In Conversation with Pianist and Composer Naadia Sheriff

Written by | Interviews, News, Women in Jazz Media

Naadia Sheriff is a UK Jazz Pianist, Composer, Musical Director Arranger and educator. One of the most versatile pianists and musicians out there, her performance and arranging projects are impressive to say the least. She grew up in Bolton in the North West of England. It all began when her mum bought her a toy piano and taught her a few chords when Naadia was four to eventually finding her a piano teacher at the age of 7 – on a real piano. Naadia’s passion to perform saw the talented pianist joining every ensemble and band she could and by 15 she was earning money playing for amateur theatre productions, choirs and a ballet school. Her journey to jazz, really stemmed from her own drive to pursue it after studying Classical Music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Encouraged by her now musical peers Nikki Iles. Jason Rebello and Pete Saberton, she eventually went back for their Post Graduate Jazz Course. The journey from then has only gone from strength to strength, and quite frankly, I’d implore you to have a good listen and read on just how much she’s accomplished on her website.  Currently, as a pianist she plays piano and keyboard for numerous artists including:  Yazz Ahmed’s Polyhymnia and Hafla Bands; Irene Serra’s ISQ; singer- songwriter Lara Eidi; Dave Mannington’s Mingus Ah Um project to name few.  She’s also been recording with composer Mark Hardy in collaboration with Ralph Wyld, Dudley Phillips and Joanna Burnheart, as well as another exciting Chick Corea Tribute with Yazz Ahmed and musicians including Tim Garland.

At Women in Jazz Media we caught up with Naadia to discuss her story, inspiration, and her outstanding ability to juggle it all as a mother of two, in a musical household.

Photo by Robert Crowley

Lara: Naadia, there are so many ways to list your multiple talents and endeavours in your very versatile and impressive career. So, I want to dive right in with a question that’s more inclined to shed light on you, as the person behind the music: what was it that led you to the piano as your chosen instrument? Perhaps: That moment you knew you wanted to be a pianist?

Naadia: My Mum really encouraged me, buying me various toy pianos/small keyboards, teaching me basic chords and melodies and then finally hiring a piano and finding me a good teacher when I was 7. What made it stick? Somehow, I became convinced (at the age of about 5) that I could play anything if I just figured it out (such confidence! haha) which really tapped into my curiosity and desire for artistic expression, and then when I tried other instruments and realised, I was actually quite terrible at them… I decided to stick with the piano.


Lara: You’ve released several albums in collaboration with leading singers, both based in the UK and internationally. What is it that attracts you to working with vocalists?

Naadia: My love of Song and Drama.  Honestly. I have a deep love for artists like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. My way into Jazz was through the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook Series and I do Love Drama, both on and off-stage. The directness of communication through song really works for me, and I love accompanying.

Lara: Without delving into the layered discourse of what ‘jazz’ music is to you, I’d like to ask you this: when you play jazz music, how is it different from playing another closely related genre (folk, contemporary world etc)?

Photo by Tor Hills

Naadia: I would say it’s more challenging for me.  But also, very interesting and exciting.  While I love bringing a folk song to life and exploring that tradition – the connection to people and history is there with Jazz too but it’s another level of intricacy and complexity. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I find Jazz a bit intimidating which is the flipside of that, I guess.

Lara: Whilst you’ve earned the reputation for being. a sought-after pianist, arranger and collaborator, I wonder if there are any plans for a solo album / project sometime soon?

Naadia: There are so many projects and collaborations that I’d love to do. I need to get my act together and bring at least one of them to fruition….

Lara: Your teaching work has led you to a wonderful initiative called ‘ Kids Concert Club’. Tell us, how did that come about, and have you seen in impact your community?

Naadia: Yes, it’s been really cool. It started because of cuts to performance opportunities at my sons’ primary school. I put the first one on for them and their friends in a borrowed living room over two years ago.  Funding from the UK Lottery fund meant that the latest concert, just last week could be in a bigger venue and broadcast as a live radio show. All the performers found this really exciting and as it was in collaboration with the local sound-art community there were grown-ups performing too. It was a fantastic opportunity for people of all ages to work together which is quite a rarity. It’s also been nice to see links forged within the local community as a result of it.

Lara: I’d like to believe that the music community has finally taken a turn to make jazz music more inclusive for women, at least to a larger extent. You play out several roles: Naadia the artist, the pianist, the teacher, and a mother of two in a musical household. How, (and I say this with utter admiration) on earth do you manage it all?

Naadia: It’s a juggling act for sure. A balancing act… A tightrope walk…. Never a dull moment etc… What can I say? There are so many of us balancing work and life and there are good days and bad days.  Being freelance gives me some autonomy which I’m grateful for, and ultimately, it usually works out, just.

Lara: Have you prepared a specially curated program ahead of your Steinway Piano Festival Debut?

Naadia: Yes, Andrea had a little archive of Two-piano pieces and I brought a couple of tunes that I’d been working on over lockdown. There are one or two standards in there as well.  It’s been so great to work on Andrea’s music; we have a shared heritage and her compositions are just gorgeous.

Lara: In this ever-changing music industry, where nothing is ever certain, as musicians we all find ourselves with unexpected challenges. What would you say was the biggest challenge you’ve faced recently, and what advice would you give to the next generation of young, aspiring female musicians?

Naadia: I don’t know about the biggest challenge.  The pandemic of course, but also, I recently hit one of those moments where I suddenly realised, I’m another decade older… If you know what I mean…. And that’s a challenge.  But I’ve always felt against the clock having got into Jazz later in my education than I might have.  I look back on that though and think how ridiculous, to have felt too old at the age of 27!!! So that would be my advice to those starting out, remember that you have so much time on your side, so experiment, take risks, don’t limit yourselves, try it all out, and remember, you are amazing, creative wonderful young women with a lot to say so go for it! Express Yourselves! and let’s get the Party Started!

Photo by Robert Crowley

You don’t want to miss Naadia’s exciting debut at the prestigious Steinway Piano Festival which takes place on the 12th of March at 1:pm, at Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho. She’ll be joined by pianist Andrea Vicari, as well as another fantastic pairing of Ivo Neame and Sam Leak.

She’ll also be performing at the 606 Club on March the 31 with singer- songwriter Lara Eidi and Dave Manington, in a night dedicated to the art of song.


Last modified: March 10, 2022