NYJO Stories: Olivia Murphy

February 15, 2024

When Olivia was 15, an interest in Jazz led her to the then called NYJO Academy (now NYJO Under 18s programme), where she joined Phil Meadows and Gemma Buckingham’s groups, getting on a train from Peterborough every Saturday to attend their sessions, which focused on aural and ensemble playing skills, respectively. By then, Olivia had only had a year’s worth of saxophone lessons from school as part of her GSCE Music. NYJO was her first introduction to both ensemble playing and improvisation, as well as a place to meet likeminded young musicians and start building a network of peers.

The learning was really helpful but also being around other people doing jazz and improvised music – people from all sorts of backgrounds – was great. Just being around other young musicians who were interested in the same type of music, we would exchange references and share the music that we liked with each other. I found out about loads of different artists I hadn’t heard of before and none of my friends from school knew them!

Playing with others cemented Olivia’s love for jazz, which led her to the jazz saxophone course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where she developed a keen interest in composition. Shortly after graduating in 2019, she joined the NYJO Emerging Professionals as a young composer. While most of her tenure as NYJO’s Composer Chair ended up being spent over the national COVID-19 lockdowns, this quiet time with no performances allowed her to focus on a project for NYJO: writing the arrangements for what would become our first post-pandemic national tour, Amy Winehouse: a Celebration of Her Life & Music, which Olivia also guest MD’d.



Since then, and particularly since the beginning of 2023, Olivia has been more heavily involved in delivering NYJO’s Learning work around the country, and more recently has become an educator on our Saturday programme – leading the NYJO Under 18s Band, which focuses on ensemble playing – coming full circle from her first interaction with NYJO as a young musician herself.

Teaching and leading something that’s focused on improvised music and jazz is great, because it helps encourage younger people to see themselves in that music, creating a positive first-access into it, which I think is really important to keep people intrigued and excited about music and not thinking of it as a one-way thing, that you have to do a certain or specific way.

As an educator, Olivia has played a pivotal role in some of our recent Learning outreach projects, NYJO’s Widening Access work, which aims to address access barriers faced by young musicians around the country, and bring the joys of music-making to communities who don’t have as many opportunities to learn it. A project that stands out to Olivia as particularly rewarding was the Composition residential we delivered in Cumbria, where young musicians at different stages of their musical journey got together for four days to create an original piece of music, spending the long weekend in an immersive environment that combined music-making sessions with outdoor activities, in a project aimed at fighting rural isolation in the county.

It was so inspiring! When you’re in that quite intensive environment, doing three rehearsals a day, working on different aspects of playing, you really get to know the young people and find their strengths. You’ll start the week with young kids who are really shy and don’t want to do a solo, and you’ll end it with everyone putting their hands up to do a solo or saying something really inspiring and insightful.



Besides her work at NYJO, Olivia leads her own ensemble, the Olivia Murphy Jazz Orchestra, which also features a lot of former NYJO members. First established as a result of Olivia winning Help Musicians’ Peter Whittingham Award, the OMJO played their debut performance in 2022 to a sold-out Birmingham Symphony Hall Stage, playing Olivia’s original compositions.

One of the most important things was looking for people who I thought were really talented on their instrument, but also, to have a big band that looks like the jazz scene and is representative of it. This is not about getting a particular figure or number in terms of, for example gender or race, but having an environment that is positive and where no one walks into a rehearsal room and thinks: “this is not for me.” I think it’s important that younger people seeing my band see the Birmingham and London jazz scenes represented on stage, it will help propel the music forward in a positive way.

Olivia’s is a great example of what a musician’s experience with NYJO might look like. From first joining us as an under 18 musician herself, to becoming a brilliant educator, working with young musicians taking their first steps into the world of jazz and music-making. We are proud to have been and continue being part of Olivia’s development as a musician and creative, and hope to keep working together for many years to come.

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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