Meet NYJO Jazz Orchestra Composer – Olivia Murphy

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We sit down for a chat with our first female composer chair, Olivia Murphy!

Olivia Murphy is a saxophonist and composer based in Birmingham. She has joined the Jazz Orchestra in January 2020 as the ensemble’s first female composer chair.

During her time at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Olivia was the first and only two-time winner of the coveted RBC Jazz Composition Prize and in her final year debuted The Virgil Suite for her Almost Big Band (13 piece large ensemble featuring Percy Pursglove).

Since graduating in 2019, Olivia has been writing and recording a “mini-suite” for her band Paper Shaped People, a sextet fronted by soprano saxophone, vocals and trombone which will be released later this year. As well as performing her music across the UK, Olivia performs in a variety of different ensembles including Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, Steve Tromans / Olivia Murphy Duo and Break Out Brass Band.

We sat down with Olivia to ask her a few questions about her biggest influences, aspirations and why NYJO.

Who are your favourite jazz musicians of all time and how have they influenced your career?

Maria Schneider has to be one of the most important influences for me of all time. I remember in my first year of Conservatoire her and the orchestra came to Birmingham and I was lucky enough to attend a few workshops with her, as well as watching the gig. Her writing is so inspiring to me and seeing her direct the band and hearing her music live was one of the first times I realised I wanted to do something similar as a career. On the U.K. scene Norma Winstone and Nikki Iles have always been amazing and inspiring to me as both musicians and composers; Nikki Iles’ Printmakers band was a big influence on me forming my sextet.

Is there anyone on the scene right now that you would like to work with?

I love the music Linda Oh writes; her newest album Adventurine is beautiful and I’m really into the use of strings and vocals in large ensemble jazz at the moment. Someone on that album who is a big inspiration to me who I have been lucky to meet a couple of years ago is Matt Mitchell; his writing and his impact on the jazz scene is really incredible and I would love to meet / play his music again / write for him! The European scene also has lots of amazing musicians I feel like my music identifies with; I would love to work with Mirna Bogdanovic, for example. Mirna is an amazing vocalist and composer based in Berlin and is someone who I think would be really inspiring to write for.

What made you apply to the NYJO Jazz Orchestra?

I was involved in the junior bands within NYJO when I was younger and so knew it was something I wanted to become part of again. To have a jazz orchestra to write for is often a hard thing to come by and so this is an amazing opportunity for me to write new material, improve my craft as a composer and arranger, and meet lots of new musicians!

And what do you hope to get out of the next year as the NYJO composer chair holder?

I want to try and stretch my writing and develop more; in part learning composition techniques but also just to gain as much experience as possible. Another element of this is just getting my name as a musician/ composer on the scene out there more which NYJO undoubtedly helps with.

Do you feel like there are specific challenges young female musicians face nowadays?

I found particularly with jazz musicians the trickiest hurdle is sometimes feeling isolated; if you are the only female on a jazz course, for example, it can be difficult to feel like there is anyone to talk to who can relate with issues you might be going through. This is definitely improving over time but it’s still not something that can change overnight and I think there could be a better support system for people feeling like this. Another thing is stereotypes which can be frustrating and deflating to constantly deal with; in my experience this is rarely from other musicians, more so from venues, promoters, audience members and even teachers! It’s really inspiring however to see movements and initiatives coming together over the last few years to encourage more girls to play, support/ fund female and non-binary musicians, ensuring a more balanced and diverse programme at events and venues, helping to reduce (and hopefully abolish) these stereotypes that female musicians can sometimes be challenged by.

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