Ashley Henry 1.jpg

Course Studied: BA Jazz

Year of Graduation: 2014

Top Career Highlights:

  • Signing a record deal with Sony
  • Supporting Marcus Miller with my trio at the Royal Festival Hall for the Serious London Jazz Festival (2017)
  • Playing Outlook Festival (Croatia) with The Outlook Orchestra in a Roman Ampitheatre

Recently signed to Sony Music and set to release his new EP ‘Easter’ in collaboration with the RE:ensemble in early 2018, Ashley Henry’s career has blossomed since studying at Leeds Conservatoire. A former student on the Royal Academy of Music’s postgraduate programme, he has performed with some of jazz’s greatest musicians - including Jean Toussaint and Terence Blanchard alongside ensembles such as The Outlook Orchestra. Gig highlights involve supporting Marcus Miller during the Serious London Jazz Festival at the Royal Festival Hall and a performance at the International Piano Trio Festival at Ronnie Scott’s.

We spoke to Ashley to find out more about his journey of studying, performing and working in Leeds and London.

As a classically trained pianist, how and when did you make the switch to jazz? How did you immerse yourself in the artistic language?

I switched to jazz pretty late - right at the end of my time at The Brit School, when a good friend put me on to Jason Rebello’s music. From then I didn’t want to do anything else besides get into jazz. Shortly after that I managed to study with Jason before coming to Leeds. Jason is a classically trained pianist so understood what needed to be done for that transition to happen - he was also very generous and gave me jazz records to check out.

During my time at Leeds Conservatoire, I was lucky enough to study with Les Chisnall who is also an amazing classical pianist, so we looked at classical repertoire as well as jazz. Whilst studying I realised the importance of listening - a large part of my development was getting together with my friends and listening to records together.

What attracted you to studying in Leeds? What encouraged you to move away from London?

Whilst on my gap year, I had some friends studying Jazz at Leeds Conservatoire so I went to visit a few times and fell in love with the city straight away. Besides all the amazing opportunities at the conservatoire, Leeds is the best city in the UK to be a student - there is so much going on! It was definitely important for me to live in a different city after living in London my whole life.

How did studying at Leeds Conservatoire prepare you for your career as a professional musician?

As well as all the amazing lectures, workshops and lessons that prepared me musically, I was constantly playing with people inside and outside of Leeds Conservatoire. I was also doing a lot of rehearsals and recording sessions for the Music Production students which requires a certain mind-set and attitude so all of that really prepared me for everything I’m doing now.

You’ve performed with some amazing musicians (e.g. Gary Crosby, Jean Toussaint, Jay Phelps and Terence Blanchard). What have you learnt from each of these encounters?

When I moved back to London after Leeds Conservatoire, I got busy quite quickly and was always “the young one” on most gigs so it really made me step up! All the older musicians that booked me saw the potential so they liked to push me and keep me on my toes! Playing with all those guys really taught me how to control my nerves and put the music first. Being able to perform and tour with Terence (Blanchard) was also an amazing experience for me. He was very generous with his time and gave me really great advice about different improvisation concepts to film scoring!

Talk us through The RE-Ensemble. What does that involve? How will the second full studio sessions differ to the last album 5ive?

I’m influenced by so many different genres and styles of music, so RE: Ensemble allows me to delve into other musical interests and add different instruments and vocals too! The new EP which will be released 19th Jan will feature my trio members Dan Casimir and Eddie Hick but also will also feature Luke Flowers (Cinematic Orchestra), the legendary Jean Toussaint, poet, author and professor Anthony Joseph and rising star singer Cherise Adams-Burnett

A lot of your projects have involved other Leeds Conservatoire graduates (Eddie Hick, Sam Vicary, Sam Gardner etc.). What is it you admire amongst these musicians? How much of a community is there amongst those who study jazz together?

Whilst I was studying at Leeds Conservatoire, lots of previous graduates stayed for creative projects they were involved in and everyone supported each other’s gigs, so there was a great community especially within the Jazz course. What I love the most about every musician that I’ve collaborated with that studied in Leeds is that everyone has such a wide range of musical tastes. Sam and Sam already graduated when I enrolled so they were a lot more experienced than me so I learnt a lot playing with those guys in Leeds and London! I met Eddie a bit later when I moved back to London.

How did your relationship start with Jazz re:freshed? What has that enabled you to do?

My relationship with Jazz re:freshed began in 2015 shortly after I performed at the BBC Introducing event at Manchester Jazz Festival and the International Piano Trio Festival at Ronnie Scott’s, the guys at Jazz re:freshed reached out and asked me to fill in a last minute slot because another band cancelled. After the gig we got talking and I happened to have some free studio time booked in with a studio in South London because the owner heard me on Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio 2 show and really wanted to record me, and jazz:refreshed wanted to release it so it all fell into place organically. I didn’t actually plan to have my own record out at the time.

Releasing the 5ive record opened a lot of doors for me. I started to get booked for festivals, different shows and got a lot of radio play. I’ll also be playing at the jazz re:freshed UK Jazz showcase this year at SXSW in Austin, Texas which should be fun!

How did you begin working with the Outlook Orchestra? What has been your highlight of working with this ensemble?

Leeds Conservatoire alumnus Matt Roberts knew me while I was still studying in Leeds as he always used to come down for gigs and has seen me play in many different contexts before so he recommended me and gave my number to Tommy Evans the MD. Working with The Outlook Orchestra and all the amazing artists has been such an experience so far. It feels like one big family. We did a lot of amazing shows in 2017 but I think the debut gig at Royal Festival Hall is the biggest highlight because everything was still very new and everyone was pretty nervous but excited at the same time! 

You were nominated for two Jazz FM Awards in 2017 (Breakthrough Artist of the Year and Live Experience of the Year). How important is this recognition?

I was pretty surprised to be nominated for 2 awards to be honest because there’s so much great music out there at the moment! But to be nominated alongside so many talented musicians was an honour. It just inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing more than anything else

What’s coming up next for you in terms of recordings, releases, gigs or tours?

My new EP entitled “Easter” will be out on January 19th and my debut album will be released in the summer. Both of those records will be under my new deal with Sony so very excited!

I also had the honour of recording my mentor Jean Toussaint’s album a few months ago alongside Jason Rebello, Andrew McCormack, Dennis Rollins, Shane Forbes, Mark Mondesir, Byron Wallen, Tom Harrison, Dan Casimir and Troy Miller (also produced the record). That should be out sometime this year.

Find out more about Ashley via his website.

Learn more about our BA (Hons) Music (Jazz) – here.

Find out more about what our successful graduates have been up to in our Alumni Profiles

Are you a Leeds Conservatoire graduate? Reconnect with us here

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