Amy Winehouse and NYJO – photos and a tribute

Amy Winehouse singing with NYJO
Photo copyright Bill Ashton. All Rights Reserved.
Bill Ashton, Founder MD and Life President of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra writes for LondonJazz about Amy Winehouse: 

In my loft there is a pile of largely unmarked minidisks. One of them, dating back to July 2000, contains four tracks recorded live by the sixteen year old Amy Winehouse.

A few weeks earlier, I had had a call from Sylvia Young, Head of the eponymous Theatre School, “Mr. Ashton, I’d like to send a sixteen year old singer called Amy Winehouse to you. Neither we nor the Brit School really know what to do with her”.

“Send her along” I said cheerfully, “We don’t audition; she’ll just join in if she wants to”.

The following Saturday, a typical North London schoolgirl appeared at the Cockpit. In a voice only slightly higher than that of Michael Caine, she said, in one breath, “ullomynameisAmyWinehousethat’saJewishname”.

I sent her through to the singers’ rehearsal room, and for the next few weeks, she sat in the corner smoking for England, not joining in with anything they were doing but in the words of Annabel Williams, her singing teacher, “Whatever we were doing, she nailed it in one”.
Amy Winehouse singing with NYJO
Photo copyright Bill Ashton. All righs reserved.

In June of that year, I invited her to sing one song and the following month, I rang her early Sunday morning, “Can you sing with us today, we haven’t got a singer?”
“I don’t know your repertoire, but don’t worry I’ll learn them on the tube”.

She was a good as her word, she came through the door having learnt four songs, and sung them perfectly without any leadsheet or even a set if words. Saxophonist Alan Stuart commented, “Are you going to sign her? Because if you don’t, I will. She’s going to be a superstar”.

She left us not long afterwards, because she had hoped to sing standards with NYJO and found herself singing songs by me and other NYJO writers. She formed a trio of NYJO 2 players including drummer, Bradley Webb, and she set off around the jazz clubs. I can honestly say, she had the best jazz voice of any young singer I have ever heard, learnt from her taxi driver father, Mitch. Jewish taxi drivers having the best musical taste of anyone!

A few months later, I was approached by Simon Fuller’s 19 Management, who had launched the Spice Girls, to give them a list of young female singers. I figured that they and Amy deserved each other, so passed on her numbers to them and she went to the audition, along with singers such as Annabel Williams and Rachel Calladine.

The rest is history, and for some reason, I was sent two copies of her first album called, Frank. Some of the tracks of which are excellent jazz singing. But then, she hooked up with the ‘pop world’ and married her songs to street rhythms and became the pop icon that we all know.

When she died, on Saturday 23rd July 2011, the pop world lost an icon. The jazz world had lost a great jazz singer several years earlier.

Bill Ashton will be talking about Amy Winehouse on Piers Morgan Tonight at10 30pm on CNN 

Categories: miscellaneous

13 replies »

  1. Thank you so much for this very interesting paper.
    I just hope that you've now realised that the jazz world lost that great jazz singer exactly the same day the pop world lost his icon.
    Amy never stopped to sing jazz, as her last recording proves (among many other things such as impromptu sessions & C°).
    I thought for a time she'd better stay in the jazz world, but then realised that that's not what the jazz history teaches.
    Excuse my poor English.
    Thank you again!

  2. I agree with Jaevr. She was always a Jazz singer. She just expanded her music into more than jazz. It became for soulful and even more heartfelt.

  3. 5 songs Amy sang with the NYJO were Nobody knows you when you're down and out -The nearness to you-Sentimental journey – Who's blues and Another always.16th July 2000
    Mitch has said he has them .Bill Ashton said they were in his loft on a mini disc.Mitch played them a while back to some friends when he was in New York.

  4. Dear Bill Ashton and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra,

    On behalf of Amy Winehouse's family, friends and fans, I beg of you to please release the five unheard tracks you have of Amy Winehouse.

    “Who’s Blue?”
    “Another Always”
    “Sentimental Journey”
    “The Nearness Of You”
    “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”

    We do not understand the purpose of keeping them from the public. A voice as beautiful as Amy Winehouse's ought to be shared. Please consider this.

  5. As Executive Chair of NYJO, please let me assure you that we would dearly love to release the four tracks of Amy’s first public performance, and we have always wished to do so ever since the tracks were discovered! We had hoped we would have been able to do so a while back but now aim to meet with Mitch Winehouse again soon with the intention of getting the tracks into the public arena. We are working on it ! Nigel Tully

  6. Mr. Tully, As an Amy fan, I and others would be thrilled if these songs were released to the public..Thank you for your interest in Amy's legacy and the wishes of her fans.

  7. According to the media, Mitch Winehouse owns the copyright to every recording Amy ever did. Shouldn't we be pestering him instead of the NYJO?

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