Sheffield Music Live: Sheffield Artist Jemma Freese reveals new project following “Terrifying” loss of body strength

J Frisco and Maximo Park keyboardist, Jemma Freese, launches her debut project ‘Shadow Boxing’ in a double bill performance with singer-songwriter August Charles at Yellow Arch in Sheffield on Thursday, December 9, 2021.

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 11:44 am
Updated Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 4:37 pm

The gig, in association with Jazz at The Lescar, will see Sheffield-based Jemma relaunch as a Jazz North northern line artist following her loss of body strength, which included full use of her hands.

Composed during her illness and recovery, her new music is not just about recovery but reinvention. “This is the first time I felt fearless about music,” says Jemma. “I had lost the use of my arms and hands, which, especially as a piano and keyboard player, was terrifying. I had encountered my worst fear. But, with writing this music I had nothing else to lose. In a way, I felt freer than ever before as a composer. I discovered new parts of me I didn’t know were there, or maybe they had just grown. This music was my only distraction from my pain and the looming unknowing of what the future held.”

In 2020, Jemma lost the strength in her whole body. Bed-bound with global shooting pains and a weakness that doctors couldn’t diagnose, Freese found herself unable to play her instrument for several months, temporarily halting her performance career. She is currently still recovering and has worked hard to keep playing in bands and projects. Her new music is a deeply emotional story about the beginning of a personal journey; from losing oneself to finding a new self. All while simultaneously dealing with a history of depression, anxiety and short-term PTSD — the only thing that kept her going was her indestructible desire to create.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Defined as ‘the activity of sparring with an imaginary opponent as a form of training’, shadow boxing is Jemma’s daily ritual to build up physical strength and confidence; it also serves as a mental exercise, preparing for the world, facing invisible enemies, and fighting inner battles.

On her album ‘Shadow Boxing’, due for release in 2022, Freese draws from a plethora of genres, using contemporary jazz metal riffs, heavy synths, sub-bass, and classical piano to create a new pathway of contemporary jazz, which she describes as “ethereal math”.

Jemma Freese will be accompanied by a five-piece band: Katie Patterson on drums, Beth O'Lenahan on bass, Jess Ayers on guitar, Grace Alexander on keyboard, Caitlin Laing on backing vocals. Jemma is a Jazz North northern line ambassador artist.

Joining Jemma for the double bill at Yellow Arch is August Charles, a singer-songwriter whose musical vocabulary takes in soul, R&B, indie-pop, and jazz. Fresh from performing at 2021’s Tramlines, and with his latest song ‘Blessed’ making waves, August will be supported by a band drawn from the vibrant Leeds jazz scene. Born in Ndola, Zambia and raised throughout the UK, and now based in Leeds, August’s influences include Frank Ocean, Skinny Pelembe, Laura Mvula, and King Krule. He was recently listed by BBC Introducing as one of the upcoming black artists to watch, and his music has featured on BBC 6 Music.

"Writing this music I had nothing else to lose. In a way, I felt freer than ever before as a composer."

Jez Matthews from Jazz at The Lescar says, "We’re delighted to be working with Jazz North to present this double bill gig at Yellow Arch, featuring two really dynamic northern-based artists, both influenced in some way by jazz but creating vibrant new music at the edge of the genre. Yellow Arch studios is the ideal venue for this, and they’ve been incredibly supportive in helping us to keep the live music going during and since lockdown. We hope that the gig will excite our existing audience and bring in some new people who maybe haven’t tried out a Jazz at The Lescar event before."

Jemma Freese will be performing at Yellow Arch, Sheffield on Thursday, December 9, 2021.

Joining Jemma for the double bill is August Charles, a singer-songwriter whose musical vocabulary takes in soul, R&B, indie-pop, and jazz.