Laura Jurd – Yeoman of the Month
Like many people, I grew up with a piano in the house. From a very young age, I loved to play it – improvising and working out tunes I’d heard on the television etc. Recognising my obvious love for music and making things up, my ever-supportive parents arranged for me to have piano lessons at the age of five with an amazing teacher, Pam Edwards, in my local area. Little did I realise at this stage, what a fortunate meeting that was. To this day, Pam is one of the most incredible teachers I have ever come across and as a result, I continued studying with her up to the age of 18. Aside from teaching me the nuts and bolts of music theory and encouraging strong technical foundations, she always communicated why certain musical ingredients felt the way they did. This ‘why’ is so often missed out in education – the discussion of how things make you feel rather than just clinical information. Her enthusiasm for all kinds of repertoire was infectious and she completely nurtured my obvious love for sound – harmony, rhythm and melody. She also recognised that I was naturally drawn to improvisation, so started me on a path of jazz piano music, alongside my classical studies.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I began playing trumpet, almost by accident really. It was already clear that I loved music, but the opportunity arose to have brass lessons at my primary school. Luckily, an uncle of mine had an old trumpet gathering dust at his home and kindly loaned me his instrument. Whilst I had no immediate affection for the instrument, it was another thing to make noise on! Along with the obligatory school recorder lessons (which were actually very fun!) and piano lessons, I began developing my skills as a trumpet player, which later became my main focus. I should mention, I attended regular state schools and was extremely fortunate to live in an area that was rich in extra-curricular activity and artistic opportunities for young people – shaping the musician and person I am today.
In 2007 I met one of the most inspiring humans I will ever meet, who sadly passed away suddenly in 2012. His name was Martin Read. A tirelessly devoted composer and educator who found time to write epic community operas whilst being at the helm of Alton College music department. As a young musician and composer, hungry to know about anything and everything, I couldn’t have been luckier to cross paths with this brilliant man. Sporting thick-framed glasses, Doc Marten boots and a chaotic, curly head of hair, he had an enthusiasm for so much music. Whether it was Stravinsky, Steve Reich, Bach, Miles Davis, Django Bates, The Beatles, Mozart, Mingus, Renaissance composers like Byrd and Tallis, Benjamin Britten, Ian Dury and the Blockheads – you name it, he was an expert enthusiast. He simply loved it. My two years at Alton College were spent doing all kinds of wonderful things: playing 20th century chamber music like William Walton’s ‘Façade’ or Stravinsky’s ‘The Soldier’s Tale’; getting to the social and political heart of the music of Charles Mingus in the college jazz band; analysing music by Bartok with a fine-tooth comb in my one-to-one composition lessons; improvising over the top of Bruckner’s ‘Locus Iste’ on the balcony whilst the harmonies of the college choir filled the local church… the list goes on. I could write pages about all of this, but I think you get the picture. My time at Alton shaped the musician I am today – all of that music remains in my bloodstream.
After my time at Alton College, having obtained a place at the Royal Academy of Music to study jazz trumpet, I decided to attend Trinity College of Music – now Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Again, I could write a lot about this period but this time I’ll keep it short. For four years, I was taught by trumpet player Chris Batchelor. Chris is an incredible improviser and gave me an insight into a whole world of sonic exploration. Having heard players like Arve Henriksen make all kinds of wonderful sounds on the trumpet, this was of great interest to me. I also formed a band in 2010 with Elliot Galvin – piano, Conor Chaplin – bass, Corrie Dick – drums. Little did I know that seven years later we, Dinosaur, would be shortlisted for a Mercury Prize for our debut album ‘Together, As One’ and find ourselves playing on national television. During those seven years, we played all over the UK and eventually began touring in Europe. Over this time, we’ve developed a sound of ultimate trust as an ensemble and my writing for the band has hugely developed. Whilst studying at Trinity I also developed my skills as a composer – experimenting and exploring writing a number of pieces for string quartet and improvising musicians. Without intending to make a record, I realised that I had an album’s worth of music. Realising that it’d be a shame not to document it in some way, I ended up releasing my first album in 2012 entitled ‘Landing Ground’. To my unexpected delight, the music was well received, garnering the attention of various corners of the UK jazz community and establishing my voice as a composer/improviser. It makes sense to me that the first album I released was project-based and as much about composition as it was trumpet playing. I continued this thread with another large-scale project a few years later when commissioned to write some new music for the London Jazz Festival. This next album was called ‘Human Spirit’ and was my first foray into lyric writing, as I composed a series of pieces for vocalist Lauren Kinsella plus brass, bass saxophone, guitar and drums. This was an expression of my rockier side as I started to get more of a sense of how to bring that world into my love for improvisation and jazz music.
I’m grateful to have been asked to write something here, reflecting upon my journey so far. I’ve definitely missed a lot out, and there are other names I’d love to mention – perhaps another time. I’m also aware that I’ve been very chronological with it all, which is perhaps dull! I’ll try and capture a few last moments of significance, in no particular order, which I’ll share in one final paragraph. Thanks for baring with me.
So… other special moments: In 2015, I became a BBC New Generation Artist, a two year scheme during which I was given the opportunity to write a 10 minute piece for the BBC Concert Orchestra, play a concert at Wigmore Hall with Dinosaur, record at BBC Maida Vale with some of my favourite musicians including Seb Rochford and John Edwards and more. All of these things were extremely fulfilling and I learnt so much about my own practice during the process. Since releasing our debut album, Dinosaur has spent the last year touring all over the place, playing some of the world’s most reputable jazz festivals including Montreal in Canada and North Sea in Rotterdam. I should also share a few facts that you may be interested to know about! My favourite trumpet players are Miles Davis and Chris Batchelor; Michael Tippet’s masterpiece ‘A Child of Our Time’ changed my life forever; other things I love and adore are Steve Reich’s ‘Desert Music’, Stravinsky’s ‘Symphonies of Wind Instruments’ and the albums of Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim on ECM records. Favourite bands include American alternative rock band Deerhoof and Norwegian synth pop/rock outfit Broen and of course, arguably the UK’s greatest asset – The Beatles. I once heard the choral music of John Tavener in a candlelit Winchester Cathedral. I went alone and it was pure magic. So many moments to reflect on but not enough space on the page! I’ll leave it there. Thanks for having me and I wish you a happy day.