The 2023 Peter Whittingham Jazz Award: meet the awardees
Learn more about the next generation of emerging jazz talent
For over thirty years, the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award has supported jazz musicians at a tipping point in their musical journey. Since 1990 the award has recognised artists poised to achieve their ambition of building a career in music and previous winners have included Help Musicians Ambassador Soweto Kinch, Xhosa Cole, Errollyn Wallen and Roller Trio.
Towards the end of 2023, after submitting an initial written application, we shortlisted a few of the UK’s exceptional jazz musicians for invitation to the Peter Whittingham Artist Development Day. Over the course of the event, each musician performed in front of our panel (made up of leading figures from the jazz world) for a chance to win the award.
2023’s event took place at cultural hub Woolwich Works in Southeast London. The day itself was a great success and our thanks go to their entire team, especially Liss Goodliffe (Woolwich’s Programme Manager) and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra for allowing us to use their backline during the auditions.
The emphasis of our artist development day is that regardless of whether someone wins an award, throughout the process artists will gain industry knowledge and insight. As well as performing, musicians also have the opportunity to speak with music advisers and industry experts, experiences which will be invaluable as they move forward in their careers.
Each applicant had a ‘Get to know Help Musicians’ meeting with a member of our Engagement Team. This was in addition to a 1:1 business advice session with industry experts Justin McKenzie and Celetia Martin, where they discussed topics such as how to create and achieve long term career goals and develop sustainable income streams.
One week prior to the event, all musicians had the option to attend an online session with performance anxiety specialist Lucy Heyman. They were given the opportunity to put what they learned into practice on the day, performing in front of an outstanding panel of figures from the jazz world. Our panel were not only listening to the musicians on the day but also asking questions and offering feedback. Read on to learn more about the panel and this year’s winners.
Meet the Awardees
Peter Whittingham Jazz Award — Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band
Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band began life in Leeds as a six-piece group that would occasionally come together to play the music of bandleader Fergus Quill. “We did a Sun Ra tribute in a bar with six of us which was technically our first gig”, Fergus explains. “It’s just slowly ballooned from a small group of my mates who’d meet up to play tunes every two weeks to a proper band.”
Proper band might be underselling it slightly – over thirty musicians Fergus knows from in and around Leeds played on the group’s debut album. “It is a community project I have set up where I write lots of music and people are kind enough to play the songs.”
If the size of the group offers potential for, “musically intelligent chaos”, to quote our panel, one drawback is the logistical challenge posed by a thirty-member ensemble. “Our Peter Whittingham audition was great but a little stressful because we had to move 13 people around the venue. But during the day it was cool to speak to another musician who had pushed a community project like ours for years and managed to make a career out of it. That was a hopeful conversation.”
Our panel felt strongly that Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band has a promising future in jazz and as such they came away as 2023’s Peter Whittingham Award winner. Fergus admits that he was, “surprised and amazed”, to win the award and this is the first time he’s ever had any kind of financial support for the band. He plans to use the support to hopefully transform Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band into a more viable musical group.
“We previously made an album on very little money, which lead to a jump in the size of shows we were playing. We went from 100 capacity shows to 300. To make the band feasible we need to be playing 600 capacity venues. So the idea is that with a new album, recorded and promoted properly, we can make another jump and establish ourselves as a viable ensemble.”
Development Award — J.A.M. String Collective
The genesis of J.A.M. String Collective owes a lot to Tomorrow’s Warriors, a jazz music education and artist development organisation based at the Southbank Centre in London. The group’s three members (Julia Dos Reis, Miranda Lewis-Brown and Annalise Lam) began learning and practising together at these sessions, eventually going on to perform as a trio and record an EP in 2023.
Julia is the group’s violist and reveals she was fairly uncertain about their chances going into the Peter Whittingham Award. “Knowing some of the past winners, I had the feeling it was really competitive. I didn’t have high hopes but thought we should do it anyway and hopefully gain something from the experience.”
Julia highlighted the audition as one of the highlights of the artist development day. “It was a bit scary at first, with such an esteemed panel, but they were great with the performance itself. They asked us questions but also listened to our ideas and gave feedback. That two-way conversation was so positive.”
The group has already made a start on new material, which Help Musicians is supporting them to create, and for the first time has decided to collaborate with composer, Oleta Haffner.
“We enjoy composing our own music but hope that by bringing in another perspective we can try to learn from her process as well. Some of Help Musicians’ support will be going towards workshops to try ideas out, rehearsals and then we’ll record what we get out of that process. We’re really excited to work with someone else on the writing side.”
Development Award — Howl Quartet
Howl Quartet is a four-piece contemporary jazz group that has been performing original music together since 2017. Made up of old friends and collaborators (Dan Smith, Harry Brunt, Pete Komor and Matt Parkinson), the band has previously played at the venues such as Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho and the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room.
Following on from the success of their two previous records, Life As We See It and Airglow, the group applied for the Peter Whittingham Award for support around the release of their third album which is due to be recorded in 2024.
The band is hopeful that with a Peter Whittingham Development Award under their belt and an organised PR campaign for the new record, their profile in the jazz world will receive a push and they will be in a position to play larger jazz clubs and festivals in the near future.
Meet the panel
YolanDa has toured and collaborated with the likes of The Temptations, Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and Kelly Jones from Stereophonics.
In July 2022, she was appointed Chair of BPI, the representative voice for record labels in the UK. A champion for the importance of music education, YolanDa is Chair of Youth Music, sits on the Arts Council National Council and is a trustee of the PRS Foundation.
On the airways, she hosts ‘YolanDa Brown’ on Jazz FM, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Loose Ends’ with Clive Anderson and can be heard regularly across BBC Radio 2.
“Although it’s a massive responsibility to be part of the panel for the artist development day, it felt good to contribute in a positive manner to another musician’s career and development.
“Having run my own big band myself, I can appreciate the work and effort that Ferg has put into organising his imaginary big band. The mutual respect that Ferg had for his musicians and vice-versa was evident. I am excited to see what they produce next.
“It was a pleasure to hear J.A.M. String Collective. The trio’s innovative nature came through in the audition; they perfectly balanced classical string composition with jazz and improvisation.”
“It was an honour being on the panel for the Peter Whittingham Artist Development Day. I was so inspired by the breadth of talent and felt fortunate to sit alongside YolanDa Brown, Zoe Rahman and Daniel Casimir, who I have learnt so much from since starting Women in Jazz.
“All the award winners had a clear long-term vision. Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band was jazz improvisation crossed with punk and folk, performed in the most creative way imaginable! I was mesmerised by both Howl Quartet’s and J.A.M. String Collective’s performances.”
“The Peter Whittingham Award gives musicians an important opportunity to develop their careers, with not only financial help but long-term support. The musicians that the award has championed over the years is testament to its significance in the jazz community.
“The award winners all stood out. Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band is a joyful explosion of sound, colour and energy. J.A.M. String Collective gave us a really strong and unique performance that had a wide variety of textures and grooves as well as a meaningful narrative in their improvisations. It was very moving to hear them play.”