Will Todd Interview for Mass In Blue at St John's Smith Square

Posted: Wednesday October 18, 2023



Sunday 19 November at 7pm

Mass In Blue: composer Will Todd talks about how his blend of jazz and choral music became a surprise international success, now celebrating its 20th anniversary at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Feature by John Bungey:

LONDON JAZZ NEWS — Wednesday 18th October

Article online Link


Sometimes a musician doesn't know when he's got a hit on his hands. Will Todd's Mass in Blue - following in the tradition of sacred jazz explored by Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck - has gone round the world. There have been more than 500 performances, an album and praise from audiences and critics for his bold blend of jazz rhythm and choral harmony.

None of which the composer anticipated when Mass In Blue was premiered to a thinly populated Cambridge Corn Exchange in 2003. Todd recalls: "A very good friend of mine came to the concert, someone who had been to lots of premieres, and I said to him 'I guarantee this will never be performed again.' I was absolutely certain.

"It was a mixture of fear - composers are always fearful before the first performance and you're sort of guarding against failure. I was very pleased with the performance but thought no one's going to put this on again." (Todd played the piano part with his wife, Beth Halliday, as the soprano soloist.)

"Having spent my whole career partly with church music and also playing jazz and writing some jazz pieces, I thought the idea that I could mix these up would definitely get a black mark.”


In the first three years there were "probably about four performances by brave souls", including one at Durham Cathedral, the city where Todd grew up.

"Then suddenly the piece began to gain momentum, especially when we released the recording with the Vasari Singers in 2006." Rare for a British work in the jazz idiom, America took Todd's Mass to its heart. The first US performances were in 2008 before the composer played piano in a performance at the Lincoln Center in New York in 2010. "The Americans are in a way more set up for it: a lot of universities and colleges will have a high-quality big band or jazz ensemble, so it makes sense to put that together with their choir. Those resources do exist in the UK but not to the same extent.”


Todd had "a mild fear" of taking his score to the home of jazz, "but I've only experienced very enthusiastic American players who really get it... Players like that with a rhythm section part, although notated, the expectation is that they will do stuff with it.

"I've played it many, many times [about 200, he thinks] and never played it the same way twice because it will depend on the acoustic, the size of the choir; lots of factors come into play, which is as it should be in a jazz work where you're making the performance in the moment, not just in the composition beforehand.”


As well as the States, Mass in Blue has been performed in Europe, as far as Ukraine and Russia, Australia too and South America. Next year Todd is off to Taiwan. At the EFG London Jazz Festival on 19 November, Francesca Confortini will be the soprano soloist with the Civil Service Choir;

Rob Barron plays the piano with the Tom Green Jazz Orchestra. Todd has heard the Civil Service Choir perform another work of his and was "absolutely thrilled... They're the perfect kind of choir for this piece because they've got great energy and panache and this is a work that wears its heart on its sleeve and they'll give it a good showing."


At 53, Todd is a successful and prolific composer - surely the only jazz pianist with four operas to his name. His work has been performed for the late Queen and President Obama. He studied music at Bristol University and now lives in Guildford, Surrey. At Bristol the realms of jazz and classical were kept far apart. "It was a double life - by day I was doing serial-style pieces in the music department then at night playing jazz in clubs and pubs and all sorts. In the late Eighties and Nineties there was some great jazz happening in Bristol." He loved the challenge of playing tunes called out on the bandstand. Back at the music department, "they were straight down the line, contemporary classical". He thinks that rigidity has lessened since.


"For a while it led to a schism in my head about what is good composing - the tradition of the western composer versus the improvising musician.”


Both elements fused, though, when he wrote his breakthrough piece. This anniversary year has also brought a series of Come and Sing: Mass in Blue events around Britain where singers come together to work up a performance that day.


"It's wonderful," says Todd," especially when I think back to that gloomy Cambridge prediction. I feel so blessed to have brought it about because as composers we write lots of pieces but very few enter regular repertoire. The reasons behind that are complex - it's not just how good a piece of music it is.

To have something performed as much as this - I don't take that lightly.”



Sunday 19 November at 7pm

To see more about this concert CLICK HERE

Photo credit — Ron Blackman


Posted: Tuesday May 2, 2023

EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2023 Piano Smithfield JBGB EventsJBGB Events Present: -

The Best of British Jazz, in the EFG London Jazz Festival, at London’s newest jazz club venue, Piano Smithfield at the Barbican, from Friday November 10th to Saturday November 19th, 2023

London’s newest and much celebrated jazz venue Piano Smithfield, highly rated by audiences, musicians and the media, hosts eleven.

JBGB Events concerts in the 2023 EFG London Jazz Festival, featuring many great U.K. based jazz stars across big bands, large ensembles, quintets, quartets, duos and soloists, including: -

Bruce Adams, Alan Barnes, Rob Barron, Elaine Delmar

Gabrielle Ducomble, Nick Fitch, Harry Green, Tom Green

Chris Ingham, Noel McCalla, Jamie McCreddie, Derek Nash

Dave O’Higgins, Tom Smith and many more.


