Focus: Yazz Ahmed | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Who are you and where are you from?
 My name is Yasmeen Ahmed, but everyone knows me as Yazz, and I am a British-Bahraini trumpet player, composer, and producer.

What is it you do?
I write music that reflects my mixed heritage, fusing those flavours with jazz, electronic music, and sound design. One journalist who reviewed a concert I performed at in Algiers, described my music as ‘psychedelic-Arabic-jazz’, which I really like. I think that this description best fits the experience the audience might feel when my band and I perform live. We like to explore playing free, breaking out of the written material, and creating something mind-altering. Some listeners tell me that the music takes them on a journey, feeling in a dream, in a trance.

How long have you been doing it?
My journey began 31 years ago – I was nine years old and starting at a new school in London. My mother asked me which instrument I’d like to learn, and I quickly responded, “the trumpet”!

My maternal grandfather, Terry Brown, was my inspiration to pick up the instrument in the first place. He was a jazz trumpet player in the 50’s performing with the likes of Tubby Hayes, John Dankworth, and Ronnie Scott. He later became a record producer for Phillips and Pye Records. He gave me my very first trumpet lesson – I could play the C major scale straight away – this was going to be fun!

After I had earned the trust of my family, Terry gave me his own trumpet to use instead of the one the music service gave to me. It was an Olds Ambassador and sounded beautiful.

I later began playing in the local youth bands in Merton, London. I have many fond memories of the tours we went on, playing at fantastic venues like the Royal Albert Hall and performing at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships every year, and sneaking into Centre Court to see Venus Williams play.

I wasn’t really interested in becoming a professional musician until I was in my last year at 6th form college. I desperately wanted to study jazz at a music college in London, but I wasn’t ready, so I decided to enrol onto a regular music degree course at Kingston University.

I worked extremely hard to improve my jazz knowledge and playing, dreaming of getting into a music college one day. The hard work paid off and I received a scholarship to study for a Master’s Degree in Jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I was ecstatic! My experience there was a real eye-opener for me, mixing with the elite musicians of my generation in all genres – I really had to step up my game to keep up with them.

After graduating, I set up my own band and started writing my own music – I was desperate to get my voice heard, to say something personal, which in a crowded music scene, where everyone is shouting all at once, can be quite a challenge.  It took me quite a while to find my true voice, although it is always evolving, but started when I began rediscovering my Bahraini roots.

Reconnecting with the music of my childhood has been a major inspiration to me, both in my life and in the way I write music. 

What inspires you?
I get my inspiration from many different sources – friends, family, travelling, nature, storytelling, but my partner is probably the greatest motivator in my life. I am also inspired by musicians and composers such as Kenny Wheeler, Rabih Abou-Khalil, and Jon Hassell, all of whom have made a real impact on my musical journey.

I am also completely obsessed with making music – it’s part of who I am.

Tell us about your music.
Over the last decade, I’ve been performing with my various ensembles across the UK & Europe, and further afield including Algeria, Bahrain, Beirut, Kuwait, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, USA & Canada.Away from my own projects, I have collaborated, recorded, and perform with the likes of Radiohead, Lee Scratch Perry, Transglobal Underground, Arturo O’Farrill, Natacha Atlas, Obongjayar, These New Puritans, and DJ Khalab.

I’ve released three albums – Finding My Way Home (2011), La Saboteuse (2017), and Polyhymnia (2019) – and six EPs and singles, one of which, A Shoal of Souls (2019), featured as the soundtrack to an Apple iPhone 11 advertising campaign.

At the 2020 Jazz FM Awards, Polyhymnia was voted Album of The Year, and I also received the UK Jazz Act of the Year prize. During that year I was awarded the highly prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Innovation.

My most recent work was commissioned by Blue Note Records to arrange and record a track for the second Blue Note Re:imagined series. I created a Turkish-proggy-jazz take on Chick Corea’s It, which featured his long-time collaborator, Tim Garland, on bass clarinet.

What have you got coming up in the future?
Besides finishing my next studio album, I am working on a new project with electronic artist, Hector Plimmer, and vibraphonist, Ralph Wyld. We started collaborating in late 2019 but Covid swept the world and we had to put the project on hold. However, we’ll be playing at Rally in Southwark Park on the 5th of August, and Kings Place on the 12th of November.

Where can people find out more about you?
The best place is my website –

Spotify link / YouTube link

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