Artist Feature: Claire Martin, The Swedish Connection

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Claire Martin stands as a distinguished figure in the realm of British jazz, earning critical acclaim and solidifying her position as a prominent artist on the UK jazz scene. Over her illustrious career, she has been honoured with numerous awards, a testament to her significant contributions to the genre. Among her accolades, Claire has clinched the prestigious British Jazz Awards eight times and received the BASCA Gold Badge Award for her noteworthy impact on jazz. The pinnacle of recognition came in the form of an OBE for her Services to Jazz, bestowed upon her at the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2011.

Initiating her professional journey at the young age of 19, Claire Martin has woven an extensive musical tapestry, performing prolifically not only across the UK and Europe but also venturing into the USA, Russia, and China. Her repertoire extends beyond solo endeavours, as she frequently collaborates with eminent ensembles and orchestras, including the Halle Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, RTE Concert Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, BBC Big Band, and BBC Concert Orchestra. As a recording artist, Claire’s discography boasts over 24 albums, each showcasing her versatility and skill. Notable releases include the acclaimed “Too Much in Love to Care” in collaboration with pianist Kenny Barron, which secured the ‘Best New Recording’ award at the 2012 British Jazz Awards.

The year 2019 marked a prolific period for Claire, with noteworthy releases like ‘Bumpin‘ (Stunt Records), a celebration of Wes Montgomery’s music, and ‘Believin’ It,‘ a trio album with Claire’s all Swedish group, both earning critical acclaim. A collaboration with arranger Callum Au on ‘Songs and Stories’ with a full 82-piece orchestra and big band clinched the 2020 Parliamentary Jazz Award for ‘Best Album.’ Additionally, Claire’s substantial contribution extended to co-presenting BBC Radio 3’s flagship jazz program ‘Jazz Line Up’ from 2000 to 2017. Looking ahead, Claire gears up for the release of a new album in collaboration with the Swedish-based “Martin Sjöstedt Trio” on Stunt Records, coupled with an extensive tour throughout the UK and Europe, making her a compelling subject for exploration and conversation.


Claire’s journey into the professional realm of the jazz world commenced at the age of 19, with a gig singing standards at a holiday camp where performing music for those that wished to indulge in ballroom dancing. Drawing from her already extensive repertoire, largely acquired through her exposure to the genre from her jazz-loving parents, Claire’s audition showcased her familiarity with the repertoire, including a rendition of “A Foggy Day” followed by an adventurous foray into scat choruses, a move she humorously reflects on by saying, “I don’t know what I was thinking!!!” This initial experience set the stage for a transformative trajectory.

Transitioning from being the singer in a holiday camp band, Claire found herself performing on cruise ships, an environment that offered ample downtime for focused practice. Reflecting on this period, she notes, “There was a lot of downtime there, so I could really work on getting it together. I spent a lot of time studying the classic singers and the tradition. For Claire, this phase was akin to paid wood-shedding—a valuable period of honing her craft and immersing herself in the rich traditions of jazz.

Leaving the cruise ship marked a shift into a more entrepreneurial phase for Claire. She hustled to assemble her first band, collaborating with guitarist Jim Mullen. Together, they navigated the vibrant landscape of the London jazz scene, marking a pivotal chapter in Claire’s career as she carved her path into the heart of the UK jazz world.

In the early 2000s, Claire ventured into the American jazz scene, sharing the stage with esteemed pianists Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and Bill Charlap. Recalling her residency at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, Claire emphasizes the invaluable connections she made during that period. She explains, “At the time, I didn’t really tour there; I was mostly just in and out doing bits and bobs, really! The Algonquin Hotel was great as it gave me a working visa, so I have dipped my toe in those waters as much as I can over the years.”