The Media Love it ……..

Piano Smithfield is a 5-stars venue. I would urge you to visit if you like your jazz in intimate surroundings. It’s cool. Damned cool” – Jeff Prestridge - Daily Mail 

The customers love it …..

"Piano Smithfield is an easy, laid- back atmosphere built for appreciating the music” 

The artists love it …..

 Piano Smithfield is my favourite London jazz venue” — Claire Martin

Close to both Circle Line Barbican and Elizabeth Line Farringdon stations, with easy on street and off street car parking, 

Piano Smithfield is a classic basement jazz club, for 70 seated customers with superb sound and lighting, plus excellent cocktails and wonderful pizzas.

In addition to 8pm evening concerts, we are adding four weekend 3.30pm concerts, so customers have time to enjoy lunch elsewhere, or at the many good eateries at Smithfield and the Barbican, and make it an occasion taking in top jazz and all in time to be home for your Saturday and Sunday Evenings

The box office, at has details of all concerts and is open for business.

We look forward to the prospect of your company at Piano Smithfield for the EFG London Jazz Festival.

John Billett

JBGB Events

Mark Nightingale & Callum Au at Piano Smithfield 3 November

Posted: Tuesday September 13, 2022

Callam Au Mark Nightingale Interview Jazz Rag_ JBGB Events_ Jazz in London

See this fabulous interview with the magnificent Mark Nightingale who is performing live with Callam Au on November 3 at Piano Smithfield, Barbican, London.

Huge thanks to Jazz Rag for this great interview.  This interview will also be live on the Jazz Rag site on 23 September.  Their whole offering is a great read!



RON SIMPSON asks the questions.


John Billett’s programme for Autumn Jazz at Piano Smithfield on Thursday evenings is ambitious, to say the least, and wonderfully varied. Polly Gibbons and Ross Stanley kick things off on October 6, followed by the Alan Barnes Quartet (13), Liane Carroll solo (20) and Dave and Judith O’Higgins (27). In between these there are two nights of Three’s Company (Claire Martin, Nikki Iles, Dave Green) on October 14 and 15. November sees a Miles tribute with Chris Ingham (10), Geoff Gascoyne Group (17) and the Clark Tracey Quintet reprising his father’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Under Milk Wood.

Many people, however, will be looking forward particularly to Mark Nightingale and Callum Au’s re-creation on October 3 of JJ Johnson and Kai Winding’s Jay and Kai Quintet which for nearly three decades and something like a dozen albums from the mid-1950s to Winding’s death set the bar high for two-trombone combos. With an all-star rhythm section of Graham Harvey, Alec Dankworth and Clark Tracey, Mark and Callum revive the music of Jay and Kai.

So it was time to have a word with Mark Nightingale about Piano Smithfield, Callum Au, Jay and Kai and anything else that came to mind…

‘This will be my first visit to Piano Smithfield. I know relatively little about it other than the fact that it began life purely as a piano bar but has in recent years widened its musical output to include small ensembles in various styles. I have also heard talk that it is a classy venue in a good location. 

‘I have fronted various versions of my band, “The Sound of J & K” over the years featuring a host of different players. When I started to learn the trombone my Dad bought various trombone records and amongst them were some by Kai Winding and JJ Johnson. Apart from the tremendous playing, I found the arranged quality of the music and overall happy vibe very appealing and it was so unusual to be able to listen to a band with a two trombone front line. Since my days in NYJO where I formed and led Bonestructure (a band featuring five trombones and four rhythm) I have always enjoyed putting together multi-trombone ensembles. The instrument is perfectly suited to such gatherings due to its range and timbre. I have recorded with as many as twenty one trombones over in Rotterdam, but obviously a quintet featuring just two gives the widest possible scope for improvising space.

‘I first met Callum when he was a young teenager wanting a lesson in the gap between a rehearsal and gig I had at Wigan Pier. He was already talented then, but has blossomed into not only one of our very best jazz trombonists but also uniquely and staggering gifted composer/arranger. I get to work with him in various settings these days and it’s always most enjoyable. 

‘I think Callum and I both come from a similar school of trombone playing, certainly in terms of improvisation. Despite liking many of the same players, however, we have both been lucky enough to find our own distinctive voice as improvisers. We don’t try to imitate Kai and JJ, but rather to respect the essence of their concept and to put our own stamp on it.’ 


Students of the careers of both Mark and Callum will have noticed that they are much in demand as composer/arrangers. How do you two activities (playing and writing) compare?

‘I have always found writing music to be a solitary experience with the final “pay off” (of hearing the piece played) coming a long time later. Playing is a much more immediate experience where you get feedback from the audience as it happens. That combined with the instantaneous nature of improvising and reacting to the musicians around you makes playing in a jazz group like this perhaps the most connected you can be to an audience.’ 

It’s more than surprising to think that Mark has chalked up well over 30 years in the business. What changes has he seen?

