Bringing in the new with Nina Fine

We’ve been super excited to extend our Achieve Your Greatness (AYG) programme to 7-11 year olds this term, working with two new schools in the London Borough of Greenwich.  And we were delighted that talented, North-London-based jazz and soul singer-songwriter Nina Fine joined our awesome team of workshop leaders.  I caught up with Nina after this month’s final sessions to chat AYG plus her musical journey so far…

Jennie: Tell us about your journey to be a singer and songwriter; how did you get started and what inspired you?

Nina: That’s a question that makes me smile. I wrote my first original song when I was 10. It was called Come Back, and was very much a recreation of a love gone wrong song. I think it may have even been inspired partially by seeing J-Lo’s music video of Ain’t It Funny. My home was always filled with music; on Saturday mornings I could be woken up by anything from Cosi fan Tutte to the Soundtrack of The Lord of The Rings or Regina Spektor’s album Begin to Hope.

I was incredibly lucky as a kid to have music lessons in flute and piano, and it was through the discipline of classical training in flute and complete creative freedom in my piano lessons that I just felt safe and curious to write my own songs. On the other side, I was probably just a seriously emotional person who needed to express myself some way! 

Jennie: Who are your musical heroes and influences and why?

Nina: Hmmm… immediately there is a single woman who comes to mind and that is Nina Simone. I remember hearing her voice for the first time with my Dad in the car as he played me Mr. Bojangles. There is unapologetic realness and honesty in her performances, a fearlessness to speak her truth, a limitless nature to what feels effortlessly impressive when she plays piano, and her ability to channel her pain into words and music that resonates with the listener is the epitome of human power. I recently listened again to her version of Bob Dylan’s song, Just Like A Woman. When she sings this song, she says it all.

Jennie: We’re delighted you’ve joined Achieve Your Greatness as our newest creative leader.  What’s been exciting about the programme for you this term? 

Nina: There are many things that excite me about the programme! I love that it is two-fold in impact; inviting young people to be creative in lots of different ways, from dancing to improvising, song writing and other skills, while at the same time, helping creative individuals develop as music leaders.

AYG creates a fantastic, rewarding and non-judgemental space for young people to explore what creativity is for them and to develop over the course of the workshops. One of the most noticeable differences in the young people we work with, is their increase in confidence. Children who were at first shy or quite challenging, suddenly, in the final sharing, want to sing a solo in front of a big group of people, which is really brave. Another example is when one young person came up to me in the break time and started singing with huge generosity of spirit after having seen all the music leaders perform in assembly. The sharing and exchange of creative practice, and love of being creative, is permission granting and vital to the young people we engage with, especially when that creativity is not being facilitated through a curriculum or within their home lives. They teach us ways of being creative too!

I’m also excited by how AYG is interdisciplinary; it’s wonderful to be working with such talented people in such varied mediums and to see the impact of this on the young people. It shows that there is no one right way to be creative, but there are lots of fun ways!

Jennie:  You’ve also been documenting the thriving UK young ‘jazz scene’; what do you think is driving its current success? Positive vibes in socially and politically challenging times and/or other factors?!

Nina: That’s a great question and one I am not sure I have full authority to really answer. I will say that in my experiences and connections in the London (and for a time Leeds) jazz scenes, it is a space of generosity, collaboration, exploration and fully embracing of different musical influences. There are so many people, weekly nights and venues who have helped cultivate the wonderful sounds and compositions that we currently have the fortune of experiencing. So to answer your question I think it is a combination of strong foundations that have been built upon especially in the last 6 years. There are different factors which drive the current success; development programmes and education, the growing jazz communities, the digital age increasing accessibility to music on a global scale and of course – great music! Organisations like Tomorrow’s Warriors, Jazz Refreshed and Serious have been key in providing space, mentors, programmes and performance opportunities for young people and artists to grow. As a lot of the current artists perform in each other’s projects, there is also consistent access to fantastic music, so there is frequent opportunity to experience the music in its live context.

People want to engage with the music coming from the jazz scenes for its realness, its honesty, its unapologetic ownership of experience and its need to keep creating.

Jennie: What’s coming up for you next?

Nina: Oooh, it’s feeling very exciting!  Alongside writing my original material which I will rearrange with my band and look to gigging in the next few months, I also co-run a platform and community space called Women In Jazz, currently a 6-part radio series on Soho Radio and we are organising monthly meet-ups as well as gearing up to a 3-day festival. I’m playing at Poplar Union in January and in the next few months I have the privilege of working with some innovative organisations. As well as leading workshops with Abram Wilson Foundation I’m a Wired4Music Trustee with Sound Connections and I am training as a Music Leader with Spitalfields Music alongside working with the Young and Serious programme.