Ones to watch in 2021: Anoushka Nanguy, trombonist

Jim Gilchrist talks to Anoushka Nanguy, still a student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland but already winner of the Rising Star Award at the Scottish Jazz Awards

Jazz musician Anoushka Nanguy
Jazz musician Anoushka Nanguy

The ’bones clearly had it at the Scottish Jazz Awards. The live-streamed ceremony in October saw 21-year old Glasgow trombonist and singer Anoushka Nanguy scoop the Rising Star Award, while both the Best Band and Best Album awards were taken by the high-energy young nu-jazz group corto.alto, led by fellow trombonist Liam Shortall.

It was a rewarding climax to a less than auspicious year for Nanguy, currently in her fourth year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) in Glasgow (from which Shortall is a graduate) and who, like so many students, hadn’t been able to practise, rehearse or have an in-person tutorial at the Conservatoire, owing to the Covid lockdown.

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“I didn’t have any one-to-one lessons since March; it’s all been online,” she explains. “But some things, like arranging for big band where you’d usually have rehearsals with ensembles to see how our arrangements sounded; we didn’t get any of that. We’d usually get the opportunity to perform our final arrangement, but that couldn’t happen this year.”

The awards ceremony, however, hosted online by singers Suzanne Bonnar and Luca Manning, came as a welcome beam of limelight – not just on Nanguy and Shortall but on an instrument which tends not to figure as prominently in the jazz instrumental panoply as, say trumpet or sax. “It was team trombone all the way,” laughs Nanguy. “It was great for both of us. Trombones sometimes don’t get the most recognition, so for two trombonists to win three awards was great.”

The term “mature beyond her years” tends to crop up when Nanguy is being discussed, not least for her big, warmly toned voice as well as for her playing skills. Within Glasgow’s creatively seething young jazz scene, “Noushy”, as she is known, as well as leading her own quartet with guitarist James MacKay, drummer Peru Eizagirre and double-bassist Ewan Hastie, has another outfit, Astrosnax, comprising herself and Eizagirre plus Gyan Panesar on baritone sax and bassist Scott McPherson. She and Shortall guested on one of the Playtime collective’s boisterous live-streams, she makes the odd appearance with corto.alto and has sung and played with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (whose director, Tommy Smith, established the RCS jazz degree course a decade ago).

She has come a long way since a primary school teacher produced a plastic pipe, mouthpiece and funnel in the ten-year-old’s class and asked if anyone could get a sound out of it. “I was the only one able to,” she recalls. “There was a choice between the trumpet, trombone or euphonium and I decided the trombone was loudest and, as I was quite a loud child at the time, I decided it would suit my personality.”

Nanguy, who grew up in Govanhill then Newton Mearns, ended up playing with the East Renfrewshire School Jazz Band before moving on to the Strathclyde Jazz Orchestra and the NYOS (National Youth Orchestras of Scotland) Jazz Orchestra. “Going to their workshops and residential courses gave me the opportunity to play with musicians, some of whom were from the RCS. I saw a standard that I wanted to reach for and it gave me insight into how much work you need to do if you really want to become the best you can possibly be.”

Her musical influences range expansively, embracing classic jazz divas such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Betty Carter, trombonists such as the English player Elliot Mason and “soulful, bluesy guys like Wycliffe Gordon and Andre Hayward,” as well as notable women players such as Shannon Barnett of the WDR Big Band in Cologne (whom Nanguy consulted for her research paper on female trombonists) and the pioneering Melba Liston.

“I’m also a massive hip-hop fan and I’d say Noname [the female Chicago rapper and poet] is one of my biggest inspirations as a rapper, lyricist and poet. Also Jill Scott and Erykah Badou. They really resonate with me, such powerful voices as women.”

Nanguy herself is working on incorporating spoken-word elements within her quartet’s performances. The months of lockdown have given her, she says, “time to think, deeper insight, that things aren’t as plain and simple as they once might have seemed. There are a lot of things happening in the world that are very uncertain”.

Does she write from her perspective as a person of colour? “Sort of, but it’s more just about a world where nothing is certain. At the end of the day though, it’s all about having belief in yourself and being able to manifest the things you want to do – positivity in spite of circumstances.”

A hip-hop-informed musician and poet for these uncertain times maybe, but she still hankers after a classic jazz fling. “When gigs start to happen again, I plan to do more swinging gigs. I’ve been missing proper, traditional stuff like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.”

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