Singing stories

©Nilgun Tosun©Nilgun Tosun

Julie McKee is – according to Jazz Views – a 'unique songstress and storyteller who has all the bravura of Kate Bush'. She is also an Aldersbrook resident and will be performing at The Larder this month.

I've been singing for as long as I can remember, to the point that my eldest sister used to say: "She's got too big a voice for such a little girl!" I sang a lot around the house, then when I learnt to play the piano, I accompanied myself too. My dad gave me a few jazz and blues piano books and I was hooked. I also had a bunch of sheet music from musicals by the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen – all that classic American Songbook material, which I didn't realise at the time were jazz standards, I just liked the songs. Then I listened to artists like Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and realised they were all part of a certain repertoire.

I started gigging as a singer when I moved to London after my degree. I tapped into a whole network of musicians on the London jazz scene through going to jam sessions and open mics and it took on a new momentum. So, I decided to apply for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Jazz Performance MMus, where I met loads of amazing musicians – it was a turning point.

After a few years of doing jazz standard gigs, I started writing my own material. I've always loved the story aspect of songs – words really interest me, as well as ideas. So, for my first album of original material, What A Woman Shouldn't Do (2008), I took inspiration from anything from news stories to reality TV shows and city life. It was also more pop-infused.

My second album, Light on the Ledge (2014), developed the story theme a bit more, with songs inspired by fables, dissolute politicians and star-crossed dreamers. I recorded it with a string quartet, and a career highlight was playing the launch gig in the newly refurbished Grand Entrance Hall at the Brunel Museum, the first artist to do so when it reopened after 150 years!

I've been fortunate to play in lots of different settings with some of the UK's top jazz musicians in venues across the UK and in the States. The main thread has been a love of swing, blues, stories, lyrics and a good melody.

I moved to Aldersbrook a few years ago when my second child was a baby. It didn't take long to become established with lots of friends as it's a small neighbourhood and everyone helps each other. We like that it's so green and calm but also still part of the city.

It'll be great to play on my home turf at The Larder. I'll be accompanied by a brilliant pianist, Naadia Sheriff, who also studied at Guildhall and now gigs across the world. We'll do an eclectic set taking in my love of jazz standards, plus blues, soul and a few originals. You can be sure there'll be plenty of swing!

Julie will be performing at The Larder, 39 High Street, Wanstead on 19 April from 7.30pm (tickets: £6; booking required) – visit For more information on Julie's music, visit

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