Bruised and Swollen

by Yazz Ahmed

Bruised and Swollen

It’s been a very long time since I last wrote to you and there are many reasons for this but the main one has been the struggle to find the precious time needed to sit and do something besides work.


My shoulders are bearing the brunt of overworking - I ache, I’m tired, I need rest, to escape, to let the breeze take me somewhere tranquil….ah well. Soon, I promise myself. Let’s see how that goes.


These last two months have taught me a lot. I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading about mental health issues that musicians, particularly jazz musicians, go through on and off stage. This study was to prepare for a discussion about well-being from a musician’s perspective which was expertly led by Kevin LeGrandre at the first of Gary Crosby’s ‘Jazz Salon’ evenings at Foyles Bookshop.


I was pretty terrified to talk about such things in front of an audience, because I can relate to a lot of what I had discovered - I’m one of those jazz musicians who suffer from many of the setbacks and insecurities that come with the job. This, coupled with my own difficult upbringing and the many personal challenges I have experienced in my life, all add to the complex mix of who I am.


In January my confidence took a huge knock, one which took me a few weeks to get over. I had a nasty abscess on the gum above my left front tooth. My whole face became swollen. I felt that I looked so ugly, hideous, I was too embarrassed to go out and show my face. I was also in a terrible amount of pain and could not play my trumpet. This is what upset me the most. Playing my instrument is one of the few ways I can express myself comfortably - it’s a way for me to communicate, to share my feelings, to tell stories without words. It may not always come out right, but it gives me a sense of purpose and most importantly, makes me happy!


Not only did this abscess make me panic, as I had a very important solo concert the following week, but I also started worrying if it would effect my trumpet playing as a whole.


My mind played out a series of ridiculous fantasies where I’d have to give up, pack it in and get a job at a supermarket (not that there is anything wrong with working at a supermarket, but it’s not a career path I crave, or would be any good at!).


Thankfully, I managed to get emergency root canal treatment two days before my performance and guess what, my playing was absolutely fine, except that my mouth felt very sore and my confidence was a little wobbly. I was convinced that it was going to be a disaster.


I’ve never had anything go wrong with my teeth before, however, this problem resulted from a tooth I had chipped years ago which slowly became infected over time. I chipped my tooth in the shower when I was in my late teens. I also smashed my face on the taps and woke up in bed with a black eye, home made stitching, (thanks to my very caring mother), and memory loss. I used to have seizures and I had just woken up from one…


I started having seizures when I was around fourteen. The specialists don’t understand why I have them, as I have a healthy brain and body. I’ve been on full-time medication for six years now and haven’t had one since. At that time I was so miserable and so scared about when the next one would be. They would always occur in the morning but were infrequent and very unpredictable. It seemed that alcohol might trigger them off but I don’t think that was the only cause. Stress, tiredness and changes to routine all seemed to have a bearing.


Having seizures stopped me from playing too. After an episode I was too exhausted and upset to do anything for the entire day. It would wipe me out and take several weeks to fully recover from.


I would also bite my tongue which was too sore and swollen to play my trumpet. I couldn’t remember people’s names or phone numbers when I awoke. Once I stopped breathing but was saved by my stepfather - thank you.


I remember having big seizures the day after two of the recording sessions for Finding My Way Home. Maybe it was the stress or the relief. Maybe it’s just the way my brain copes with stressful situations - it shuts down, switches off. 


However, I’m better now. I’m healthy. I can live a normal life and not worry about what might happen the next day when I wake up…..


Ever since seeing the specialists and being on the right medication, I’ve been able to focus my energy on MUSIC! And I have been on many adventures since.


My most recent was playing at this year’s Women of the World Festival. It was a spectacular evening and a very special occasion. It was also quite surreal…


I played in the ‘jazz band’ with the WOW orchestra which included professional and amateur musicians who were all women! 


Sandi Toksvig hosted the night, Sue Perkins conducted a couple of the tunes. Bonnie Langford and Sharon D Clarke sang some songs, and at the end we were then joined by Sister Sledge playing We Are Family. We also premiered a brilliant composition by the wonderful Issie Barrett.


I was also made to come out to the front of the stage as an honouree percussionist, looking like a complete lemon, playing the sleigh bells in the most unprofessional manner! I did not fool anyone! I also attempted to ‘dance’ which I’m sure looked pretty ridiculous too.  


It was an inspiring night celebrating the terrific achievements women have made in the world, many of whom most people had never heard of, and of course, all presented with great humour!


I have lots of other things coming up in the next few months starting on Tuesday the 5th of April with my trio in Kingston:


On the 23rd of April, Ahmed Family Hafla will be spending the day at the seaside:


You can get tickets here:


The following day I have a little experimental gig with my new trio called Electric Dreams, dedicated to John McLaughlin’s album of the same name, featuring Shirley Tetteh on electric guitar, mini synth, and drum machine, and Johanna Burnheart on violin, electronics and drum machine. It’s our first outing so it would be really lovely to have a supportive audience. It’s a lunchtime gig so bring the family!


On the 5th of May I’ll be playing with my quartet plus Brigitte Beraha at the Mosaic Rooms in London. We’ll be performing a selection of songs from my suite Alhaan al Siduri which was premiered in Birmingham last year:


There’s also a really wonderful documentary, kindly supported by the British Council and Birmingham Jazz, about the creative process in composing the music:


On June the 8th I’ll be with my quartet at the Vortex as part of Alison Rayner’s Tomorrow The Moon series but this time featuring the wonderful Chris Montague on guitar.


Then on the 19th of June I’ll be premiering my LSO Soundhub piece at LSO St Luke’s playing my new quarter-tone flugelhorn! Very exciting!


Okay, so that’s all for now and I will leave you with this little clip from my Canary Wharf Jazz Festival gig last year: