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Chelsea Carmichael

Saxophonist, composer and arranger Chelsea Carmichael is an understated innovator and educator. She’s a warm and hypnotic player, who brings subtle and considered improvisation to everything she does.

Primo cultural instigator Shabaka Hutchings noted her potential and invited her to record the first release his new brand new Native Rebel label. He wrote a set of songs for her, which she worked up at RAK studios with Eddie Hick (Sons of Kemet), Dave Okumu (The Invisible) and Tom Herbert (The Invisible; Polar Bear) and the resulting recordings comprise her 2021 debut album The River Doesn’t Like Strangers.

Chelsea has already been part of a Mercury-nominated band – she played on SEED Ensemble’s 2019 Driftglass – and currently plays with Theon Cross, the Neue Grafik Ensemble and the hyper-popular Outlook Orchestra. She also writes and arranges for her own Chelsea Carmichael Ensemble, which sold out Ronnie Scott’s when they performed their tribute to John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ on the record’s 60th anniversary.

She grew up in Warrington with her parents, who were both dancers on the Northern jazz and funk scene, dipping into her dad’s record collection and absorbing the musical culture of the Jamaican side of her family. She began with piano and later picked up the saxophone, playing in big bands and as part of the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra (WYJO). “It was essential to my development,” she says of this time. “The whole thing was super inspiring and really spurred me. It was the first time I realised, it’s not just about practising, there’s a social element too. It was a massive part of the direction I’ve gone in.”

Her academic and musical explorations include a focus on one particularly rich seam. “I’ve been really delving into the lineage of Black British excellence within jazz.” It’s a sound she loves and it’s a lineage she’s joining as an artist and educator. As well as working as Musical Director for the NYJO Jazz Messengers, she’s been delivering lectures on Black British music at Goldsmiths.