We speak to the leading lights of a new crop of jazz musicians changing the way the UK thinks about music. This week, london-based artist and composer Sofia Grant speaks to us about the ephemeral nature of improvised music, and how her latest record is an emotional response to climate change.
With Swedish and English roots, Sofia grew up in London, surrounded by music. She began her classical training on the piano aged 6 and on the saxophone aged 11, and began performing in venues across the city as a singer-songwriter from the age of 14.
Whilst studying Literature at the University of Cambridge, she formed her first band, Lorelai. Since then, she has amassed five years of performance experience as a session vocalist and pianist, performing with artists and bands like PYJAEN, Hilang Child, Kasia Konstance, Lunafruit, Los Colores, Outlya and Clemence.
In 2017 she moved to Barcelona and immersed herself in the improvised underground music scene there, inspiring the development her own sound as an independent artist. There she performed with C&F Collective, a dynamic collective of musicians from Argentina, Chile, Catalunya and Puerto Rico. Her love for traditional folk music from both Spain and Latin America continues to inspire and inform her vision as an artist.
In 2020, she returned to her home city and launched her solo project with the debut single ‘Storm’. Her first single received radio play from stations such as Jazz FM, Worldwide FM and Soho Radio, and earned her a place on Women in Jazz’s AMPLIFY artists roster. She marked the release with a sold-out solo performance in New York City.
What are your top 3 places to experience jazz music in the world?
Blue Note in New York, Jamboree Club in Barcelona and I love Pizza Express Jazz Club in London.
Tell us a little bit about Higher Ground Jam Session and how you came to found it…
Higher Ground jam session is a regular improvised music gathering in East London, open to all performers, regardless of their background or standard.
When I moved back from Barcelona to London a few years ago, there were lots of amazing jam sessions taking place across London, but none that foregrounded women and non-binary people. I wanted to create a really accessible and safe space where all performers felt able to experiment – founded on listening and respect. I’m looking forward to our autumn season at Shoreditch’s 91 Living Room so much.
What aspects of your relationship with the jazz/improvisational music world do you find personally fulfilling?
For me, it’s the ephemeral nature of improvised music that is so powerful. It only exists in that single moment, and only the people in the room get to experience it. It comes back to the original reason I started writing music – which isn’t about product and output, it’s about connection and the experience of collaborating with others.
Your writing explores some important issues of our time, what is your personal philosophy?
My personal philosophy is always in motion – but right now, the mission of my upcoming record is to offer up an emotional response to climate change, the ways in which the world is changing before our eyes and what we stand to lose from that irreversible shift.
The concepts of climate collapse and species extinction are so scientific and abstract and difficult to comprehend. I want to make music that explores these big ideas on an emotional and very personal level, to encourage people that listen to my record to think about what the loss of our world as we know it means for them too.
Any film, book, prose, or music you are currently inspired by?
I am listening a lot to Uruguayan folk artist Jorge Drexler’s new record Tinta y Tiempo a lot, and keep finding new treasures within it.
Will you tour once your debut EP is released?
That is very much the idea! After composing, arranging, recording and producing this record over the last three years, I can’t wait to play these songs live with my band. That’s what I wrote them for, and that’s where the compositions come alive.
What music projects are you currently working on?
Aside from the final production stages of my EP, I am working on a record with my great friend and collaborator, bassist and producer Alley Lloyd. I also sing backing vocals and play keys with a number of artists, which is beautifully varied and allows me to perform in so many different settings in the UK and internationally, which I am deeply thankful for.
And finally, how would you describe your personal style?
I love textural clothes, so I love to wear linens in the summer and thick knitwear and tailoring in the winter. Comfort and movement are very important to me, as is being able to breathe fully for singing. I suppose my personal style is quite functional, free-flowing and colourful.
Explore Sofia’s world:
All photography by Chaz Langley, shot on location in London, summer 2022.