Jemma Freese’s new music following loss of body strength

J Frisco and Maximo Park keyboardist, Jemma Freese, launches her debut project ‘Shadow Boxing’ in a double bill performance with singer-songwriter August Charles at Yellow Arch in Sheffield on Thursday 9th December.

The gig, in association with Jazz at The Lescar, will see Jemma relaunch as a Jazz North northern line artist following her loss of body strength, including in her hands.

Composed during her illness and recovery, her new music is about reinvention. “This is the first time I felt fearless about music,” says Jemma. “I had lost the use of my arms and hands, which, especially as a piano and keyboard player was terrifying. I had encountered my worst fear. But, with writing this music I had nothing else to lose. In a way, I felt freer than ever before as a composer. I discovered new parts of me I didn’t know were there, or maybe they had just grown. This music was my only distraction from my pain and the looming unknowing of what the future held.”

In 2020, Jemma lost the strength in her whole body. Bed-bound with global shooting pains and weakness that doctors couldn’t diagnose, Freese found herself unable to play her instrument for several months, temporarily halting her performance career. She is currently still recovering and has worked hard to keep playing in bands and projects. Her new music unveils this deeply emotional story about the beginning of a personal journey; from losing oneself to finding a new self. While simultaneously dealing with a history of depression, anxiety and short-term PTSD, the only thing that kept her going was her indestructible desire to create.

Defined as ‘the activity of sparring with an imaginary opponent as a form of training’, shadow boxing is Jemma’s daily ritual to build up physical strength and confidence; it also serves as a mental exercise, preparing for the world, facing invisible enemies, and fighting inner battles.

On her album ‘Shadow Boxing’, due for release in 2022, Freese draws from a plethora of genres, using contemporary jazz metal riffs, heavy synths, sub-bass, and classical piano to create a new pathway of contemporary jazz, which she describes as “ethereal math”.

Jemma will be accompanied by a five-piece band: Katie Patterson on drums, Beth O’Lenahan on bass, Jess Ayers on guitar, Grace Alexander on keyboard, and Caitlin Laing on backing vocals.

Joining them for the double bill at Yellow Arch is August Charles, a singer-songwriter whose musical vocabulary takes in soul, R&B, indie-pop, and jazz. Fresh from performing at 2021’s Tramlines, and with his latest song ‘Blessed’ making waves, August will be supported by a band drawn from the vibrant Leeds jazz scene. Born in Ndola, Zambia and raised throughout the UK, and now based in Leeds, August’s influences include Frank Ocean, Skinny Pelembe, Laura Mvula, and King Krule. He was recently listed by BBC Introducing as one of the upcoming black artists to watch, and his music has featured on BBC 6 Music.

Jez Matthews from Jazz at The Lescar says, “We’re delighted to be working with Jazz North to present this double bill gig at Yellow Arch, featuring two really dynamic northern-based artists, both influenced in some way by jazz but creating vibrant new music at the edge of the genre. Yellow Arch studios is the ideal venue for this, and they’ve been incredibly supportive in helping us to keep the live music going during and since lockdown. We hope that the gig will excite our existing audience and bring in some new people who maybe haven’t tried out a Jazz at The Lescar event before.”

Book tickets:

See details of the gig on the Jazz North website here


New CEO for Jazz North

Jazz North has announced the appointment of a new Chief Executive to lead its next phase of development, growing opportunities for artists, audiences, promoters and young people across the north.

Chris Bye will join the organisation at a key moment as the sector navigates a new landscape for live music, whilst exploring the global opportunities of digital music and culture.

Chris said:

“Jazz North has been an integral part of the national jazz scene for years and has been instrumental in launching the careers of some of the north’s most exciting, vibrant artists. The team has also done an incredible job providing essential advice and support to promoters and artists throughout the pandemic.

What we face now is a unique moment in time. Unique in terms of challenges but also unique in terms of the potential for the northern jazz ecology to really develop. Artists are crying out for opportunities, and it is my aim to diversify our approach and expand our partnerships. I’m enormously excited to be joining and looking forward to working with an amazing group of people.”

Chris Bye comes to Jazz North following a career spanning the commercial and subsidised music industries. This has included managing a diverse portfolio of music organisations at Arts Council England and establishing an international programme of talent development opportunities for Pirate Studios. More recently Chris has supported key music venues and partners to navigate the pandemic, working with clients including Parklife, Ministry of Sound, Music Venues Trust and Greater Manchester Combined Authority. He also sits on the boards of SeaChange and Africa Oye.

Jazz North Chair Debra King said:

“The board are delighted that Chris will bring his wealth of experience to the organisation. Our selection panel were particularly impressed by his commitment to increasing the diversity of the artists and audiences we support and embedding an even more dynamic, digitally-focused approach across our programmes. His appointment follows a recent period of board development ensuring Jazz North is extremely well positioned to grow our impact and influence in the years ahead.’’

Jazz North Trustee and renowned trombonist Dennis Rollins said:   

“It’s exciting to welcome Chris Bye as the new CEO of Jazz North. The board look forward to working with Chris to put in place new programmes and create strategic partnerships to help support the region’s many incredible jazz artists, in particular to make sure we challenge inequality in the sector and champion diverse talent.”