Trumpeter, composer, band leader, educator and writer – Jay Phelps has performed with some of the worlds top names. With an instantly recognisable warm and projecting tone, Canadian born Phelps is a household name on the Jazz scene in the U.K. and his international presence is steadily growing. From his own quartet to his other projects NBOC and SoulEndvr, Phelps, who is never idle, remains fresh and full of new ideas and concepts.
Jay Phelps is a Vancouver-born Canadian and was tutored by the city’s top Jazz and Classical trumpeters. He distinguished himself early on as the youngest band-leader in the Vancouver International Jazz Festival’s history at age 15.
In 1999 aged 17, Jay moved to London and immersed himself in the jazz scene immediately attracting the attention of Gary Crosby, OBE. In 2001, Jay went to Trinidad and Tobago for a month to perform in the carnival tent of the legendary Lord Kitchener, this was a great time of learning as he was thrown into the deep end from the first day, having to play lead trumpet. Upon arriving back to the UK, Gary Crosby offered him work with Jazz Jamaica, who featured people like high masekela and a position in the ‘Tomorrow’s Warriors’ (a hand picked program for young musicians). That same year, Jay went on the road in Europe, his first tour, with American Blue note legend Andrew Hill and his big band. This was a pivotal point in Phelps’ career as he was surrounded by many world class musicians. Citing Louis Armstrong, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown and Miles Davis as his early influences, in 2004- Jay went on to study at the world renown Trinity College of music, gaining an honours in Jazz theory and performance. During this time at college, Phelps created and co-lead the UK Jazz sensation, Empirical. They spent years touring major festivals with their self titled debut album, produced by Courtney Pine, while garnering worldwide media attention that UK Jazz musicians hadn’t enjoyed for years. Empirical is looked upon as one of the major cogs that kick started the current young British Jazz movement and Jay is a big part of that due to his role as a band leader and an enabler for many of the scenes top artists and groups. Artists and groups such as Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd, Femi Koleoso (Ezra Collective), Nubya Garcia, Ashley Henry, Reuben James, and many more. In 2008, and the same year that Empirical were garnering awards such as the EBU and Parliamentary Jazz, as well as becoming the first British band to perform at the Newport Jazz festival. Jay was approached by Amy Winehouse herself, in a park in London and mentioned that she had been watching the trumpeter perform for a while in various locations and asked if he would join her band. He joined the band for a few months of touring before having to make a decision between his own band or Amy’s; He decided to pursue his own creative path.
“Assured, clever, fluent, with a lovely soft-edged tone, he is already a player you could easily recognise after hearing him just once.”
The end of Jay’s studies in 2009, saw the beginning of his career as a leader. He was approached by Proper Records to record his debut album, ‘Jay Walkin’. Released in 2010, the record featured many great musicians including Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet), Jean Toussaint (Jazz Messengers), Gene Calderazzo, Michael Mwenso (The Shakes), Jonathan Gee and many more. The band toured Nationally and in Europe for a couple years until Jay was approached by famed Jazz club Ronnie Scott’s, to host a late night residency in 2012.
That year Jay guested with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Linclon Centre Orchestra for his epic, ‘Congo Square’; taking the chair of the master himself as he conducted the band and as Phelps puts it ‘A childhood dream, come true’.
Later that summer he proceeded to have two sold out nights with his own Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. The concerts featured ‘Movements for a Modern Artist’, a self commissioned four part – 35 minute original suite dedicated to artists today who are pursuing a creative path. That same year, Phelps joined the David Murray big band during the London Jazz festival at the Barbican hall, as well as opened the same show with his own Quartet.
After a successful year of hosting the Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s, Jay moved his night to the Hippodrome Casino, where he continued with his signature style. There he had even more room for variety with nights that featured big bands and dancers.
“…he has been compared to Wynton Marsalis, but Phelps has much more of a playful side to his approach.”
All About Jazz
From 2014-17, Phelps was constantly on the road internationally with various bands from renowned Brazilian groups Banda Black Rio and Edde Motta, joining the NPG horns for American Soul singer Liv Warfield (Prince band), to Rudimental, the Heliocentrics and Afro beat legend Orlando Julius. This busy tour schedule also included a world tour with famed director Peter Brook, for his play ‘The suit’. In 2015 Phelps joined the Chineke Orchestra for the inaugural concert, playing pieces by Beethoven, Mozart, and Bridgetower. This being the first ever concert by a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) orchestra. He has also had a long standing friendship and musical relationship with saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch, touring with his various groups. Along with playing many shows with his trio, a memorable tour was of a BFI commissioned project where Kinch wrote an original score to Alfred Hitchcock’s 2 hour silent film entitled – ‘The Ring’. The 8-piece band toured Russia, India and the U.K.
Jay has also expanded his wings into TV, where he featured in the band on BBC’s Dancing on The Edge, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. He has been on BBC’s CBeebies, introducing young viewers to the trumpet and recently has been on the big screen with Michael Cain in ‘King of Thieves’.
Jay has been awarded two substantial grants from the Arts council of England. The first in 2014, was to compose, arrange and tour new material for a project he named ‘Projections of Miles’. The group which consisted of modern saxophone greats Soweto Kinch and Logan Richardson, toured for months around the U.K. and gained the attention of many magazines and publications, including Jay’s feature on the cover of Jazz UK. The second in 2016, was to compose, arrange and tour new material for Phelps’ album ‘Free as the Birds’, which is a departure from the more traditional approach of his first and spanning over 2 years of intense world travelling and recording in locations such as Brazil, Thailand, London and New York, released on Ropeadope Records March, 2018. The new material also saw Phelps singing on record for the first time and featured some of New York’s leading musicians including David Binney, Nasheet Waits and John Escreet.
From 2014-present day, Jay has been been working closely with producer, trombonist, vocalist Neeyz (Courtney Brown). Their production duo, NBOC (Newborn Outcry) pushes the boundaries of music today and is a very unique blend of modern Hip-hop, Trap and Jazz. Their debut album released on American label Ropeadope Records, has been featured on programs such as Gilles Peterson, BBC radio, Jazz FM and Worldwide FM.
Currently, Phelps is working internationally with Ariwo (traditional Afro-Cuban meets Trance) and his various bands and has also founded a company – SoulEndvr, with designer Pritpal Ajimal and Courtney Brown, producing events of all kinds. The latest event and residency in London- ‘OST’ (original soundtrack), uniquely combines improvised music to short film or animation by independent filmmakers.
Jay has been performing professionally as a musician for over 20 years and is currently endeavouring to write scripts for TV and Film; and there’s plenty more to come from this versatile artist.
Jay has performed and recorded with a veritable who’s who of international Jazz and famed artists such as; Courtney Pine, Andrew Hill, Wynton Marsalis, Ray Brown, John Hendricks, Nasheet Waits, George Benson, Jamie Cullum, Sir John Dankworth, Jean Toussaint, Dennis Rollins, Guy Barker, Amy Winehouse, Charlotte Church, Sam Moore, Hugh Masakela, Jazz Jamaica, Mighty Sparrow, Soweto Kinch, Skatroniks, Ska Cubano, Chineke Orchestra, David Murray, Liv Warfield.