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DJ Lubi Presents Jazzland Sessions Leeds (Live Feature)

As we start to all see live music becoming a part of our lives again in England, Ben managed to chat with legendary local promoter & DJ Lubi Jovanovic to see what's on the menu in Leeds in the jazz scene.

Lubi is one of the UK’s best known salsa and Latin music DJs and a long time jazz/soul/funk/world music DJ and live music promoter. His career spans over 30 years working in all aspects of the business – international DJ, live music promoter, club promoter, radio presenter, record label PR and CD compiler. He's been based in Leeds throughout his career and has seen how the local scene has evolved and changed with new music coming to the fore and dropping away.

Before reading below what Lubi has to say, check out some of these upcoming gigs you can still get tickets for in Leeds!

Monday 31st May - Club Afro Sound featuring Kontiki and Halemtina

Finish the spring bank holiday weekend with some great world music/global beats at DJ Lubi's "Club Afro Sound" session at Brudenell Social Club. Leeds band Kontiki play a mix of highlife jazz, soukous, rhumba and afrobeat with the guitar-laden grooves of West Africa (Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana). Support comes from Eritrean singer Halemtina, now based in Leeds, who fuses the traditional music of her West African homeland with modern western music.

Buy tickets here.

Friday 21st May - Jazzland Sessions - Svarc Hanley Longhawn Trio + Ben Haskins Quartet

A Leeds contemporary jazz guitar special from two of the city's finest guitarists. Svarc Hanley Longhawn released their third album "20/21" on their own label and Ben Haskins Quartet released a double single on Hyde Park Book Club Records with titles "Laid Up" and "Twenty Twenty". Two masters of the 6 strings, this is a night of heaven for jazz guitar fans or even any guitar music loves.

Buy tickets here.

Wednesday 9th June - Jazzland Sessions : Tight Lines Takeover with Skwid Ink + The Mabgate Organ Trio

Leeds' leftfield jazz/improvised music collective and now record label Tight Lines take over the whole night. Skwid Ink are the leaders of the collective and the art rock/jazz punks of the Leeds scene whose music will not adhere to the norm. The Mabgate Organ Trio released their debut album and also Tight Lines Records debut album in February this year and the single "Fives" was played by Jamie Cullum on BBC Radio 3 and on the Jazz FM B-Playlist for 10 weeks! Pure fire from the new generation.

Buy tickets here.

Sunday 20th June - Jazzland Sessions/A Blue Note Tribute Pt 2 - Another Workout + Nico Widdowson Trio

The third of three Jazzland Sessions tributes to the greatest modern jazz label of all-time - Blue Note Records. This one features the two Bens - guitarist Ben Haskins and tenor saxophonist Ben Powling - leading Another Workout who play the Blue Note hits of legendary musicians like Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Grant Green and Wayne Shorter. Support from jazz piano maestro Nico Widdowson and his trio (Sam Quintana double bass, Will Blackstone drums) playing bebop music by Bud Powell from his two classic albums for the label in 1951 "The Amazing Bud Powell Vol 1 & 2".

Buy tickets here.

Friday 11th June - Malcolm Strachan Sextet "About Time" showcase

The legendary Haggis Horns trumpeter and session musicians with legends/superstars like Corinne Bailey Rae/Martha Reeves/Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse/Jamiroquai finally released his debut solo jazz album in 2020. Malcolm Strachan's "About Time" was one of the UK jazz releases of 2020.

Buy tickets here.

Thursday 24th June - Vipertime + Book

Final Jazzland Session of the socially distanced shows is a rowdy jazz one. Small bands, big sounds. Vipertime are the huge sounding punk jazz/ethio jazz quartet ld by tenor saxophonist Ben Powling and featuring Matias Reed on electric bass and the two powerhouses of the band, drummers Charlie Grimwood and Luke Reddin-Williams. Vipertime released their double single back in February this year "Limbs" and "All Our Heroes Are Dead" on HPBC Records and it was well received. Many radio plays including on BBC 6 Music, Worldwide FM, Jazz FM and Totally Wired Radio. This will be a great comeback after a year of no gigs. Support from Leeds Conservatoire loud jazz trio Book featuring drummer Jonathan Lodder, Micheal Kemspter on keys and Callum Quinn on electric bass.

Buy tickets here.

Read below to check out Lubi's tips for the musicians involved in these sessions, his thoughts about the Leeds scene and the future of jazz.

Feb 2020, Leeds - Hifi Club Sunday Joint before lockdown (photo credit Jim Mumby)

Tell us about the upcoming Jazzland series and why you started them.

Back in early September 2020, Nathan at the Brudenell said they were going do some socially distanced shows in October, November, December. And he said jazz will be really cool in a limited capacity socially distanced event so I just booked about half a dozen in at the end of October till early December. Last year, we managed to do the first two and then the next two in November sold out. It went crazy. And of course what happened is the second lockdown so I had to move them all. And 2-3 times. Finally from May 20th this year, we can restart and that's 13 shows in 34 days.

We've sold out six and nearly sold out of three more. The last four are really flying out now. And it's great the Brudenell kept doing the livestreams as a lot of venues just haven't done anything. It was good to give their loyal fans some music content and keep the venue profile out there.

