Live Review of Abram Wilson Quartet at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London

4th April 2012

Being a jazz performer with his own vivid stories to tell, the London-based US trumpeter/vocalist Abram Wilson probably won't be bursting into grateful tears at comparisons with Wynton Marsalis. He would probably twist a wry smile at the gap between their respective funding levels, too. But there are certainly similarities. Wilson also comes from New Orleans, plays very classy trumpet with the blues power, street-party swing and expressive vibrato common to players from that city, and likes to make a gig an event rather than just a stream of enigmatic tunes and byzantine solos. He's currently touring with a tale of the extraordinary life and times of Philippa Schuyler, the mixed-race child piano prodigy turned journalist who died while reporting in Vietnam in 1967.

It's to Wilson's immense credit as a narrator and musician that he can balance this complex tale with a vivacious contemporary jazz performance that stands up in its own right. He sparingly applied his Nat Cole-meets-Motown voice to reflections on Schuyler's childhood, and later to her troubled search for love across America's racial divide. He kept his between-songs narrative tight, witty and moving, and delivered a series of glossy trumpet improvisations in the company of a young band (pianist Reuben James, bassist Alex Davis and drummer Dave Hamblett) that began cautiously, but then threw that to the wind. Light-stepping themes evoked Schuyler's childhood wonderment, from which Wilson segued gracefully into solos of pure long tones, tumbling runs and dramatic, circular-breathing trills. The 1930s Harlem Renaissance was represented in debonair dance grooves that turned into modern-swing closer to 50s Miles Davis, and the group touched on the Watermelon Man funk sound of the next decade as Schuyler's journey advanced. Wilson's next move is to turn it into a staged play. It is a work in progress that will be fascinating to follow.

Friday 6th April 2012 - The Guardian, John Fordham

Images - Ben Amure



I'm very happy to announce that Alex Davis, our bass player for the Abram Wilson Quartet has been accepted into two exceptional conservatoires in London - Trinity School of Music and Royal Academy School of Music! We're all really excited for him as he has made phenomenal progress and I'm sure will continue to do so. Check out this video which features Alex on our recent performance which generated rave reviews this week. Our fourth review of the gig can be read below, bringing us to the end of an incredibly prosperous year! Congrats to Alex and Happy Holidays to all! 

REVIEW: Sebastian Scotney for LondonJazz - Dec. 18, 2011

PHOTOS: Ben Amure

On Saturday I was at Abram Wilson's "New Orleans Christmas," bringing good music and a thoroughly good and warm vibe to Kings Place Hall One, with Jamaican vocal legend Myrna Hague, highly impressive Birmingham pianist Reuben James, Alex Davis on bass and guest drummer Jason Marsalis, joined at the end by Wilson's regular drummer Dave Hamblett. They were playing new music, and the confidence and the extroversion grew righly, greeably, through the course of the evening. Everything Wilson does with this group is based on dialogue and communication rather than display, and is all the better for that. As MC, poet, singer, composer (perhaps above all as composer), and as an ebullient presence on the London scene, we are truly blessed to have our very own resident New Orleans trumpeter. 


REVIEW: Sally Churchward, Daily Echo, Dec. 20, 2011

Photos: Ben Amure

A WARM slice of New Orleans at Christmas was served up to warm a chilly Southampton December evening at Turner Sims Concert Hall.

An extremely talented and charismatic trumpeter, vocalist, poet and more, Abram Wilson, pictured right, brought his stunning quartet to the venue for A New Orleans-Style Christmas Story.

The evening featured Abram’s short Christmas poems paired with soul-warming jazz.

They were joined by singer Myrna Hague who ratcheted up the style for the evening.

Her rich, warm vocals were the perfect accompaniment to the quartet and I would have gladly listened to her much more.

The poems and compositions covered such seasonal subjects as children being desperate to open their presents, being reunited with family members and sibling rivalry.

The real delight of the evening was watching all the musicians bouncing off each other and taking the compositions in unexpected directions.

Drummer Jason Marsalis drove the packed audience wild with an amazing, and exhausting-looking, solo during Soul Train.

Even double bassist Alex Davis put his instrument down to take it in.

It would have been impossible not to have been captivated by young pianist Reuben Jones, 18, whose talent was matched only by his enthusiasm as he bounced around on his stool while his hands whizzed over the keys.

