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Corey Mwamba

© Photograph courtesy of Corey Mwamba

Corey Mwamba is one of the U.K.’s most talented jazz vibraphone players.

Born in Derby in 1976, he took lessons on a Yamaha organ when he was about eleven years old and used to sing treble until his voice broke “right in the middle of singing a solo of ‘Once In Royal David’s City’ in Derby Cathedral.”

“But I wasn’t all that interested in music,” says Corey. “My folks were into George Benson, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, but in the foolishness of youth, I wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t own any music until I reached sixteen when my first tape was an Otis Redding compilation.”

“I got into jazz by the radio when I was trying to pick up a short-wave radio station while I was studying for my French exam. I had never heard anything like it! The broadcast was in French but I picked up on the name Jessica Williams. Anyway, I got hooked.”

Corey went on to college at Southampton. “The library at Southampton was amazing, a complete revelation to me ” he continues. “I didn’t own a CD player until I was nineteen, but you could go into the library, pick up a CD, hand over your card at the music desk, sit in a specially designed chair and listen and read. I did lots of that.”

It had been a long time since Corey played the organ, and at that point he didn’t play an instrument at all. He recalls a day when, ‘with the main intent of impressing a girl’, he went to listen to the college jazz band rehearse. He sat, listening, tapping on a chair. “Someone handed me brushes and I just started messing about. The leader of the band, Dan Mar-Molinero, asked if I wanted to do any gigs. I thought he was joking so I said, “Yeah, sure. When?” He said, “Tomorrow.” So I had to learn to play the drums in a day. I practised like mad.”

The gig went well, but Corey didn’t really want to play drums. He went out and bought John Fordham’s Jazz book. “I looked through the pages of musicians dressed in black demonstrating various things. Then I saw Orphy Robinson on this …thing – and it spoke to me. So I found a very good teacher, Lewis Dyson, had five lessons, and then he told me to do my first gig - I haven’t stopped since.”

“Incidentally, I didn’t get the girl, but on the day I didn’t get the girl, at the end of college, I got Thelonius Monk. Not the first time I heard him – I literally didn’t like it the first time – but since then, Monk has been my first love.”

Corey left Southampton and went to Birmingham University to study Chemistry and then transferred to the University of Derby, leaving with a B. Sc. in Chemistry and Music.

The reading and listening went on as Corey absorbed wider musical experiences: Anthony Kerr with John Parricelli, Wayne Shorter with Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Hermeto Pascal, Bartok, Shostakovich – and Lionel Hampton. “I went to the library one day and borrowed a vibraphone compilation tape. Hamp played Stardust and my jaw dropped. How’s he playing that stuff in 1950 something?”

The inevitable outcome was that Corey developed as a highly creative improviser with a wide stylistic ranCorey Mwambage.

His vibraphone “The Premier OS701 that people occasionally see me wheeling about” was bought with a grant from the Prince’s Trust. He initially intended to buy a Bergerault, but the shop started fobbing him off with excuses as to why the instrument had not arrived in stock, and he was offered the Premier as a stand-in. Telephoning Bergerault, Corey discovered that the reason the instrument had not arrived was because the shop never paid its bills. “The shop then mysteriously disappeared, having extracted about a thousand pounds from me for which I got my hoary, ramshackle Beast (that’s it’s name: it has other, ruder ones). It rattles and shakes, but I do love it - to an extent. It suits me. (I still want a Bergerault, though).”

© Photograph courtesy of Corey Mwamba

Corey's other main instrument is a dulcimer. “It’s a 12 course dulcimer with a big sound box that I bought from a family friend in about 2003. It’s quite heavy. It was supposed to be an instrument I could learn for pleasure, but it’s easier to transport than the vibes. I once took it to an improv. gig and people really liked what I did with it. I enjoy it immensely, especially when I couple it with the laptop.” Corey has also tapped into his scientific interest to use electronics in live performances and composition.

In 2007, Corey was selected for the third intake of the Jerwood/PRS Foundation’s ‘Take Five’ Initiative, produced by the organisation Serious. The Initiative is a significant artist development scheme for emerging jazz musicians that offers a programme of seminars and workshops to the small number of musicians selected each year. The programme is actively supported by professional musicians such as John Surman and Evan Parker who inspired Corey particularly during his time with ‘Take Five’.

But it is the range of involvement that leaves one breathless when looking at Corey’s CV.

Of course there is the long list of musicians with whom he has played - people like Orphy Robinson, Arun Ghosh, Sir Andy Hamilton and the Blue Notes, the Derby Concert Orchestra, Evan Parker, Tony Kofi, Gary Crosby’s NuTroop, The Master Drummers of Africa, and Tomorrow’s Warriors. Corey originally met and Orphy Robinson in 1997 when they and Soweto Kinch gigged with the first incarnation of Tomorrow's Warriors (for that gig called 'J-Life') and which included Jason Yarde, Robert Mitchell, Daniel Crosby, Darren Taylor and Julie Dexter.

