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Emma-Jean Thackray
Emma-Jean Thackray

Emma-Jean Thackray makes music to move the body, mind, and soul

The Yorkshire-raised, London-based jazz musician tells us about her Rain Dance EP

Emma-Jean Thackray is many things: a trumpeter, a producer, a multi-instrumentalist, a beatmaker, a composer, a DJ, and more. She’s also, now, a record label boss: Movementt is a new label, affiliated with the legendary Warp Records, set up by Thackray to showcase new music of her own as well as new talent from the wider jazz and exploratory music scenes that she’s involved with. Thackray’s manifesto for the label is simple: it’s music that moves the body, moves the mind, and moves the soul. “The coming together of the visceral, the cerebral, and music that nourishes the soul,” she says.

The Movementt label takes both its title and its mantra from a track of the same name on Thackray’s new EP, Rain Dance, which is due for release this Friday (March 6). The EP parlays Thackray’s diverse influences – classic jazz by Miles Davis and Alice Coltrane, LA’s leftfield hip hop beat scene, Moodymann’s unique Detroit house, etc – into four distinctive tracks.

Although she’s known for working within the London jazz scene, playing with the likes of Nubya Garcia and Ezra Collective, and performing at Total Refreshment Centre with her group Walrus, Thackray grew up in the north of England – specifically in Yorkshire, where she was immersed in the local brass band culture. Since those days, she’s gone on to be an artist-in-residence at the London Symphony Orchestra and host a show on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM. 

“I’m always on the go,” Thackray says. “Whether that’s discovering something new, creating, or just general restless twitchiness, I’m always doing something. I love learning, and I’m constantly trying to work on myself. Even in meditation, I play a loop of something on an instrument over and over to enter a trance state.”

We caught up with the musician to learn more.

Were any members of your family creative?

Emma-Jean Thackray: No. My family are very practical people, as are most of the people in the area that I grew up in. Growing up, I spent most of my time in my own head, reading, listening, or travelling to make music with other kids. I didn’t feel like I had any like-minded people around me, so my imagination was always in overdrive.

What sort of music would you hear around the house growing up?

Emma-Jean Thackray: My mum listened to a lot of 80s soul/pop, that kind of pop from back in the day with the catchiest hooks and great session musicians playing some really groovy shit. I still love that stuff even today, and it definitely gave me an appreciation for pop done well, which I’ve definitely taken through to my own music. Even if I’m making some freaky shit, there’s always a singable melody that sticks in your head.

How did growing up in Yorkshire influence your relationship with music?

Emma-Jean Thackray: Yorkshire has a really rich tradition of brass band music. I grew up playing in brass bands – my primary school even had a brass band – and that’s not only where I learnt my main instrument, the trumpet (first, cornet), but it’s where I learned to make a nice sound, not just individually, but as an ensemble. Making a great sound together is one of the most important things: everyone has to be listening, saying each note with the same syllable, shaping the phrases the same way... The timbre of brass will stay with me forever, that’s why my music is so brass-forward now.

What was the first music you discovered that you felt you could call your own?

Emma-Jean Thackray: I accidentally discovered Miles Davis. I was learning this quintessential brass band solo, “Concierto de Aranjuez”, at about 13/14, and it was that early, exciting time of downloading music (illegally, before anyone really thought about the consequences), and I accidentally downloaded the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version from Sketches of Spain. I was already listening to a lot of prog and classical music but no jazz at that point, and it was like my whole musical consciousness woke up, like that album was made for me. In my teenage, small-world outlook, I legit thought I’d discovered those guys. Cue me a few months later listening to A Love Supreme on a Walkman around my village while wearing a beret and dropping the Beatniks into casual conversation met with choruses of eyerolls.

Do you remember a particular moment from then that set you onto the path you’re on now?

Emma-Jean Thackray: For sure, I think it’s accidentally finding Sketches of Spain. It set me down the path of jazz and therefore everywhere else it’s taken me. Every step of my life since is a result of that moment. But to even have had that moment, I had to have been learning that brass band solo as a young teen, I had to have been surrounded by brass to have been learning that piece so young, to have played brass music at all, to have grown up where I did, gone to the school I went to, had the parents I did that saved up to buy me my first cornet second hand from a local music shop. Every single moment is important and leads to the next.

What’s been your most meaningful creative collaboration so far?

Emma-Jean Thackray: My band, without doubt. They help realise the soundworlds in my head, travel the world with me to give music to the people. I’m so grateful for what I do and who I do it with. They’re like my brothers, my best friends, we’re a unit. Although I’m writing everything, leading and producing, they have ownership of the music as well because there’s so much improvisation involved. We’re in each other’s heads and always aiming to reach that next level of consciousness where we not only sense what the others will do next, but act as one.

“I’m here for the long haul. I’ll be making music ’til my death day because it’s my purpose” – Emma-Jean Thackray

What can you tell us about your Raindance EP?

Emma-Jean Thackray: It’s a record that shows a lot of the different ways that I like to work: leading the band and playing live on the lead track “Rain Dance / Wisdom”, sampling the band and making new worlds by layering on top on the tracks “Open” and “Open (Again)”, and working on my own by playing everything myself, pretending to be different characters of a band on the final track and label anthem, “Movementt”. There’s no one genre, and it’s music of the three principles I think music should follow: music to move the body, move the mind, and move the soul. 

How did the Movementt label come about?

Emma-Jean Thackray: It came about through needing a home for all my music, no matter what form the music took. I’m connected to some very wonderful labels who are all doing such amazing things, and releasing with any one of them would have been a great path to take, but it felt like some things I create wouldn’t quite fit certain labels. I wanted a home for all of it, whether it was free jazz or house or both or in-between or neither – somewhere I could be myself and not feel restricted in any way. Everything released on Movementt, whether from myself or another artist, will follow the mantra of music that moves the body, moves the mind, and moves the soul. It’ll be music that balances the head and the feet, the cerebral with the visceral, forward thinking music grounded in groove, and it’ll all be music that nourishes the soul – music that matters, the real shit.

Who’s your dream collaboration?

Emma-Jean Thackray: DOOM. And a lot of the LA guys, like Thundercat, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Justin Brown – we’ll see!

What other artists are you excited by that you want to shout out?

Emma-Jean Thackray: Any artist that’s trying to make the real shit. Shouts to the Chicago fam: Angel Bat Dawid, Makaya McCraven, Junius Paul, et all! But special shouts to Angel. She’s never said a word or played a note that she didn’t mean with all her soul, and whenever she performs she doesn’t just give all of herself, but she’s accessing other planes of existence and bringing glory from other dimensions into what she does. She’s a transcendent being that the universe has gifted to us to teach us about love, togetherness, community, and the power of creativity and shared experience.

What are you working on post-EP release?

Emma-Jean Thackray: So many things. More records, more music, more art. This year is gonna be busy! But even on top of that there’s lots of things I’m sitting on and haven’t released yet, mainly live stuff. It’ll all come out when it’s meant to come out. Practice patience and know I’m here for the long haul. I’ll be making music ’til my death day because it’s my purpose.

Emma-Jean Thackray plays London’s Moth Club on May 5