1 October 2021

NYJO Interviews: Olivia Murphy

Olivia, as arranger for the upcoming Amy Winehouse celebration, what have been the biggest challenges that you’ve faced?

There’s been a few! Perhaps one of the challenges throughout has been trying to find a balance of staying true & respectful to the original material but still allowing myself to have a voice as a composer and reimagine the songs to challenge and show off the incredible band!

How did you first get into jazz?

I started playing music through having piano and clarinet lessons while at school – I’d listened to little bits of jazz here and there but it wasn’t until starting saxophone lessons at 14 that I started playing more of the music. I actually played saxophone in a couple of the NYJO Academy bands when I was in sixth form which is where I learnt so much about improvisation, playing with other people and big band music.

What did you learn most from your time at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire?

I studied jazz saxophone at RBC – and during my time there I learnt a lot (I’d had very little formal jazz training before) and met so many of my closest friends. What I learnt the most however is perhaps perseverance – there were a whole lot of challenges during my time studying there but despite this, I knew I wanted to be in this industry; I worked hard and managed to find what I was the most passionate about – composition & large ensemble leading!

How has NYJO helped you develop as a composer and arranger?

There’s very few professional level jazz orchestras that regularly rehearse and gig in the UK so it’s a luxury to have this amazing band of supportive friends and peers playing my music. Since leaving RBC in 2019 it has been vital for me to continue learning and growing as a jazz orchestra composer and NYJO has been the perfect opportunity for that.

Who are your favourite arrangers?

Whether I’m doing an arrangement or my own composition, I’m influenced by a lot of arrangers/composers: Duke Ellington, Kenny Wheeler, Maria Schneider, Miho Hazama, Bob Brookmeyer – there’s so many!

What can audiences expect to hear at the concerts?

It’s a celebration of Amy Winehouse’s beautiful songwriting while reimagining some iconic hits to fit a contemporary jazz orchestra. It’s hopefully a good time!

Is there a piece that you’ve arranged that has a special meaning to you personally?

I really like the lyrics to Wake Up Alone… it’s a really special one which I hadn’t actually heard before starting this project, but it’s a beautiful song.

What plans do you have for the future?

I have a few projects with my own music and my own jazz orchestra in the pipeline … potentially trying to plan an album recording for next year! I love directing and leading a jazz orchestra and so as long as I’m doing that I’m happy!


The National Youth Jazz Orchestra will celebrate the life and music of their former member Amy Winehouse on Thursday 7th October 2021 at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea.

Photo by Ellie Koepke.

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