Claire acknowledges the significant impact of her experiences in the US, noting that they ultimately led to the recording of “Too Much in Love to Care” with jazz legend Kenny Barron. When asked about the album’s genesis, Claire candidly shares, “Kenny is one of my heroes, so I simply just asked him. I was working at the Algonquin at the time, and Kenny came down, and we had a coffee together and spoke about it—how we’re going to do it and what we wanted to record—and the next thing I know, we were in the studio.” Claire reflects on the recording process, highlighting the relaxed atmosphere, the support from the record company, and the efficiency that resulted in tracking the entire album in about a day and a half.

The success of “Too Much in Love to Care” marked a pivotal moment in Claire’s career, garnering the ‘Best New Recording’ award at the 2012 British Jazz Awards. The album served as an introduction to a broader American audience, a strategic move that Claire recognizes as essential for her continued growth in the industry.

In addition to her work in the conventional small band format, Claire Martin has actively engaged in performances and recording projects with larger orchestras and ensembles. One notable collaboration took place in 2019 when Claire teamed up with the emerging arranger Callum Au for the album ‘Songs and Stories,’ featuring a full 82-piece orchestra and big band, released on Stunt Records. Reflecting on the collaboration, Claire acknowledges Callum Au’s rising stature as an arranger, stating, “When he called me for the project, I thought he just meant doing a few songs, but he meant the whole album. It was really so nice to be able to do an album that I didn’t have to arrange myself; I was just a hired gun effectively.”

Furthermore, Claire recently unveiled a new album titled ‘I Watch You Sleep,‘ a collaborative effort with American conductor, arranger and pianist Scott Dunn, alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, released in March 2023. This project serves as a tribute to their late friend Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, featuring his songs alongside pieces that Richard cherished performing. Describing the recording process, Claire notes, “This was a completely different beast, as we recorded this live in the studio with the orchestra. It was a bit scary because it meant you couldn’t comp tracks together, so you had to nail it all in a single take. I really had to gear up for that.”


One of the main reasons for our conversation with Claire at this juncture was the exciting news of her upcoming album titled ‘Almost in your Arms’, an extensive tour in collaboration with the trio led by Swedish-based multi-instrumentalist Martin Sjöstedt, set to be released in the Autumn of this year on Stunt Records. Claire revealed that their connection dates back to a few years ago when she was part of a European project paying tribute to Nina Simone, together with American based saxophonist Grace Kelly and pianist Lynne Arriale. For this tour Martin Sjöstedt (bass), and Daniel Fredriksson (drums), formed the basis of the rhythm, laying the foundation for their current ongoing collaboration. Claire recalled, “After that tour had finished we sort of just kept it going. One day we were playing Ronnie Scott’s, and Martin started playing piano. So, as it transpired, at that time there was a line-up shift in my band and Martin ended up taking over the piano chair and Niklas Fernqvist came in on bass, and all of a sudden, I had a full Swedish trio behind me.”

While the upcoming album is not the trio’s first collaboration, Claire clarified, “We did an album in 2019 called ‘Believe in It,’ so this album is sort of a follow-up — ‘Believe in It’ mark 2 if you will.” Regarding the repertoire on the new album, Claire noted, “There is a more contemporary slant to it; there’s a few standards but also a lot of original music as well. All in all, it’s a nice mixture, exactly what I wanted to do this time around.” She also shared that the album would feature selected guest artists, including Joe Locke on vibes, singer Charlie Wood, and Karl-Martin Almqvist guesting on sax. When asked about including these guests on the up-coming tour, Claire expressed, “I wish, but it’s just impossible to have them all when it comes to scheduling, so it will be largely just the trio and myself. We’ll have to see but it’s possible we may have Karl-Martin on some of the shows.”

Regarding the upcoming tour, Claire stated that the dates in the UK are locked in and as far as the European dates are concerned that these are currently being locked in and should be able to be announced around the summer. While specific dates for the European leg are still in the process of being solidified, Claire emphasized, “We will definitely be playing some Scandinavian dates, I know there are dates on the books for Denmark and with Martin and the guys being in Sweden I’m sure we’ll be playing some gig s there, My agent, Craig Hume at Funkgurus Artist Management is working on it as we speak so I’m looking forward securing the dates soon”.