It was clear that the band felt something special was happening on stage at the Turner Sims and I felt privileged to be a part of it.

A much-deserved encore ended the evening perfectly with a New Orleans jazz twist on the Christmas classic Winter Wonderland.

“If everyone had fun like this then we probably wouldn’t have any problems,” said Abram at the end of the night.

Stepping out of the auditorium into the cold night air, warmed by the experience we had just shared, it would have been hard not to agree.


REVIEW: Mike Hobart, Financial Times Dec. 20, 2011
Photos by Ben Amure
4 stars

On Saturday, trumpeter Abram Wilson presented two sets of new material for his quartet on the theme of a New Orleans Christmas – a scene-setting description and fragment of autobiographical poetry preceded each number. As with Thomas, Wilson’s Christmas started on Christmas Eve and involved presents, mischief and aunts, and, as with Tracey, Wilson’s music captured mood by refreshing established practices.

Wilson, now resident in London, was raised in New Orleans, and his recollections are free of Thomas’s dark corners. Strong on family values, they provided a convenient peg on which to hang some very good music – his parents grabbing late-night quality time was a surprising touch, with slinky rhythms and muted trumpet setting the tone.

Wilson’s stepped modal themes were well crafted and he had the musicianship and invention to sustain interest over both sets – pinched notes and Big Easy slurs added sparkle. There were guests – deep-toned vocalist Myrna Hague and drummer Jason Marsalis – and a standout young rhythm section who comfortably followed the rhythmic nuances of Wilson’s compositions. Highlights included Marsalis’s clean brushwork, impeccable beats and the insistent cowbell that drove his awkward-metre solo on “Soul Train”; mature-beyond-his-years pianist Reuben James consistently matching the leader for invention and wit; and the encore-winning “Drum Duel”, with Wilson’s regular drummer added for a fiendish, tempo-shifting two-drum joust themed on brotherly banter.


REVIEW:    Alyn Shipton, The Times -  Dec. 19, 2011

Photos: Ben Amure

The expat New Orleans trumpeter turns freezing London into a sizzling club in the heart of the French Quarter

They take Christmas seriously in New Orleans, and for a couple of hours of joyous celebratory music and poetry, the trumpeter Abram Wilson brought the seasonal sounds and sentiments of his home town to his adopted city of London. He was helped by his fellow New Orleanean, the drummer Jason Marsalis, younger brother of Wynton and Branford, whose deft hands conjured up the rhythmic complexity of the Big Easy with fluency and grace.

Stylistically, Wilson’s quartet takes mid-1950s Miles Davis as its starting point. The leader shares Davis’s clean trumpet tone, economical sense of melody and penchant for occasional dramatic upper register forays. The band’s young pianist from Birmingham, Reuben James, rolls together aspects of the playing of Red Garland and Wynton Kelly, but his wry showmanship perhaps owes most to Horace Silver. A telling right-hand phrase is marked for the audience by a raised arm, a half smile or a happy rocking to and fro on the piano stool.

But what took the band firmly into New Orleans territory — and away from the Davis influence — was Marsalis. His playing was a gumbo of complex metres, with a lengthy solo built over a recurring cowbell phrase showing how a plethora of variations could be fashioned round it.

Each piece was an original Wilson composition, inspired by a short poem about aspects of a family Christmas, from the anticipation of presents to lavish Creole food. Some lyrics became songs for the charismatic Jamaican vocalist Myrna Hague. She really came into her own on the encore, a Crescent City re-working of Winter Wonderland, where her singing was joined by the amiable voice of Wilson himself. At its best, the quartet played as one man, Alex Davis’s bass locking onto Marsalis’s bass drum and James’s left hand to create a rollicking platform for Wilson’s fieriest solos.

In a piece called Soul Food they left freezing London far behind. We were transported to a sizzling club in the heart of the French Quarter, swaying to the music and ready for the étouffée and jambalaya of a seasonal feast.




Wow! This week was busy, it started off with a meeting with Serious on Monday evening where we shared ideas and talked about possible future projects.  The next day I had a meeting with Harrow Arts Centre to chat with them about visuals for the gig on 18th November, we're all really looking forward to it. Later I met with Kings Place to discuss a pilot education programme for this November leading up to the New Orleans Christmas Style Story gig on 17th December.

