Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a unique, captivating and talented young composer, song-writer, vocalist, cellist and pianist who has developed musically from a diverse background of mixed cultures.
She began playing the piano at an early age, later taking up the ‘cello during her
teenage years and graduated with First Class Honours from Trinity College of Music studying Composition with Alwynne Pritchard, Errollyn Wallen and Andrew Poppy and Classical ‘Cello with David Kenedy at Trinity College of Music, London. She has also recently been offered a full scholarship to study a Masters in Composition at the Manhattan School of Music.
She has worked with composer, arranger, producer, musical director and saxophonist Jason Yarde as a vocalist, cellist and pianist in his ‘B-Trade’ ensemble alongside Julian Siegel, Seb Rochford and Neil Charles, performing at Glasgow Jazz Festival and City of London Festival and as assistant orchestrator on the landmark Urban Classic project which brought together leading UK Grime artists and the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Charles Hazlewood. More recently she worked with Jason Yarde on the arrangements for Belief! – a project featuring legendary South African trumpeter and vocalist Hugh Masekela with the London Symphony Orchestra. Through the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme (2008), Ayanna again had the opportunity to work with the LSO, composing a short work which was workshopped by the full orchestra.
In 2007, Ayanna became one of the first Emerging Artists in Residence (EAR) of the Southbank Centre following the Aftershock project led by the ground-breaking composer and instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney. This residency culminated with ‘Takeover’ a full length show at the Royal Festival Hall (February 2009).
Ayanna was invited by Courtney Pine OBE to join his band ‘Afropeans’ as a vocalist and cellist for the recording of the live album ‘AFROPEANS’ at the Barbican. This was followed by a sold out residency at Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club to launch its release and a UK tour (March 2009).
She has worked with a range of artists including 4Hero for whom she covered a song for their forthcoming album earlier this year, the grammy award-winning American Dan Zanes, the incredible pianist and composer Robert Mitchell, Soul II Soul, Riz MC, Aruba Red and the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra. Last year, Ayanna started collaborating with jazz/folk star Gwyneth Herbert last year and was also seen supporting Jack DeJohnette and Sibongile Khumalo at the London Jazz Festival (2008).
Her radio credits include original material on Courtney Pine’s Jazz Crusade – BBC Radio 3, In Tune –BBC Radio 2 and the BBC Asian Network. In 2007, Ayanna was commissioned by the Liverpool Lighthouse to compose a choral piece for young vocalists in the Merseyside area to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
“..one of our rising stars of the future.” Courtney Pine
“What a VOCALIST!” Burnt Progress Records
“..great vocalist..” Financial Times
“The artist I am tipping for even bigger things in 2008 is the wonderful singer and composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson. She’s always impressed me as a composer, whether for her excellent seven piece band, or performing as a solo artist, but the past few months have seen her take things to another level. Working alongside the likes of Jason Yarde and Courtney Pine her compositions have been performed by orchestras up and down the country, and being made an associate artist at the Southbank is yet another feather in her cap. I look forward to seeing her build on this further in the year to come.”
Will Gresford, The Vortex
“Ayanna Witter-Johnson…showed a tigerish confidence and a flexible jazz-R&B prowess on vocals. We’ll be hearing a lot more from her that’s for sure.”
Selwyn Harris, Jazzwise
“With cello and piano at her disposal as well as a strong, vibrant flexible voice, Ayanna Witter-Johnson has a great deal going for her… She has talent in abundance plus an engaging stage manner, so shouldn’t have to struggle too hard to establish herself in a somewhat overcrowded scene. Her original material is individual enough to be striking and her solo (cello-backed) visit to the. Police anthem ‘Roxanne’ hints at a refreshingly singular attitude to ‘covers’.
Chris Parker, Vortex Review
“There is much of beauty, especially in colour, texture (and) a certain spiritual quality throughout.”
“Cellist and singer Ayanna Witter-Johnson has to be heard to be believed. Her self-assured style blends a honey-sweet vocal delivery with bewitching, and bewildering, cello-playing.”
Mike Flynn Time Out
“Next up the gloriously gifted, singer songwriter (and historian!?) Ayanna Witter-Johnson, a young slip of a thing but a star in the making. Using her cello as a double bass, for maximum groove effect is a cool ploy and a perfect vehicle for her enticing work. Her emotive voice is a knockout delight, strong, sonorous and clear as a summer’s day!
‘Ain’t I A Woman’ inspired by the writings of a woman enslaved in the 19th century, epitomised the spiritual dimensions this girl is able to reach. With shades of Gershwin abound it’s no wonder she is championed by Courtney Pine, who she recently worked with on the excellent yet criminally ignored ‘Afropeans’ album.
There’s something pleasingly refreshing about her approach helped by her natural stage presence and general bonhomie and she knows how to put a crowd at ease! Again Alex Webb helped out on Piano and has co-written some of her originals to startling effect. This girl bristles with soul and her melodic approach is versatile and inventive. She’s going places – has cello (and cowbell to boot) and will travel; believe me! A great night down at the Spice by two very different yet thoroughly engrossing singers. Top draw stuff!”
Blues & Soul Magazine EMRYS BAIRD
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