Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

March 29, 2024


The music is rich, colourful and varied and the leader is well served by an excellent cast of instrumentalists, who all make substantial contributions to the success of the project.

Billy Marrows + Grande Familia


(Self Released)

Billy Marrows – guitar, baritone guitar, Teresa Macedo Ferreira – viola, Dijan Mbanu – flute, Jonas Mbanu – bass, Angus Bayley – piano, Gustavo Clayton Marucci – clarinet, bass clarinet, Chris Williams- alto sax, Tom Ridout – soprano & tenor sax, clarinet, Mike Soper – trumpet, Olli Martin – trombone, Anna Drysdale – french horn, Greg Sanders – shaker

The young London based guitarist and composer Billy Marrows has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages as a member of the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, an ensemble that was particularly creative during the pandemic,  producing a series of digital recordings plus some ingenious videos recorded by the band members in isolation and skilfully edited by trombonist and ‘video-animator’ Kieran McLeod.

My reviews of the “The Light That Shines” EP and the “If I Were A Bell” video can be found here;

A skilful and highly versatile guitarist Marrows’ playing has also been featured on recordings by ensembles led by saxophonist Tom Barford and drummer Rod Oughton. He has also worked with saxophonists Chelsea Carmichael, Sam Newbould and Tom Ridout

A graduate of the Jazz Course at London’s Royal Academy of Music Marrows is also a prolific bandleader and composer in his own right with several different projects currently on the go. The Billy Marrows Band is a quartet featuring saxophonist Chris Williams, bassist Huw V Williams and drummer Jay Davis.

He also leads an octet featuring saxophonists Tom Barford and Tom Smith, trumpeter James Copus, trombonist Olli Martin, pianist Will Barry, bassist Will Harris and drummer Luke Tomlinson.

Marrows was the winner of the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition in both 2016 and 2018 and the Eddie Harvey Award for Jazz Arranger of the Year in 2019. He enjoys writing for large ensembles and his seventeen piece Big Band has made occasional concert appearances on the London jazz circuit. The line-up features many of the city’s leading jazz musicians, among them saxophonist Emma Rawicz and pianist Alcyona Mick plus some of the players from Marrows’ smaller groups.

Grande Familia is a chamber ensemble that includes a number of Marrows’ family members and it is this group that appears on his debut album “Penelope”, a recording that is dedicated to the memory of Billy’s late mother Penny Marrows (1951 – 2023).

Marrows’ debut recording as a leader was forged in difficult and unusual circumstances but ultimately represents a force for good. The following passages, sourced from Billy’s Bandcamp page explain the circumstances behind its creation;

“The album “Penelope” features Billy’s new chamber jazz group, Grande Família, both as a 12-piece ensemble and in smaller combinations, interspersed with intimate solo guitar vignettes. It includes one of Penny’s nephews, Jonas Mbanu, on bass and her great-niece Dijan Mbanu on flute with Billy’s girlfriend Teresa Macedo Ferreira on viola, alongside eight diverse musicians special to Billy. Their inventive contemporary jazz spans a wide emotional spectrum, with strong narrative and melodic solos and compositions.
In March 2023 Penny Marrows was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Billy, Teresa and his cousins performed for her at a family gathering in April. She loved it, so Billy decided to make this charity album as a surprise for her, generously supported by friends and family. Penny realised how fortunate she was to have access to such good cancer care, compared to others around the world, so the musicians chose to raise money for World Child Cancer, a charity that helps children to beat cancer in countries where it is needed the most. Penny was an artist and the album artwork showcases one of her striking paintings”.

To date the album has raised a total of £4350 for World Child Cancer, a truly impressive effort. In addition the recording has also attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim for the music itself. This was all composed by Marrows himself, with the exception of his arrangement of the traditional American folk tune “Shenandoah”.

The album commences with the title track, Marrows’ short and tender tribute to his mother. It’s a solo electric guitar performance that sees the composer making judicious and inventive use of electronic effects to give the piece an ethereal quality, suggesting the ghost of Penny sitting at her son’s shoulder and smiling in approval.

The opener segues almost seamlessly into “Lambs”, played by the trio of Marrows on guitar, Clayton Marucci on clarinet and Bayley at the piano. Marrows’ guitar remains at the heart of the music, but is intertwined with the clarinet and the piano, the additional instruments providing additional colour and depth within a lyrical chamber jazz setting.