On Wednesday it was the London Jazz Festival launch in Smithsfield, man it was PACKED. Met some very cool people and caught up with some old friends, great night and very excited about doing the Jazz for Toddlers series between 13th - 19th November.

On Thursday Miss Myrna Hague came over for a rehearsal, we had some tea beforehand and chatted about her first ever gig in London. I recorded some of it on film which I'll post later in the week. That evening I headed off to the Soho Hotel to review LOUIS: Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin and the birth of jazz for Sebastian Scotney's blog LondonJazz. Check it out below. 

Friday evening I had a meeting with my booking agent and we have some goooooood gigs lined up for next year and some even better ones in the pipeline. To find out more about next year’s projects click on Current Projects.

Yesterday I was in the studio with my good friend Vicki Hart-Dale recording in time for her gig on 14th October at 333 Club in Old Street. And today, I've been writing. Definitely one of the busiest weeks this year...Enjoy the review.

 Abram Wilson reports from this week's press screening of LOUIS 

Throw the story of a young Louis Armstrong who dreams of his own cornet, the black and white silent film tradition of Charlie Chaplain, the lustful red light district of early 20th century New Orleans, not to mention some great music and you have the new silent film directed by Dan Pritzker. 

Based on a montage of fictitious stories told from several points of view, LOUIS: Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin and the birth of jazz reinforces how jazz runs directly in line with the life that it came from. 

The talented and charismatic Anthony Coleman plays a fictitious six-year old Louis Armstrong, his passion is his small, old cornet which he doesn’t know how to play but does it anyway regardless. He was a real joy to watch and left me wanting more of his story. 

The beautiful and captivating Shanti Lowry plays Grace, a mulatto prostitute living and working in the dark corners of the whorehouses. Her story tells one of many black women during that era and the daily battles they faced leading them to make some extremely harsh decisions. 

Jackie Earle Haley plays the grotesque, vain and ambitious Governor Perry. Haley succeeds in getting under your skin, stopping at almost nothing to get what he wants and demonstrating strong comedic elements of dark humour throughout the film.

With its crystal clear picture, the sharp cinematography gives a contemporary feel to the traditional silent movie genre. But, unsurprisingly, the highlight was the music, gracefully switching between compositions by Creole pianist and composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk performed by pianist Cecile Licad and music by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Wynton Marsalis. The latter was performed by an all-star septet including Marsalis himself, Wycliffe Gordon, Wessel Anderson, Herlin Riley and Reginald Veal. The music was of the highest quality and its execution was flawless and most importantly, swinging. This, along with Armstrong-esque versions of West End Blues and Tiger Rag made me very excited at the thought of seeing the band perform this incredible music live to film at the London Jazz Festival. 

Louis will be screened at the Barbican on Sunday November 13th at 3pm and 8pm as part of the London Jazz Festival 



An extraordinary musical journey. In between songs Abram talked through the parts of Philippa Schuyler's inspiring but tragic biography that had inspired each one, but the imaginative depth and scope of his playing needed no explanation. Each song brought a new thrill of emotional definition and colour. There is a fearless expressiveness in Wilson’s playing that cuts right through the laid-back virtuosity that so many people can find off-putting in jazz as a genre (me included at times). And this means that when he breaks away into passages of playfulness or irony, he taps right into that old liberating joy that seems to belong specially to the trumpet in jazz. All this would not have been possible, either, without the touch and freedom with which the rest of the quartet related musically throughout. Steve Pringle on the piano, in particular, moved easily between lonely, spacious meditations and soft rolling grooves, and Matt Fisher’s drumming managed to be avidly energetic, subtly sharp and swinging by turns. A great night indeed…

By Harry Acton


By Richard Bennett: Jazzwise Magazine, June 2011

While the collaborations of arranger/composer Gil Evans and jazz icon Miles Davis, produced some seminal albums, during the late 50s and early 60s, it’s not very often that you have the chance to hear their work in a live situation. Tonight, that chance came in the form of the 1958 album Porgy and Bess, performed in its entirety, courtesy of the University of Southampton’s Progression Ensemble featuring Abram Wilson. From the dramatic opening notes of the albums first track, the Buzzard Song, it was evident that the complex arrangements of Evans were in safe hands. Led by musical director Dan Mar-Molinero, the group of young players stayed true to the feel of the albums original sound. With a strong trumpet and trombone section, Evans ability to make a big sound with so few instruments was carried off with ease.

Abram Wilson’s subtle and emotional playing was allowed to roam and at times soar throughout the evening, thanks in part to the solid foundation provided by the reeds of Rosie Stano, Teresina Morra, Anna Robinson and Lizzie Parkes. The rhythm section of double bass player Will Scott-Hartley and Alex Storksen-Coulson on drums held down the low end, allowing Wilson to prove why he is currently one of the hottest jazz trumpeters around. 


Review: Abram Wilson @ Kings Place

Abram Wilson: Life Paintings and Singing Pictures (Kings Place, 21st May 2011. Review by Stephen Vakil, Photo Credit: Ben Amure)

Abram Wilson almost blew the roof off Kings Place on Saturday night when he premiered Singing Pictures, five self-written songs inspired by paintings of young artist Sheila Maurice-Grey. The new songs, introduced by a question and answer session between Maurice-Grey and Wilson, reaffirmed Wilson's credentials as a writer, arranger and performer.

Although only playing together for a month, Wilson's band (Dave Hamblett on drums, Alex Davis on acoustic bass and Reuben James on piano) was as tight and well-honed as the material demanded. In particular, 18 year old James delivered a standout performance which belied his youth.

For the second half, Wilson dipped into his 2009 album, Life Paintings, with songs including From Dusk 'Til Dawn, the gentle Even Though You're Bad For Me and Obama. The encore, Longing For Love, was another recent work, first performed only a few weeks ago as part of Wilson's project, Philippa, based on the life of child prodigy Philippa Schuyler. It not only provided another opportunity for Wilson to demonstrate his mastery of the trumpet but also to showcase his talents as a vocalist.


Review: Abram Wilson Philippa

Abram Wilson Quartet: Philippa (Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, 12th April 2011. Review by Rosie Hanley for LONDONJAZZ, Photo Credit: Ben Amure)

On Tuesday night Abram Wilson premiered his latest project, Philippa, a collection of compositions celebrating the life of pianist Philippa Duke Schuyler. Philippa was a child prodigy born in Harlem to a noted black journalist and a domineering white mother. She was an incredible classical musician, roving journalist and a 1940s and 50s racial icon.Her life was tragically cut short by a helicopter accident over Vietnam in 1967. The book Compositions in Black and White by Kathryn Talalay goes further into her story.

Abram was joined by new band line up of Stephen Pringle on piano, Yuri Galkin on double bass and Matt Fisher on drums. The quartet opened with ‘Adventures in Black and White’ which represents Philippa’s mixed-race life. As always Abram’s playing was elegant and his affinity for the trumpet and immense technique were displayed through his straight ahead jazz style. A polite, well-prepared host, he narrated the evening with charm.

The rhythm section drifted in and out of a steady groove and at times seemed a little unsettled, but this unevenness is sure to get ironed out, if, as is to be hoped, Philippa gets the repeat performances it deserves. But the excellent extended piano solo from Pringle on ‘Wolves’ complemented by sympathetic drum fills from Fisher, however, proved what the band are capable of when they let go. ‘The Harlemites’, a composition representing the community that Philippa grew up in, was the highlight of the evening, expertly telling a story through the music.

The quartet began the second set with ‘Steak and Potatoes’ and ‘The Cogdells’ written in dedication to Philippa’s divergent parents. ‘The Cogdells’ was rougher than the other compositions, with dynamic motives and a melody reminiscent of ‘Caravan’.

Abram’s tender vocals delivered heartfelt lyrics on ‘Longing for Love’ leaving the audience moved before the evening came to an end with the powerful ‘Hidden Blues’, another excellent composition featuring fantastic solos from Pringle and Wilson.

It was encouraging to see a somewhat forgotten female musician being celebrated and brought to prominence through jazz, even more so, to see a male musician acknowledging the difficulties some women have faced and do face in the genre. Abram proved himself not only as an exceptionally talented trumpeter, but also as an accomplished composer, and an ambassador both for jazz and for a neglected woman. A promising premiere.