‘When I started off in the business I was playing a mixture of gigs with various sized jazz ensembles including everything from quartets to big bands, doing commercial recording sessions in many different musical styles from pop to orchestral, and composing and arranging music mainly for brass. These days I still have a lovely mixture of those things, although I do fewer miles touring the country than I used to, but I am called upon to play a good deal more things like orchestral film scores. I still write a lot, nowadays for all sorts of line-ups. 

‘I used to love listening to great players, maybe in a quartet or quintet setting, playing standards. You could go to Ronnie’s or sometimes your local jazz club and hear the icons of jazz stretching out on sequences you knew, enabling you to fully appreciate and learn from what they were doing. There were gigs up and down the country where this also happened with local players or pro bands touring - and swing was the mainstay default feel. 

‘These days there are fewer gigs like that happening and much more jazz based on fairly static chord sequences. I miss the standard-type sequences and the uplifting swing - perhaps I’m an incurable bebopper! 

‘In addition, venues and festivals nowadays love a themed project, but don’t want it more than once. One has to constantly reinvent oneself to be considered. I sometimes wonder how the Count Basie band would have fared in today’s environment - can you imagine the promoter saying, “I’m sorry, Mr Basie, but we had your band last year. If you want to come back you’ll have to compose a tribute to x or y.” I guess it may be down to jazz audiences being less numerous these days, but even so, in my book great playing is great playing and worth listening to multiple times! Furthermore, with the nature of improvisation even a performance of the exact same tunes will be a completely different creative experience. 

‘As a musician I’ve certainly listened and read a lot more, and maybe learnt a few new things along the way that make me a more mature musician. Conversely I don’t have the ridiculously strong chops of a young player fresh out of college. You could say I’ve reached that perfect balance between pathetic inexperience and doddering senility!’

So what next?

‘John Billett has asked me to write a pad of arrangements for sextet featuring some of his all time favourite jazz tunes that we will be premiering at the Pizza Express Dean Street early next year. I have recently been computerising, reconstructing and ratifying the Tubby Hayes big band pad for Simon Spillett. I have a nice couple of gigs with Elaine Delmar and my own big band coming up at the Pizza Express Holborn on November 20th as part of the London Jazz Festival. We also have a couple of gigs coming up with Rory Ingham’s Trombone Assembly (five trombones and three rhythm) for which I’ve been busy composing and arranging.’

A nice mix in anybody’s book! 

If you would like to see more about this concert or book tickets please CLICK HERE 

Fantastic New Interview with Claire Martin

Posted: Wednesday August 17, 2022

Claire Martin Interview chatting about Autumn Jazz Greats appearance

Claire Martin Jazz Singer - JBGB Events - Jazz in London

Claire Martin sings at Piano Smithfield, Long Lane, Barbican

 on Friday and Saturday October 14th and 15th at 8pm



Q.  You’ve performed at the Proms and all over the world in large venues. What brings you to the intimate Piano Smithfield at the Barbican.

Claire: There is a real buzz about Piano Smithfield.  We need new venues. I know this place has a great atmosphere with good sound and lighting and enthusiastic audiences, so I’m very keen to perform there.  



Q. You’ve performed with large bands so who is with you tonight

Claire: Nikki Iles, British jazz awards best pianist, is a most sensitive imaginative accompanist, along with the legendary Dave Green on double bass. We’ve called the show “Three’s Company”….. we have been friends for many years and this is our first outing together.  I’m really looking forward to making music with them,  they’re both outstanding.



Q. What can audiences expect across the two nights?

Claire: They will be personal and intimate evenings, with much loved songs from the great American songbook plus many British gems together with some lesser known tunes which give the opportunity for some experiments, all with a swinging style.  I love singing the lyrics of Cole Porter and Gershwin alongside more contemporary writers like Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder.  



Q. You have won more best jazz singer awards than anyone, you are rated  one of the all time great jazz singers; sung with many greats ; awarded the OBE and won “Jazz album of 2021”. And only recently awarded “Best Jazz Singer” in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2022. A recent commentator described you as “one of the Crown Jewels of the jazz world”. What’s left to achieve?

Claire: The opportunity to discover new venues and new audiences, sending them home with a smile on their faces and a spring in their steps, is the most compelling adrenaline kick I know. I am also keen to play more festivals abroad now that the opportunity is back.  Every concert is a new challenge and I’m really looking forward to my debut concerts at Piano Smithfield as I’ve heard so many great things about it,  plus I’m with two of the UK’s finest jazz musicians!




Tickets for Claire Martin’s “Three’s Company” 8pm concerts at 


Piano Smithfield on October 14 &15

are £20 +£1.50 booking fee,

 available at




James Hudson - The Nat King Cole Song Book Review

Posted: Monday October 18, 2021

James Hudson with The Nat King Cole Songbook 

is receiving rave reviews and we are so excited to be able to share one with you from Close up Culture who were blown away by his latest concert at Piano Smithfield on October 15th.


Click Here for the 5STAR Review 


You can catch James again at Piano Smithfield, Long Lane, Barbican, London on Tuesday 16 November with Swinging Songs from Broadway.

Click the image below for details–-swinging-songs-from-broadway.html