His most recent group includes drummer Joshua Blackmore and bassist Dave Kane (another Take Five participant). “The music is totally improvised,” says Corey. “We’ve had some cracking gigs. There was one in front of a swing/modern/mainstream loving crowd in Stratford, and another in front of musicians and a contemporary/improv. loving audience in London.”

There are also three Duos – one with percussionist Walt Shaw who uses amplified ‘found’ objects, small toys and specially constructed instruments as well as conventional percussion.

FREEO is with multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson, and a third Duo is Corey with pianist Robert Mitchell in a set of standards and own compositions.

Argentum in performance

© Photograph courtesy of Corey Mwamba

In 2007, Corey was commissioned to put together a group and compose music for the 25th anniversary of Derby Jazz. The result was Argentum. The piece itself was a representation of silver, with its connections of good fortune, with the first five five-note chords in the piece creating the melodic and harmonic material for the whole thing. You can sample a video of Argentum on Corey’s Myspace site (see below).


Symbiosis Ensempble in performance

© Photograph courtesy of Corey Mwamba

In 2001, Corey came up with the idea of establishing The Symbiosis Ensemble, a network of creative amateur and professional musicians in the East and West Midlands. The network is made up of musicians who give each other moral support, want to play on each other’s gigs, and who are willing to hang out and communicate with audiences, talking about their work in a straight-forward, unfussy manner. The list of those who have become involved is long, but new members are always welcome.

Corey’s work in Education is also intriguing. He has been involved in a project looking at attainment in Year 5 maths at a primary school in Oxford where the children worked out ratios and fractions of intervals, statistical distributions of song forms and created and conducted serialist music using their birthdays. "Bearing in mind they were only nine years old and you only glance briefly at serialism on a music syllabus at the second year, they worked really hard.. If they were arranged for strings you wouldn't be able to tell they were written by nine year olds in a day!"

He has also run a project with sixty Year 2 pupils at a school in Leicester where they put together music about giants, and a long-term project at a junior school in Derby where Corey works with staff and pupils on a project that uses sound technology in relation to the environment. He has also led community workshops and given talks on the science of sound in many other schools and cultural centres.

As if that weren’t enough, Corey has been involved with Derby Jazz; World Song Derby; the Three Cities selection panel steering group, and he currently holds a four-year membership on the regional Arts Council.

In 2008, Corey was nominated for a BBC Jazz Award for Innovation.

You can read more about Corey Mwamba and the many projects in which he is involved on his excellent website at www.coreymwamba.co.uk. You can also listen to some of his music on his MySpace site by clicking here (our favourite is ‘I Can’t Quite See The Passage’) where there are also video clips and details of future gigs.

In November 2010 Corey looked back over his activities during the year:

Over the year, I seem to have transmuted into a promoter - I got Alexander Hawkins [who, I feel it is worth mentioning is now on the PRSF/Jerwood Take Five scheme - well done him, a VERY good choice] up with his ensemble; and it looks like Shabaka Hutchings [who was on Take Five and is BBC Radio 3's New Generation Artist] will be coming up with his trio with John Edwards (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums); as well as the quartet of vocal goddess Juliet Kelly, and a fantastic quintet called Skein with saxophonist Rachel Musson [she played in the first incarnation of Polar Bear - it's older than you might think], Javier Carmona and the pianist Alcyona Mick.

The event I organised in Leicester was not fantastically busy BUT Led Bib's Liran Donin premiered some new work that was stunning. His quartet with fellow bandmate Mark Holub, Chris Williams and Tom Ward really made his
writing shine - and it is truly and honestly musical, a great case of substance matching style. I'm hoping he is now encouraged to take it out everywhere else!

I'll be putting out more on that and other random listening parties next year... but it's all going to get very exciting. Well, in the bits of the East Midlands where I'll put the gigs on, of course.

I've been busy on the web technologies front too, having written an application to help musicians and music educators write chords and music
theory in web-pages


AND two fairly lengthy articles for the Opera Developers Network.


It's slightly surreal writing them as I still feel like a beginner in a lot of ways; but it's enjoyable and keeps my mind active.

The music side's been very fulfilling - the Jazz Services tour and Newcastle
gig with Dave and Josh did a lot for my confidence in the quality of my music - audiences and other musicians have been very receptive of our take of joy in sound, and took the sting out of the rejections and ignored e-mails that is part of my general working life. People have even bought the live recordings, which is very encouraging for totally improvised and modern creative music.

