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.”


How to start a career in the jazz industry

“Take every opportunity you can” manchester jazz festival’s festival assistant, Ash Doherty, tells us how she landed a job at the city’s longest running music festival, and offers some great advice to those wanting to start a career in the jazz industry…

“I’m Ash; an Irish-born and Leeds-bred musician, artist manager and festival assistant. Most of my time at the minute is occupied playing keyboards and managing my band Mamilah, and working as manchester jazz festival’s festival assistant.

I, like many working in music and the creative community, seem to freak out when people ask me the seemingly harmless question – ‘what do you do’. From well meaning neighbours to nosy family members, the fumbled responses I’ve offered to this question do NOTHING to express the passion and determination that makes a job in the music industry a reality, or the endless possibilities of said career. I’d like to rectify my part to play in this mess and shed a little light onto what I do, and how I got here.

I’ve joked before that I didn’t choose jazz – jazz chose me (this Emma-Jean Thackray performance on Worldwide FM really supplements this mood, pop her on). I grew up in a beautiful area of North-West Ireland and loved anything musical, leading me to a degree in Pop Keyboards at Leeds College of Music, which was my first real introduction to jazz. Fast forward three years and I graduated with a degree, a nu-soul/ jazz band and not a clue. Uncertain of my next steps I decided to do basically anything I could find and could fit into waking hours.

I balanced a restaurant job with volunteering with MAP Charity, Oxjam Music Festival and at festivals and events. This was where I had my first introduction to manchester jazz festival in 2018, where I volunteered as an artist liaison and performed on the mjf introduces stage with Mamilah. Alongside this I ran a blog, hosted events and managed/ performed in a range of bands, learning loads about the music and jazz industry as I got more and more immersed in it. I went on to teach keyboards and host music workshops, all the while tipping the scales on a waitressing job with paid and unpaid music work.

When the pandemic hit I needed to re-evaluate, and luckily landed a job with Music:Leeds/ Launchpad as their communications and marketing coordinator. This, combined with my previous music and volunteering experience meant that when manchester jazz festival advertised for a festival assistant position in December 2020, I had the skills and experience required for the job!

And now we return to the ‘so….what do you do’ question, and I PROMISE to not spiral or run away. As simple as it sounds – my job is to support the small, central team at mjf; Steve Mead (Artistic Director & CEO), Helen Goodman (General Manager & Talent Development Associate), Angela Kirk (Communications Director) and Toby Rathbone (Production & Partnerships Manager). This means I work across all departments, from marketing to production, finance to admin, and that no day is ever the same.

A typical day could include everything from;

  • Creating graphics, editing videos and searching for our best digital assets;
  • Managing our online presence, social media and email accounts;
  • Creating and running marketing campaigns;
  • Gathering and paying weekly invoices;
  • Coordinating calendars and booking in meetings;
  • Liaising with the artists on our Talent Development Programmes;
  • Working with the team on event logistics, planning and programming;
  • Assisting in the delivery of events;
  • Meeting with other organisations, partners and the board;
  • Spreadsheets, spreadsheets and more spreadsheets;
  • Helping with funding applications;

and so much more!

What I love about the job is that every day offers something new. I am constantly learning new things; from blue-sky ideas to tiny nuts and bolts jobs. I have the space to explore the music and events industry from loads of different angles and within the framework of a team. I enjoy the space and agency to make an impact on a small team and industry. Personal highlights since starting the job have been our two live events at Escape to Freight Island and with HOMEground MCR, working on a new podcast series, modernising and streamlining some of our operational systems and meeting the artists and wider industry professionals associated with the festival. As I don’t have a clear career ‘end goal’ this job has been a really supportive way to explore the jazz sector and events industry.

