Nardeydey's Shirley Tetteh: 'I was so into jazz, I thought everything else was trash'


Jazz fans often speak of a formative moment that leads them to the genre, often a gateway album such as Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. For the guitarist Shirley Tetteh, it was because she couldn’t sound like Slayer.

“I wanted to write music that pushed me,” Tetteh says, “and I decided it was either going to be jazz or metal.” But she found shredding her electric guitar too difficult and was drawn to Wes Montgomery and George Benson instead. “Jazz felt more natural to my fingers, and that was when I became obsessed,” she says. This newfound passion was symbolic of other changes in the then-18-year-old’s life. “My getting into jazz coincided with me stepping out into the world,” she says, now 28. “I left the church and accepted I was gay. That was huge.”

From singing in her church when she was growing up in Homerton, east London, Tetteh now focused solely on the guitar and began attending weekly jam sessions held by the grassroots organisation Tomorrow’s Warriors in 2008. These meetups at the Southbank Centre became the foundations for the vibrancy of London’s current jazz scene, spawning talents such as the saxophonist Nubya Garcia and the drummer Moses Boyd.

Read the interview in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 28/12/18]