A must-listen review (with music audio clips) of 3 books of jazz piano sheet music from Nikki Iles & Friends published by ABRSM covering from initial grade up to grade 8 and beyond. A detailed look at highlights and ‘weak’ pieces with audio clips from each book starts at 36:30

A brief bulletpoint summary of my review:

  • 3 books:
    • Book 1- Intermediate (Grades 4-6)
    • Book 2- Intermediate to Advanced (Grades 6-8)
    • Easy to Intermediate (Grades initial-3)
  • Writing/ arranging in a jazz style for students at levels below grade 8 is a challenging & specialised skill. Nikki Iles is especially good at this for students at the intermediate-advanced level (grades 5-8)
    IMO Nikki is not quite so stunning (including her friends!) at the easier end, which is where people like Christopher Norton shine. Because of the challenge & specialised skill of arranging jazz for beginners, Nikki’s friends’ contributions work much better in the advanced book
  • In Books 1 & 2 (grades 4-8)- fantastic idea to have curated pieces from other jazz composers- Nikki always very good at pastiches (which is great for pedagogical pieces), but this means sometimes it’s difficult to hear her ‘voice’ and identity as a composer/arranger- so it’s nice to hear pieces from performers such as Zoe Rahman where you can really hear her unique voice. The idea to curate proper jazz composers is a good way to avoid just having a load of pedagogical pay-cheque jazz/blues cliches which is all too common in the higher ABRSM grades when including jazz list C pieces
  • Almost all the pieces are a bit too short for my taste!! But maybe useful as brief enjoyable diversions for ‘serious’ students rather than performance pieces
  • Some of the marketing for these books say they’re a great source for alternative 4th choice grade pieces for the performance exams- if so it would have been so useful to actually say what grades these pieces would be categorised as (apart from the ones actually in the alternative lists)
  • Not fan of CD format in books 1 & 2- can be a lot of hassle to find a CD player after years of not using CDs! Nice idea to have downloadable mp3s for the Easy to Intermediate book, but in reality can be unnecessarily tricky & frustrating to download from the ABRSM website. A lot of articulations, dynamics, rhythms & other markings very different in the recorded versions to what’s on the page
  • A huge amount of misprints- I’ll list the ones I’ve spotted below the main part of this review. ABRSM are very bad at updating misprints on their website
  • Not a fan of the editing- especially in Book 2. Again, I’ll list some of these below
    • Some strange rhythmic notations that I would notate differently
    • Lots of bad enharmonic spellings- presumably to make music easier to read, but has opposite effect with wrongly spelled harmonies
    • Inconsistent use of courtesy accidentals that make it harder to read
    • Unclear on differences between accents & tenutos- I don’t hear a difference in recordings. And actually tenutos are frequently played slightly ahead of the beat which is the opposite of what I would normally do with them


  • Easy to Intermediate (22 pieces): feels very ‘pedagogical ABRSM’- ie often a bit uninspired & stodgy.
    A lot of emphasis on ‘world music’- ie African, Scottish, Caribbean, Yiddish folk song. Is this to hit some kind of GCSE tickbox? Feels like we’re being hit over the head with ‘educational’ material
    So much of this book is just clearly not jazz, so not what the book is promising
    Would much rather these were all Nikki’s compositions or arrangements
  • Book 1- Intermediate (16 pieces): some criticisms but on the whole difficult to really dislike the book, top recommendation, useful for all teachers and anybody interested in jazz at this level
  • Book 2- Intermediate to Advanced (13 pieces- 10 of which are in my list of highlights!): very strong collection, a winner! I would absolutely buy this & recommend- but a huge shame about copious editing issues & misprints. Also, the recordings are not at all faithful to the score- yes this is ‘jazz’, but it is possible to play in a jazzy way that is faithful to score. Is this because it was recorded before a lot of editing of the sheet music?

Misprints & particularly odd editing

  • Book 2:
    • Abide with Me – arr. Pete Churchill
      • Bar 43- I find E♮ challenging to read- the chord is a dominant 7th, so the note is much easier for me to read as an F♭
      • According to the recording, we need to state that the quavers are swung again in bar 44- and it will sound odd if we don’t swing them
    • Eco Warrior – Tim Garland
      • Bar 46- missing flat in RH, last note in bar is B♭
    • Yewfield (based on Clapperclowe) – arr. Nikki Iles
      • Bar 67- missing flat sign beginning of bar LH, needs to be B♭
    • Time Will Tell – Kate Williams
      • Bar 16- courtesy accidental G♮ in RH just confused me (instinctively thought it must be the A♮)
      • Bar 18- completely different time signature just for this bar in the recording. This happens on a few occasions in Book 2 in other pieces.
    • A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square – arr. Nikki Iles
      • Bar 29- last note in RH needs to be B♭ (what do they have against B♭s?!?)
      • Triplet brackets are very inconsistent- compare bars 9, 20, and 33. They all need to look like the one in bar 33- bar 9 in particular was tough to sightread because it looked like the bracket included the last crotchet (quarter note) of the bar, which was highly confusing!
    • Go with the Flow – Zoe Rahman
      • Bars 13, 21 & 26- LH needs A♭s instead of A♮s- this misprint is one of the very few included in the ABRSM page of errata.
      • Bars 46-47- a completely and radically different time signature/ rhythm in the recording
  • Book 1:
    • Blues for Rufus – Nikki Iles
      • Bars 7 & 20- B dominant 7ths with E♭s?! Ow, my eyes!! I won’t list all the other enharmonic misspellings in this book that made it challenging for me to sightread
    • Basin Street Blues – arr. Nikki Iles
      • Bar 13- 1st note of LH is B♭, not G (again with persecution against B♭s!!)
      • The last line of the first page, (starting with the 2nd time bar) needs to be labelled as bar 12b, not 13b


All audio clips played by Nikki Iles with the exception of On a Mission by Gwilym Simcock, played by the composer

I have a performance video and tutorial video available on YouTube of Go with the Flow by Zoe Rahman which is in Book 2:

My review of the ABRSM 2023-2024 piano syllabus, which includes some of the pieces in these books as alternative pieces: https://heartofthepiano.com/e27-abrsm-piano-syllabus-2023-2024-review/

The intro/outro music is my jazz arrangement of the Rachmaninov Adagio from Symphony #2, you can watch the whole thing here if you like: https://youtu.be/hMqREAngb4s