NYJO Stories: Jennie Beard

March 11, 2024

Before joining NYJO, Jennie had a background in folk music and musical theatre. After coming close to giving up music at 16, she started piano lessons with Mark Brown – who happened to be a jazz pianist and educator – during the COVID-19 lockdown. This awakened an interest in the genre, further nurtured by Naadia Sherriff. In South Oxfordshire, where she grew up, opportunities to take this interest further and learn ensemble playing were few and far between but, by chance, someone in her class at Sixth Form had heard of NYJO and suggested Jennie give it a try.

As a neurodivergent person, Jennie sometimes struggles to connect with people. Playing jazz has given them an outlet to express herself in ways that transcend words, helping them communicate how she feels most comfortable: through music.

I’m not always great with words, or facial expressions, or tones of voice, so being able to play music and especially jazz has been a real lifeline for me because – and this is going to sound so cheesy! – when I’m improvising it feels like someone has kind of cracked open my head and you can kind of see how my brain works in a really unique way.



In 2021, after an audition, Jennie joined the (then known as) Intermediate group led by drummer Jas Kayser, where she spent 6 months before moving on to the more advanced sessions, led by drummer and educator Winston Clifford. In Winston’s group, Jennie found a supportive yet challenging environment, where mistakes were encouraged and treated as an inevitable side-effect of progress.

If a teacher can relax you, you’ll be able connect better with the other musicians in the room. You’re not going to connect if you’re stressed about getting things right. But with Winston we weren’t stressed. It’s this ‘aiming to get things right, but being able to have a laugh when they go wrong’ philosophy that makes NYJO feel the way it does.

Winston’s holistic approach to teaching also helped Jennie reconnect with her love for singing, which she lacked confidence to do in public before joining NYJO. In Winston’s class, everybody – vocalists and instrumentalists alike – is encouraged to “get the music in their bodies” through clapping, humming the harmony, and even scat singing. This means that no one is limited to their role in the ensemble, but actively pushed to feel the music as well as read and play it.

You can hear Jennie in conversation with Winston and Nancy, another NYJO Under 18s musician, about their experience in his class here:



While at NYJO, Jennie applied to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in Cardiff, where she is now studying jazz. She is also regularly taking part in and writing arrangements for ‘Jazz Time’, a weekly performance in the RWCMD’s foyer, as well as doing stand-up comedy.

I don’t think I would be here without NYJO. That’s what gave me the ensemble experience to play and interact with other musicians. It really helped me strengthen my skills. I think that’s one of the things that got me here. (…) it also gave me confidence to perform. I got used to playing in front of people. It’s given me confidence that I’m good at something.

Before enrolling, Jennie did her first paid job in music: NYJO’s First Time Jazz school tour, in North Lincolnshire and Thurrock. Jennie joined a group of NYJO musicians to deliver this first-access Learning project, whose goal was to showcase jazz as a genre to young pupils who might not have had the chance to engage with it yet. Having started her jazz journey relatively late in life, Jennie understands that it is never too late to get into

There is something really special about sitting in a secondary school that is eerily similar to my own, in a band of great musicians, and having 200 kids sing ‘Valerie’ back at you and come up and see what you’re doing on the piano. It’s really special. You can see them light up and you can see them go “oh, this is what jazz is! This is what music is. That’s what it’s all about and that’s how it should feel to be part of it.”



Once she feels more settled in the new and exciting environment of higher education, Jennie wants to remain involved with NYJO as an Emerging Professional and hopes to continue having the opportunity to inspire children and young people around the country to learn jazz as a NYJO Educator.

Lucy-Anne (EP quote)

“Since joining NYJO, I’m so much more confident as a performer. Especially in terms of being able to entertain and keep the crowd engaged with you. It’s really nice to be able to feel that difference.” 

Lucy-Anne, NYJO Emerging Professional (Vocals)

Georgia (EP quote)

“It’s hard to just learn this music in the practice room but being immersed in the music at NYJO is a great environment to really push my playing. ” 

Georgia Ayew, NYJO Emerging Professional (Drums)

Sam Eastmond (MD quote)

"Giving them space to create whatever they wanted, without setting parameters of idiom or style helped them to conceptualise how they could bring these new concepts into their work without scaring them off, or mystifying the process."

Sam Eastmond, NYJO Educator

Jazzwise quote

"NYJO has never been conformist, never hewing to one particular line, never known for fawning replications and very deliberately these days a vehicle for new possibilities."

Jazzwise Magazine

Lydia (EP quote)

"The past year has been an absolutely incredible experience, pushing me way out of my comfort zone into playing with some of the greatest young jazz players of my generation and getting to call them my colleagues and friends has been beyond inspiring, and also an obscene amount of fun!"

Lydia Cochrane, NYJO Emerging Professional (Saxophone)

Anna (Learning national quote)

"[The NYJO residential in Cumbria] helped me to make friends with other young musicians. I enjoy playing a lot more and I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished. I feel more confident now. I have learnt different ways of coming up with solid melodies and also a little bit on harmonies. I think it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had."

Anna, NYJO Learning Widening Access participant

Briony (Learning U18s quote)

"I’ve felt very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing musicians, and I think that the environment at NYJO – which has fostered creativity and improvisation – has allowed my confidence and musical ideas to grow."

Briony, NYJO Under 18s

Oscar (Learning U18s quote)

"I think I’ve progressed a lot in my piano-playing. NYJO has helped me to flourish and really enjoy it. I’ve really enjoyed being engrossed in a high level of playing and learning things in a hands-on-way. I also like the diversity of perspectives and abilities of all the players and teachers which enables me to try things I might not normally."

Oscar, NYJO Under 18s

Jennie (Learning U18s quote)

"NYJO has got me listening to more jazz and learning more changes. It has also helped with working as a band. I’ve really enjoyed the free jazz, learning by ear, the people, and the atmosphere."

Jennie, NYJO Under 18s

Leah-Anais (Learning U18s quote)

"I love the people at NYJO. Everyone here is so encouraging and lovely and it makes the experience worthwhile. Though I have fun I’m still learning on the way which makes me feel productive too."

Leah-Anais, NYJO Under 18s

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