Over the past few years, there are a few things that I have learned and lived by which I hope can offer something valuable to you:

  1. Take every opportunity you can, even if you don’t think it’s for you. You never know what will come out of doing something, whether that is a new connection, insight into another side of the industry or new skills.
  2. Keep an eye on what other people are doing but NEVER compare yourself. It’s really important to be up to date with what is going on in the wider industry BUT do not let this turn into jealousy or comparison to someone else’s journey. (Check out the ‘Say What You Will’ video with James Blake and Finneas for more of this mood!)
  3. Continue to reflect on what you want, and if what you are doing is getting you there. This is going to be a life-long journey. Have the courage and conviction to follow your gut and do what is right for you.
  4. BE NICE. This should be a rule of thumb for life, but seriously, just be genuinely nice to everyone you meet – ever (I mean it).
  5. Focus on what you CAN do rather than what you CAN’T. I hate playing at jam sessions – that doesn’t make me less of a keys player. I know way more about the new UK jazz wave than I do about Bebop – that doesn’t make my appreciation of jazz any less valuable. Being who you are is relevant and important so focus on what you bring to the table rather than what you think is lacking.

As a final parting point – remember that your journey won’t make sense all of the time. It will be confusing or unclear as to how all the puzzle pieces fall together, but I’m learning to trust that they do – and they will for you too!”

Ash Doherty
August 2021


Lesley Jackson steps down as CEO of Jazz North

Lesley Jackson CEO Jazz North

We are sad to announce that our chief executive Lesley Jackson has decided to leave the company at the end of September.

Lesley joined Jazz North as executive director in September 2015 and became chief executive in February 2020 following a review of the internal management structure that also saw the creation of the roles of Digital Director and Director of Talent Development.

Jazz North co-chair, Simon Ryder, said, “Lesley has made an enormous contribution to Jazz North over the past six years and the board are grateful for her commitment, professionalism and drive. Her departure will be a great loss to Jazz North but we wish her well for the future.”

“The board will continue to support the staff team to achieve our long-term goals and an interim management solution will be implemented whilst we look for Lesley’s replacement.”

Lesley said, “it has been an honour to work for Jazz North over the last six years and I am proud of the impact that we have had and the progress we have made together. Despite some of the turmoil we have collectively faced through the pandemic, Jazz North’s work across the sector has never been stronger or more relevant. I am grateful to the Jazz North Board and staff team for their support and wish the organisation every success in the future.”


JazzLeeds Reset Festival 21

The JazzLeeds reset programme this summer has seen a succession of UK international stars coming to Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton, Leeds with 14 concerts in total, including musicians like Andrew McCormack, Josephine Davies, Ian Shaw, Byron Wallen and Liam Noble as well as the best of jazz bands from our area most of whom were playing for the first time in eighteen months since lockdown started.

The finale this coming weekend 17/18 July 1-8pm is a two day Jazz Reset Festival at Seven Arts Leeds featuring some of the acts the JazzLeeds audience have asked to see again… making for an eclectic mix of jazz, funk, and world music from some of the region’s leading artists.

Headline acts playing on the main venue include trombonist Dennis Rollins with bassist Shri Sriram, jazz singer Emily Brown, steel pan player Dudley Nesbitt and his band Pan Jumby, bassist Fergus Quill and his trio, Helen Pillinger’s YSBRYD featuring a harp player, and bassist Nicola Farnon with her quartet featuring Jim Corry on sax.

There are also support acts playing outside in the sunshine of the Seven Arts courtyard (for free), including  blues from Joe Moore (vocals and guitar) and Nic Svarc (guitar), Leeds drummer Jonah Evans and his trio, jazz and soul singer Terri Shaltiel, Lady and the Tramps led by Miles Pillinger, a drum student from Leeds Conservatoire, a one man band – Lawrence Marshall – and  the ORB Trio of Pete Rosser keys, Richard Ormrod saxes and Paul Baxter bass.

The festival will be fully distanced, with limited seating and table service plus streetfood served in the courtyard.

Tickets for the Festival – day tickets and all festival tickets are almost sold out – last few here

JazzLeeds are proud to acknowledge the support they have had from Leeds City Council, Seven Arts and Leeds Inspired. More details are here