Nikki Iles wins Ivors Composer Award for jazz

Other jazz nominees included Brigitte Beraha and Ivo Neame and special awards went to Cleveland Watkiss and Zoe Rahman

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"Innovative musician" Cleveland Watkiss (left) and Ivors awards chair Julian Joseph

Pianist and composer Nikki Iles has won the Ivors Composer Award for jazz composition 2021, for her piece The Caged Bird. The work was among five nominations for the award, the others being Bye and Corncrack Dreams (both by Alex Patton), Dreams (by Brigitte Beraha and Dave Manington) and The Rise Of The Lizard People (by Ivo Neame).

The awards were conferred at a ceremony hosted by Tom Service and Sara Mohr-Pietsch at the British Museum on 8 December which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s New Music Show at 10pm on 11 December.

Iles said of The Caged Birds: “The opening is a lament to the loss of flight, the birds depicted by the woodwinds, their wings by the brushes of the drums, trying to break free. The piece is through-composed and it grows to a feeling of elation and hope, with the birds flying free in the last section.” It was performed in November 2020 by the Royal Academy Big Band but is the only nomination not available to sample online.

In addition in the jazz sphere, two special awards were made. Singer and composer Cleveland Watkiss, a co-founder of the Jazz Warriors big band, received the “Innovation Award” for being “a pioneer in the universe of sound”. He was described as “an innovative musician who is sensitive to the conditions that allow creative improvisation to thrive”. Pianist Zoe Rahman received the Impact Award. The Ivors Academy noted that she blended influences from her English, Irish and Bengali background to make legitimate jazz and that she “puts a spotlight on jazz from the UK as an international musical force”.

The Ivor Novello Awards were first presented in 1956 and winners outside the classical world have included Lennon & McCartney, Lynsey De Paul, Amy Winehouse, Stan Tracey and Django Bates. The current chair of the Ivors Academy’s Awards Committee is pianist and BBC jazz broadcaster Julian Joseph, and among the 40 judges familiar names from the British jazz scene were Yazz Ahmed, Paula Gardiner, Mark Lockheart, Orphy Robinson, Alison Rayner, Shirley Tetteh and Ed Puddick. Award winners receive a trophy but there is no prize money.