LJF Preview: London Vocal Project – Wednesday 16th Nov, St James’s Piccadilly

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Pete Churchill writes about the forthcoming London Vocal Project concert with Norma Winstone, in the London Jazz Festival,  (Wednesday 16th November, 7. 30pm, St James’s Piccadilly)

The performance on Wednesday 16th November at St James’s Piccadilly will be a unique opportunity to hear Kenny Wheeler’s settings of poetry by Stevie Smith, W.B. Yeats and Lewis Carroll – all performed by this amazing ensemble of twenty-four voices, the London Vocal Project – probably now the leading contemporary jazz vocal ensemble in the UK.

It was back in September 2009 that the London Vocal Project first performed Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Mirrors’ Suite at the Vortex Club. Norma Winstone was the featured soloist. This performance was reviewed by LondonJazz.

Now, more than two years later, there is a rare chance to hear us perform this great song cycle of Kenny’s one more time, as part of the 2011 London Jazz Festival. It has been fantastic for us to revisit this music after two years. This time Kenny Wheeler himself will be there – joining Norma Winstone, Mark Lockheart and an A-team rhythm section (Nikki Iles, Steve Watts and James Maddren) to perform what is clearly a major, as yet unrecorded, suite for voices.

It was whilst preparing for our concert with Bobby McFerrin in May 2010, that we realised that we would have to memorize everything if we wanted to move our singing to the next level – and so we have taken this approach with Kenny’s suite… it really helps.

The result is more eye contact, more listening and a better blend. Kenny’s music is somehow both demanding and yet extremely singable – and, like all great music, it repays many fold the hours of detailed rehearsal that we have devoted to it.


The relationship between jazz and choral music has always been tenuous – but I have always felt that jazz composers would love to write more for voices if they could only be assured of a group of singers with the right sensibility for the music. Issues of phrasing and sound are always cropping up and can lead to unsatisfactory performances of potentially great works. I am sure that a lot of pieces have quietly been shelved after only one unsuccessful performance.

The London Vocal Project was formed in an attempt to remedy this situation. Its members are largely made up of Jazz singers or Jazz instrumentalists and, as a result, they are able to bring a certain understanding of style to everything they do. Such rhythmic assuredness and harmonic awareness are unusual in a choir and they are able to approach each project with certain essential things already in place. We meet once a week for between two and three hours, scheduling extra sectionals when necessary, and we even try to get away for a week every summer – just to get deeper inside all the music we do… and I think it pays off.

The secret of our cohesiveness is that LVP is more than a choir – it is a meeting place for people who have found that they like to spend time together. And I believe that the music we make benefits from this sense of community… all the eating, drinking, baking, laughing and crying we do together is reflected in how we sing as an ensemble. In a world where people seem to be trying to spend less time together, it is a rare thing to find an ensemble that have invested so much time – regular time – in each other.


The Christopher Wren church of St James’s Piccadilly feels like it was built for the sound of voices – and the stones have echoed with the sounds of many choirs over centuries past. The sounds of Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Mirrors’ suite on the 16th November will be new and fresh in that space and I know they will linger in the air long after we are gone.

Check your diaries, and come and share in this great event with us.

Pete Churchill

London Vocal Project website / Tickets (£15/ £12 concessions)

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