The line-up continues to expand on “Nights Are Drawing In”, which is performed by an eleven piece ensemble that includes all of the players bar Greg Sanders. The sound is inevitably fuller and includes rich and colourful horn arrangements, plus the distinctive sound of Dijan Mbanu’s flute. Everything is carefully stitched together with various instruments briefly assuming the lead at different points, but with no jazz solos as such. It’s a richly satisfying piece that seduces the listener with its attractive blend of colours and textures and one which demonstrates Marrows’ considerable prowess as a composer and arranger.

“The Garden” is the second of five solo guitar tracks and exhibits the same kind of luminous lyricism as the opener, with the subtle use of electronic effects again a distinctive component of the music.

“A Grande Familia” features the entire ensemble, with Sanders’ use of shaker representing the only percussion on this chamber jazz album. Nevertheless Sanders plays a vital role in adding rhythmic momentum to a Brazilian flavoured piece that celebrates the value of the family. However Sanders role extends beyond that of a musician, he also co-produces the album with Marrows. As on the other large ensemble piece Marrows deploys the resources at his disposal with imagination and care, artfully blending strings, brass and woodwind in addition to uncredited wordless vocals as part of a joyous and uplifting arrangement.

Marrows continues to intersperse the more formal band pieces with solo guitar performances. The next of these is “The Beech Tree”, the lengthiest of these solo excursions and a piece that contrasts abstraction and angularity with a gentle lyricism, the varying styles perhaps representing the passage of the seasons. At one juncture he also introduces an element of string-bending bluesiness into the proceedings.

The element of intimacy is also retained on “February (Anjo)”, a delightful duo performance featuring Marrows on guitar and his girlfriend, Teresa Macedo Ferreira on viola. The latter brings a deep, melancholic beauty to the piece, her viola soaring above Marrows’ cleanly picked guitar lines. Stark but dramatic it represents one of the album’s stand out cuts.

The solo guitar piece “Be Right Bold” takes its title from a Yorkshire expression used by different generations of the Marrows family “to give confidence when somebody was unsure about doing something”.  In keeping with its title this performance was mixed louder than the other solo guitar pieces, a conscious decision taken by Marrows and mixing engineer Alex Bonney. Inspired by the playing of the American guitarist Wayne Krantz the piece features Marrows deploying a powerful, earthy, blues and rock inflected guitar sound allied to jagged, dramatic chording.

The final full ensemble piece is ‘L’Heroïsme’ which incorporates a typically rich blend of brass, strings and woodwind and features Tom Ridout as a tenor sax soloist. Ridout also combines effectively with Mike Soper, who delivers a soaring trumpet solo.

The album concludes with a beautiful solo guitar performance of the American folk song “Shenandoah”, delivered in a style that may remind some listeners of Bill Frisell.

Penny Marrows died on 14th August 2023 and got to hear the finished versions of six of the tracks on the album before she passed, these being  the three large ensemble pieces (‘Nights are Drawing In’, ‘A Grande Familia’ and ‘L’Heroïsme’) plus “Lambs”, “February” and Shenandoah”. The title track was played to her prior to the recording date and a quartet version of “The Beech Tree” was played by Billy, Teresa, Diyan and Jonas at her funeral on 1st September 2023.

In addition to representing an excellent memorial to Penny and a highly successful fund raising venture the album is also an impressive musical achievement in its own right. Despite the diverse musical styles and instrumental line-ups, from solo guitar to twelve piece ensemble, the music coheres remarkably effectively with Marrows himself the unifying force. In addition to his highly accomplished solo performances his guitar playing also represents a key component of the rhythmic framework that surrounds the large ensemble pieces and also the trio item “Lambs”. Put simply his guitar playing is at the very heart of the music, but without being in any way ostentatious or flashy.

Perhaps even more impressive is Marrows’ work as a composer and arranger and the way he deploys the instrumental resources at his disposal. The music is rich, colourful and varied and the leader is well served by an excellent cast of instrumentalists, who all make substantial contributions to the success of the project. This may be ‘chamber jazz’ but it makes a musical and emotional impact, even without the presence of drums.

“Penelope” is a hugely successful charity album, but it’s also an impressive musical statement on its own terms. One suspects that this is just the first of many to come from the resourceful Billy Marrows.

To purchase “Penelope” and to donate to World Child Cancer please visit;

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