Sandy Brown Jazz

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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.


Naadia Sheriff (Piano) - August 2020


Naadia Sheriff


Pianist Naadia Sheriff grew up in Bolton in the North West of England. It probably all began when her mum bought her a toy piano and taught her three chords when Naadia was four and formal piano lessons started when she was seven – not of course on the toy piano. The bug bit early and Naadia joined every ensemble and band going and by fifteen she was earning money playing for amateur theatre productions, choirs and a ballet school.

Although jazz became an interest at about the same time, she was offered a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London on their Classical Music course. That didn’t stop her hanging out at Ronnie Scott’s and the Vortex Jazz Club, but her Naadia Sheriff Gnarly Hymncourse work kept her busy with what she calls the ‘Classical Stuff’.

Shortly after graduating from Guildhall, Naadia was performing Saint-Saens’ Carnival  of the Animals  alongside fellow pianist Charlotte Wilson and the New English Orchestra. The performance toured venues including Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and the Birmingham Symphony Hall, but at the same time Naadia was practising jazz piano and badgering people for lessons. Jazz musicians including Nikki Iles, Pete Saberton and Jason Rebello responded and it is not surprising that Naadia went back to Guildhall for their Post Graduate Jazz Course.

In 2010, she released her first album Gnarly Hymn with her Quartet and soon after, began a fruitful collaboration with vocalist Kate Dimbleby. She acted as musical director for Nice Girls Don’t Sing The Blues which ran for 5 weeks at Hampstead’s New End Theatre. The show is a biopic of singer Dory Previn and the music was released as an album Beware Of Blood movie posterYoung Girls. The recording reached No. 3 in the ‘itunes Jazz chart’, the show received a 4 star review in The Times and ran for a three week stint in New York in 2015.   There were radio and television appearances and the duo appeared in the 2012 film Blood starring Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham and Mark Strong..

That was eight years ago and Naadia has been busy ever since, at least until the Covid-19 pandemic arrived. Now based firmly in London, she has been musical director for ‘Live’ theatre’s revival of C.P. Taylor’s play And A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square which was given four stars by a review in The Guardian; played a stint on The Rat Pack European tour; she is a founder member of trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s Hafla Band, and she plays with the London Jazz Orchestra, Dave Manington’s Mingus Ah Um project; her own Quartet and has recently joined the band ISQ (the Irene Serra Quartet)  ... and inevitably she has played at those venues she used to visit as a student, including Ronnie Scott’s and the London Jazz Festival.

Naadia has also been developing an impressive collaboration with vocalist Lara Eidi, also a graduate from the Guildhall Post Grad Jazz Course. In March this year they presented an evening of powerful women’s stories for International Women’s Day, ‘a journey through song and time’. Drawing on their love of folk, jazz, musical theatre and original compositions, they told the stories and performed some of the most memorable songs of female singers and songwriters.

Last year, 2019, when her children’s school was unable to put on concerts, Naadia started 'Kids Concert Club'.  She began in a friend's living room with 10 young performers creating a relaxed and informal atmosphere with an emphasis on collaboration and support, and in January 2020, the Club received a grant from the National Lottery. The funding has meant they could move into a larger venue and collaborate with Pearl Home Records to record any performance straight onto vinyl. They were due to stage a concert in June, but of course all that has been postponed with plans to reschedule in 2021.

When school is not ‘out’, Naadia teaches piano at St Paul’s Girls School and Merchant Taylors Boys School and she has also worked extensively on the Jazz Course at Junior Guildhall and taught on the Music and Language For Life course in Wales.

During the hiatus caused by the Coronavirus, Naadia and her husband, jazz bass player Dave Manington, have been in East London home-schooling their children, including (I’m pleased to say) chocolate cake baking sessions.


Naadia took time out to join me for a socially distanced Tea Break.


Hello Naadia. Good to see you. It’s a shame it’s raining but we can sit in the conservatory. Tea or coffee?

Tea please, strong English Breakfast if you have it. 


The kettle's boiling. Grab a seat. I see you have brought your own mug. I have put hand sanitiser on the side, so help yourself. Milk and sugar?

Yes, as you can see, I’ve brought a fairly large travel mug. Thanks for the hand sanitiser!  just a drop of milk please and no sugar. 


Chocolate cake




There you go. I’ll put it on the table. Oh! You have brought some of that chocolate cake you made with your kids. That’s kind. How has it been with the home schooling during the Covid pandemic? Have you had any contact with your students at St Paul’s and Merchant Taylors?