All the trio recordings are now available for download now, with some free
tracks: you can get them from


The time with the trio [along with my time in Macedonia - which I am now realising will take a long time to mentally unpack] really consolidated things for me musically, to the point that I have now put together a sextet. A scaled-down version of one of the compositions was played in Leicester, with Arun Ghosh and Ntshuks Bonga; I am extremely excited about this group. It's called Heralds and you can read a short summary here:


In March 2012, Corey is recording a studio album with his trio (Dave Kane and Joshua Blackmore) more news when the album is available.

In June 2012, Corey writes:

After some spurring by guitarist Otto Fischer, I've been doing some work on musify, my on-line chordal notation syntax; and made an on-line editor that allows you to make web-pages with musical symbols. You can have a look at it here:
http://musify.coreymwamba.co.uk/post/ I'm going to do a video tutorial on how to use it very soon... but not yet...

I've been commissioned by Derby Jazz for their 30th birthday! I'm writing a piece about the Orrery which will be performed on 30th November. Dave and Josh are on this of course, as well as Tony Kofi, Deborah Jordan and Julian Siegel among others. Going to be epic...

Here is a dynamic, creative musician who deserves respect and recognition for the contribution he is making in the development of jazz in the UK today.

2016: Corey takes a Tea Break with us.


Tea Break

As well as being in demand as a vibes player, Corey has been (and is) involved with a wealth of projects including Orrery - "Using the model of the orrery itself I created and devised new work to represent some of the ideas that shaped our thinking about astronomy and astrology around the time of the Enlightenment" and New Dark Art, a project exploring and demonstrating the ways in which improvisation, notation and conducting practices used in medieval music can inform and extend practice in composing for creative musicians. He also leads Out Front! A Derby-based music development organisation for the Midlands (click here to see Corey's various projects). In October, Corey will be going to Birmingham City University to study for a PhD degree so I caught up with him for a tea break while he still has a moment.


Hi Corey, tea or coffee?

Hmm. This time of day? Tea, please.

Milk and sugar?

Milk; one sugar, thank you.

Walt Dickerson


If you could ask two past jazz musicians to join us for the tea break, who would you invite?
At the moment, I'd raise Walt Dickerson and Herbie Fields.


Walt Dickerson

What would you ask them?

I'd ask Walt Dickerson just to talk! Although I would ask him to describe his voice on the vibraphone.

Herbie Fields

[Click here to listen to Walt Dickerson playing It Ain't Necessarily So]



I'd ask Herbie Fields about his influences and where he thought music was going to go at the time when he was playing with Benny Harris - if you listen to Fields around that time, he's making Dolphy-like intervallic leaps on the sax, before the advent of bebop. I find that kind of thing really interesting.


Herbie Fields

Hob Nob, Bourbon, Garibaldi or digestive biscuit?


What have you been doing recently?

In August, I did a gig/recording with Dave Kane and Joshua Blackmore in Derby for a record on Two Rivers that's coming out next year. I've been writing a piece for twelve great musicians that was commissioned by Jazz North-East; actually forcing myself to use standard Western notation for a change! Also thinking about sound on the vibes (hence summoning Dickerson) and reading up on phonetics. I have been working with the sound artist Gawain Hewitt, playing at Contrapop Festival in Ramsgate with the organist and composer Lauren Redhead and with Black Top in Derby.

[Click here for a video of Corey with Dave Kane and Joshua Blackmore from 2013]

On the admin side, I run a jazz organisation called Out Front! and we've reached a halfway point; so we're evaluating what's happened so far, and how we can improve. I'm also trying to write up the health/well-being benefits of earlier start times for musicians. I've also made some headway formulating ideas for local artist development for Derby Jazz: I was made "artistic director" (i.e. programmer) in April.

[Click here for a video with Tony Kofi talking about his music at Derby Jazz before a gig including Corey Mwamba]

What have you got coming up in the next few months?

I'm playing with Andy Champion and Ntshuks Bonga in Newcastle at the beginning of September, which is when the Derby Jazz season starts. Corey MwambaTotally unrelated to either Derby Jazz or Out Front!, I've organised Chicagoan flautist Nicole Mitchell to come to Derby and play in a duo with Mark Sanders in the middle of September. I've got Sloth Racket (with Cath Roberts) at the end of September; and then I start my PhD at Birmingham City University in October.

Out Front! has "The Week" (of gigs) at the end of October; and then in the first week of November there seems to be nothing happening at all. But in the third week, Out Front! has Maggie Nichols, Joelle Leandre and Irene Schweitzer.

Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

I'll just mention three: Johnny Hunter, Inclusion Principle, George Crowley's Can of Worms.

[Ed: See our review of Johnny Hunter's album While We Still Can. Click here for the video introduction to George Crowley's Can Of Worms]

Another biscuit?

That would be lovely!



Utah Tea Pot


© Sandy Brown Jazz and Corey Mwamba


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