Initiated as part of a research endeavour by Nick Smart, the Academy’s Head of Jazz, the project has seen the resurrection of many of Wheeler’s lesser-known works that were broadcast at BBC sessions in the 1970s. The original manuscripts were obtained by the Academy in 2012, and the process of archiving and cataloguing them was undertaken by Nick Smart and Adam Taylor, the Academy’s Librarian. Much of this music was not released on Wheeler’s later albums and has seldom been heard since the BBC sessions.

The idea to record these works in collaboration with the Frost School of Music emerged after a student exchange programme between the Academy’s and Frost’s Jazz Departments established a connection between the two institutions. In 2018, Nick Smart and renowned bassist and composer Dave Holland spent a week in residence at Frost performing Wheeler's music, where they met jazz professor and multiple Grammy-winning trumpeter John Daversa, and discussed a recording project with students from both departments. The recording was scheduled to take place in June 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced its postponement, leading to it being rescheduled to this year.

This month, eight students and alumni from Frost and John Daversa travelled to London for four days of rehearsals with the Academy’s Jazz Department. This culminated in a performance of Kenny Wheeler’s Lost Scores at the iconic Vortex Jazz Club on Monday 24 June, which was attended by Wheeler's son Mark and daughter Louann.

After the concert, two days of recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios took place, where the group was joined by two legends of the British jazz scene: saxophonist Evan Parker and jazz singer and lyricist Norma Winstone, who was part of the original Kenny Wheeler big band sessions.

‘Kenny was a consummate professional, an incredible composer and arranger, improviser and instrumentalist, and had a completely individual and recognisable voice in all those contexts. The music from this specific period is beautifully inclusive at its very essence – conceived around the diverse musical approaches of the players with whom he felt most comfortable – so it was incredibly moving to see the musicians from both Frost and the Academy work together with exactly that same spirit to pull this recording off to such high standards.’

Nick Smart

'Over the course of this project we witnessed a bonding between the musicians from Frost and from the Academy, and even with the recording engineers at Abbey Road. This music is timeless and spans generations – there was a huge amount of love and reverence for Kenny Wheeler’s legacy when we played at the Vortex Jazz Club, it all felt like we were part of something very special.’

John Daversa

The album of Kenny Wheeler’s Lost Scores is set to be released on US jazz label Greenleaf Records in February 2025, to coincide with the release of a new biography, Song for Someone: The Musical Life of Kenny Wheeler, co-authored by Nick Smart.