Yes, I’ve successfully persuaded my son to make one of these every week so do keep a slab for later.  Home schooling during the pandemic has been hit-and-miss. Dave and I have two sons aged 12 and 11.  Freddie (the younger) mercifully went back to school at the end of June. 

I’ve had weekly contact with all my pupils on either Zoom or Teams and on the whole, it’s gone really well.  They’ve had a bit more time to practise which seems to have more than made up for the lack of actual face-to-face teaching. It will be good to get back to seeing them in real life though at some point. 





I was interested to see your video about LMFL – I think that stands for Language and Music for Life – in Wales, particularly because I recently came across the concept of the Suzuki method when I was talking to violinist Dominic Ingham. What did you think of the LMFL summer music course – understandably it has been postponed until 2021 now?

LMFL is a fairly unique Summer School, as things which start small and take on a life of their own often are. Aimed originally at older children who might want to study at a conservatoire in a country other than their own, it gave them the chance to work with teachers from various conservatoires and brush up on language too.  It now offers a tailored program to each individual who goes and is quite an amazing place.  The staff and children bond incredibly well and the standard of music making is very high at every level.  The age range has really expanded too and there’s a real family feel to it. I heartily recommend it to any child who is serious about music, particularly Classical. 


Here's a video of Naadia talking about her work at LMFL





Your work with children seems to be quite important. What’s this about your Kids Concert Club?

The idea behind that is to put on  informal salon type concerts for children to play in.  At the time I started it, my own children’s school concerts had stopped happening due to lack of funding and  I’m really hoping we can put our next  concert on before too long. We had plans for a really good one in collaboration with some friends of mine who are sound artists and I’d won a little grant from the lottery for it which was such a boost! 


That slice of chocolate cake was delicious! I did get some biscuits in as well, some Garibaldis and some Hop Nobs if you fancy any, and do help yourself to some more tea / coffee.

I’ll definitely have another cuppa thanks! 


Beware Of Young Girls album


So, winding back the clock a bit .... by the way, have you noticed how the word ‘so’ is creeping into conversations, a bit like ‘like’ if you see what I mean. People seem to be starting to use it to begin a sentence more and more or to give them a pause before answering a question .... anyway, so winding back the clock a bit, that series of shows you did with Kate Dimbleby really went down well. How did you two get together and how come you chose to focus on the life and music of Dory Previn?

I was recommended to Kate by Jonty Fisher who’s a mutual friend. She was just getting back into working after having children and so was I.  Working with her was a brilliant experience, full of fun and excitement and I learnt such a lot along the way. The Dory Previn show was born from the seed of an idea when we incorporated Lady With the Braid into our first show.  Kate has an amazing way of making things happen and before too long we were working with Cal McCrystal and Amy Rosenthal and taking it to New York. 




I was interested to read that the title song of your album Beware Of Young Girls was Dory Previn's 'sharp attack on Mia Farrow set to the melody of a traditional lullaby', after she had discovered Mia Farrow had an affair with Dory's husband, Andre Previn. That comes over in this video we can watch from the show..


Naadia and Kate performing Beware Of Young Girls





And now you have been working with one of my favourite singers, Lara Eidi. That recording you did of Anon is superb. I confess I only knew the name of Virginia Woolf and I had not come across A Room Of One’s Own. I was a bit embarrassed as a male friend knew all about it and my wife has been thinking of reading it again! Why did you choose that one for the International Women’s Day gig?

I’m so glad to have re-ignited an interest in Virginia Woolf.  A Room of One’s Own is a very special book I think. It’s surprisingly  relevant today and originates in a lecture she gave, so quite informal and witty in style.  I think Virginia must have been an incredible person to know.  The song came about because I happened to be reading it when Lara booked me for the International Women's Day gig and I’d been meaning to write something for us for a while.  It didn’t take very long and Lara was so committed to it from the start. She’s a wonderful person to work with. 


Here's a video of Naadia and Lara performing an extract from Anon during lockdown





That's quite a short taster video, but I love the full version. It is great that you have recorded it for people to buy from Bandcamp, and the full version includes a nice piano solo from you too as well as including Dave on bass..


Listen to the full version:





A Room Of One's Own made me think about how important personal space is in itself, particularly with families in high-rise blocks during lockdown. Not everyone can have their own room but personal space is so important. The opposite must be the case for performing music where you do need to have an audience and other musicians to play with. How do other musicians you talk to think about how gigs will start up again, particularly as the government seems to suggest that doors can open again in August?

I think there’s a tentatively positive feeling emerging  that things will resume in some way. But no-one quite knows when  or how yet. Still, that’s better than the shock and dismay that everyone felt at the start of lockdown.  I’ve been amazed at how resourceful and enterprising the musicians that I know have been with finding ways to share their music.  Some have live-streamed, some have made videos, others are getting into recording and releasing music.  All these new skills that musicians are taking on board are really tricky and some fantastic new music is coming out of it. 


It’s a while since you recorded your album Gnarly Hymn – strange title? – but you have an album due out with ISQ – does that stand for Irene Serra Quartet? How was the tour going before it had to be postponed?

With Gnarly Hymn the two words either just inspired or described that composition, I can’t remember whether the tune or the title came first! Yes, ISQ is 'Irene Serra Quartet' I think, but I’m the newest member and I’ve never asked so I couldn’t swear it on my life!  The tour was going well. Irene is tireless in building up her audience. The music is great and Irene is a brilliant communicator.  I love her synth playing too. 


Fortunately, someone filmed the recording of Stone at Alice's Loft from that Requiem For The Faithful tour so we can see and hear what it is about for when the tour starts up again.


The video of Stone.





I really like the variety of music you are involved in, and we just have to mention your playing with Yazz Ahmed. I first heard Yazz several years at the Posk Jazz Club in Hammersmith and have been knocked out by her playing ever since. If you could do a one-off outdoor gig with her next week, which tune would you choose? And if you could invite a past musician to sit in, who would that be?

Good Questions! I think the tune would have to be A Shoal Of Souls.  It’s a beautiful extended piece with a strong political message.  Let’s have Geri Allen to sit in. Not too far in the past but an important figure in jazz history nevertheless.  Maybe we could duet a little on  the  piano interlude in the middle of the piece  which would be quite an amazing experience. 


That would be good to hear! I see that the A Shoal Of Souls is dedicated to all the people who have lost their lives crossing the sea in search of a better future, and Yazz's comments are interesting when she says: "The music is also inspired by Sufism, the idea of whirling and turning, falling into a trance, a dream. I see a mirror with the whirling turning ocean, a whirlpool of lost souls, of untold stories, talents and lives unfulfilled: joining together in the eternal dance and rhythm of a vast shoal of fish which seems to beat like a heart.”


Listen to A Shoal Of Souls





So what lies ahead when things get back to the ‘new normal’, Naadia?

Well, I’m very excited about some song lyrics that I’ve been sent by Mike Jones of the band ‘Latin Quarter’ and there are further collaborations with Lara and Dave in the pipeline.  ISQ are releasing an EP of reimagined versions of songs and I arranged/remixed one of these early in lockdown so I’m looking forward to hearing all of that too. 


Sounds like you are going to busy, particularly when you are back teaching too! I think we should  share piece of your playing before Tea Break finishes, but there are several online to chose from – which do you fancy?

How about  Be Not Too Hard? The words are a poem about tolerance by Christopher Logue. This was originally set to music by Donovan for Joan Baez but I love the version on Kate Dimbleby’s album Love Comes Again. The other musicians on here are Sophie Alloway on drums and Jonty Fisher on bass. 


Listen to Be Not Too Hard:




That's a really poignant way to end a Tea Break! Thanks for stopping by, Naadia. Take care and stay safe. Hopefully you will soon be playing gigs again, but I guess the downside will probably be that you won’t any longer have time to make chocolate cake! 

Ha ha, thanks Ian! I’m hoping my sons will keep me in chocolate cake.  By the way, when you’re listening to Jazz, what is your favourite drink and food to accompany it?


Hmmm. I'm generally a coffee person during the day, and I probably drink too much when I'm typing or listening although I'm trying to decaff more. I guess it comes from taking my laptop and headphones to work in cafes where I can mentally shut myself away, and of course that has gone out of the window over the past few months. Other times I'm a tea person. English Breakfast first thing, but Earl Grey of an afternoon and there is nothing like the smell of Lapsang Souchong in the garden on a warm early evening. And food? During lockdown I have developed a taste for Sainsbury's Triple Berry Hot Cross Buns (No doubt other brands are available!), but I don't think that slab of chocolate cake you left with me will last long. I really must get out for some exercise later!


Thanks for having me for the Tea Break, Ian, it’s been a pleasure! 


Click here for Naadia Sheriff's website.


Naadia Sheriff




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