

With the 12 piece, I don’t have any plans after the Gateshead gig. It’s a very expensive project with that many people, so there’s no plans unless somebody books us and pays us properly!

It’s easier to tour with the quartet, and we’ve done so many gigs we have a real connection as a band together, we’ve really developed a lot as a unit. I’m hoping to put together my smaller 7 piece half band in the future where it’s possible.

So what’s in store for us at your London Jazz Festival Gig at Kings Place on the 19 November 2020?

We’ll be playing tunes from La Saboteuse, Polyhymnia and a Shoal of Souls. We’ll get a bit of both albums in there and it’ll be with my quartet at the Kings Place. It’s a limited audience, but it’ll also be streamed for those who can’t attend. We're really excited to get back to it.

Buy tickets or stream for Yazz Ahmed live on 19 November 2020, the Kings Place @ London Jazz Festival 2020. Get your tickets directly here.


You can keep up-to-date with Yazz Ahmed via her socials and website below:

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