Over the last few years, Nikki Iles has progressed into the front rank of British jazz musicians
From a musical family, Nikki began playing the harmonica and clarinet at her primary school. At the age of 11, she won a Junior Exhibitioner's Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, studying piano and clarinet, and was soon a member of the Bedfordshire Youth Jazz Orchestra. It was at this time that the piano took over as Nikki’s principal instrument.
The first platform for her own composing was the group Emanon, led by trumpeter Richard Iles, which also included the guitarist Mike Walker and saxophonist Iain Dixon. The meeting of these kindred spirits at this time was extremely significant for all of them. In addition to Emanon, they were all members of the Creative Jazz Orchestra, working with Vince Mendoza, Anthony Braxton, Mike Gibbs, Kenny Wheeler and Mark Anthony Turnage. Nikki also began playing with several London-based bands, including the Steve Argüelles group, Mick Hutton's Straight Face, Stan Sulzmann's Quartet and Tina May. Nikki also maintained an important musical relationship with the bass player Steve Berry, leading to a trio with Sheffield drummer Pete Fairclough.
Nikki served a lengthy apprenticeship in the north of England, with particular support from Wakefield Jazz Club's Alec Sykes. He continued booking her to play with the likes of Dick Morrissey, Jim Mullen, Pete King, Iain Ballamy, Scott Hamilton, Art Farmer and Teddy Edwards. This invaluable experience helped forge many friendships and musical connections.
In 1996, Nikki won the John Dankworth Special Award at the BT British Jazz Awards and recorded a duo CD, Treasure Trove, with Stan Sulzmann. A year later, she recorded a duo CD with Tina May, Change of Sky, and a CD with Martin Speake, The Tan Tien. These CDs were the beginning of three important ongoing musical relationships.
Nikki moved to London to take up a position as a senior lecturer at Middlesex University. Composition remained a major part of her musical life, and she had commissions from the Creative Jazz Orchestra for the Printmakers Suite (1994), celebrating the role of women in jazz, several from New Perspectives, in particular In All My Holy Mountain with poet Roger Garfitt (1998-2001), a piece for the London Sinfonietta, Ellington Celebrations (1999), and Tim Garland’s Northern Underground Band (2006).
Nikki’s busy performance schedule has not prevented her from developing a parallel career as a widely respected teacher, and she has worked as a tutor at numerous workshops and summer schools around the world while maintaining active links with most of the London colleges. Her tireless education work was recognised through her nominations at the 2007, 2009 and 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards for Services to Jazz Education.
Additionally, she has been part of a team at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, developing an exciting new series of graded exams for jazz horns, launched in June 2003, followed by jazz flute.
Nikki has fast become a major presence in the British jazz world. Playing highlights in the last couple of years have included the Julian Argüelles Octet, the Kenny Wheeler Big Band, the Anglo Canadian Project, Toronto with Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone, Tony Coe and Tina May, The Printmakers with Norma Winstone and Mike Walker, Martin Speake’s ECM tour, Japan with Karen Sharp and Tina May, Renga with Rufus Reid. Nikki has also recently recorded with Tina May (I Never Told You on 33 Records), The Secret Quartet (Bloor Street on Edition Records), Canadian trumpeter Kevin Dean and Toronto bassist Duncan Hopkins with Stan Sulzmann and Stephen Keogh, as well as a trio with Rufus Reid and Jeff Williams.