As we discussed the live aspect, Claire was quite candid when reflecting on the diverse audiences she has encountered over the years, particularly noting distinctions between European and British crowds. Observing a younger demographic in Europe, Claire attributes this to the strong funding for the arts on the continent. She remarks, “I sometimes feel that European audiences seem more adventurous and accepting of things that are difficult to pigeonhole.” While emphasizing the unique qualities of each audience, Claire expressed see enjoyed performing for American audiences, appreciating their enthusiasm, and humorously adding, “I think the accent helps! – I’ve been known to milk that!”

That said, Claire was more than keen to point out that although she loves touring and playing for new audiences her heart still lies with the UK audiences that have supported her since the beginning. She humorously adds “I’m not that much of a novelty in the UK now, I’ve been around for years, but I’m really grateful that they’re still coming out, I’m really lucky to have such a loyal public in the UK and I’m just so grateful for that.”

Amidst Claire’s impressive array of accolades, the OBE (Order of the British Empire) holds a distinctive place. Recounting the moment she learned of the honour, Claire shares a light-hearted anecdote involving initial skepticism, thinking her brother was playing a prank. Despite considering others more deserving, Claire accepted the award, acknowledging its gravity and significance and also expressed a profound connection to the BAFTA award she received for services to songwriting. Reflecting on the honours, Claire noted their motivational impact of being recognized for her work, “After all, being a freelance jazz musician is not the easiest thing in the world so a bit of a ‘pat on the back’ sometimes is not a bad thing.”

Claire’s multifaceted contributions to the world of jazz extend beyond the stage and studio, encompassing a remarkable 17-year stint co-presenting the BBC Radio 3 flagship radio jazz program from 2000 to 2017 alongside pianist Julian Joseph. Reflecting on this period, Claire shared, “It was a great experience. We did it month on month off, and it was a magazine show, so we not only played music but also covered what was going on in the scene and did a lot of artist interviews. It was a wonderful time – I was able to interview a lot of my heroes such as Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, Diana Reeves, Andrew Previn, and the list just goes on and on.”

In an era where long-term commitments to radio hosting are uncommon, Claire acknowledges the extraordinary nature of her 17-year tenure. She notes the show’s evolution into an institution but expresses regret over its discontinuation. Claire reflects, “Towards the end of its run, it changed hands a few times, and unfortunately, now it’s been dropped. It’s a real shame because it’s not easy to find good jazz programming on the radio these days. Of course, in the UK, you still have JazzFM, but I still think radio is relevant, and it’s a shame to see jazz not getting the airtime it deserves.”

Admitting that the demands of the show had become taxing toward the end, involving scripting, research, and commuting to London for recordings, Claire expresses contentment with redirecting her focus to live performances and other activities. Despite this, she confesses, “I do miss broadcasting; it was a great time.”

With the new album on the horizon and the upcoming tour, Claire’s schedule is tightly packed for the rest of the year. When asked about what’s next, Claire takes a thoughtful pause and shares, “Working with Martin and the guys has been great, and I don’t think we’re done yet, so there’s definitely going to be more of this. I was going to say more of the same, but that’s not accurate. Musically we’ve got a lot more to say, and I’m really interested to see where we can take this.”

Expressing contentment with her current team, including the band, agency Funkguru’s, and label Stunt Records, all of whom have been highly supportive, Claire expresses excitement about the future. She also highlights her production company, ECN, and looks forward to further developing it and engaging in more studio production. As our interview concludes, I asked Claire what’s still on the bucket list? The answer was simple: “Chasing the sun!”—a fitting sentiment to close our discussion on a dreary, wet day in Brighton.

More Information on Claire can be found at here at her artist website. Booking information can be found at the Funkgurus website.

All photos copyright of Kenny McCracken

Last modified: February 16, 2024