I don't usually do sit down shows. I did when I started over 35 years ago, like Ronnie Scott's style. However, because of the jazz dance movement I was part of back in the 80s, we tended to do more fusion, Latin music, jazz-funk and soul jazz. They are standing and dancing type shows. These Jazzland Sessions tributes to the Blue Note label and the acoustic jazz shows, it's the stuff where you can sit down and just listen to a double bass solo or a drummer using brushes. I'm going to continue to try and do both kinds of gigs once we come out of all this - the small and intimate seated shows and the dancefloor jazz sessions with the likes of Nubiyan Twist and TC & The Groove Family.

Is there anyone you're particularly looking forward to seeing in these sessions?

What's really interesting for me is seeing Malcolm Strachan live. His debut album came out last year and did really well. He's been in the Haggis Horns for 20 years and he wrote the album the year before coronavirus, and after it came out, he didn't get a chance to play it out live with the band. So they've never played that album set. He's got all the skills and knowledge to do a Blue Note covers or standards set but it's all contemporary original material, fully acoustic and modal jazz. So I'm excited to see that one for sure. I didn't even book a support band just so he could do both sets.

I'm looking forward to George Hall’s Ugetsu which is a tribute to Art Blakey. In 1983 when I was a young pup in a jazz band, one of the first acts I saw was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. And it was one of those great line-ups, including Donald Harrison on alto sax and Jean Toussaint on tenor sax. I saw that lineup and it really made an impression on me that I went out and bought all the Art Blakey classic albums I could find locally. So he's always had a very special place in my heart. When George told me about this tribute I flipped and said "we have to do it". George said they'll tear it up and it'll be so frantic that people will dance to it.

And then Grifton Forbes-Amos Quintet. He's already been through the Tomorrow's Warriors scheme in London and then he came to Leeds College of Music. Drummer Tim Cook gets him immediately to play in The Groove Family and he then plays with Soweto Kinch on some shows. He's playing trumpet now with Têtes de Pois too so that'll be a good different vibe to the original line up of two saxes. All this and still just 21. He's doing a Freddie Hubbard tribute for Jazzland Sessions and playing Freddie's music from the early 60s.

We also have Plantfood, who are second year students at Leeds College of Music. They've just started to bubble under the radar now. In the second year, a lot of bands at the college get themselves together and start being more serious. Happened to a lot of the bands I've worked with in the last few years like Nubyian Twist, TC & The Groove Family, Necktr, Tetes de Pois and Project Hilts. They really get going into their third year and always come together stronger as a band in that final year.

1997, Leeds - Lubi outside the legendary Underground Leeds

You secured funding for this series of gigs too right?

After year of no work, which is the first time in 38 years I've been unemployed, and no working capital left to get back in the game, I started to look at funding options as I've got loads of gigs starting soon. I've never done the funding thing before. I've always just got up and done it in the usual Leeds DIY way. However, after 12 months when you have no income, it's tough. So I jumped in and started with local funding. I got a small bursary from Jazz North which has helped with the promo/marketing of these Jazzland Sessions. And I was successful in getting a Leeds Inspired grant too which has helped with sound engineer costs for the whole series of shows. They've helped to make sure these gigs can go ahead and all of us can make a bit of money.

How do you see the Leeds jazz scene at the moment?

It's great to celebrate what we've got here and not just parachute big people and stars in all the time. Leeds jazz is buzzing again, especially in the last five years with the way jazz has revived across the UK. It's not mainstream music but every 10 years or so, it seems to stick its head over the parapet and people take notice. It hits the mainstream. This usually happens when a big record comes out, something like Kamasi Washington's The Epic when it dropped stateside.

UK wise it was the Ezra Collective and Yussef Kamaal's Black Focus that kicked in the door. Suddenly everything that's been bubbling under for a few years gets the attention of people outside the jazz scene. Young people playing a new energised style of jazz and then other young people go to their gigs and it was like a jazz rave. When Ezra Collective played at the Brudenell in 2017 for me, their first Leeds show, the band was pure fire. Joe Armon-Jones was hammering the keyboard so hard it nearly came of their stand! It was a jazz dance party but on a Monday night. And predominantly people under 25 too. I started calling these younger generation gigs "jazz raves" after that.

A lot of this music gets good airplay now on BBC 6 Music so the audience has broadened and also got older. Which is great. Jazz is for all generations.

How have you seen it evolve over time?

I've been interested in jazz since around 1981, the era of first British Jazz Revival, which lasted until 1986/87. One of the big things then was the Jazz Warriors. All those children of the Windrush generation that came through at that time, people like Courtney Pine and Gary Crosby, a lot of new young musicians. I guess seeing young people your own age on the stage is why we got into it. We related to them more as opposed to seeing a lot of 50/60 year old folks up there.

That jazz boom died off a bit and then in the early 90s, this whole new jazz scene exploded. The acid jazz scene. It came with a funkier jazz vibe. I was in the middle of that as a promoter and a DJ, It sort of evolved organically underground and then suddenly it's a big thing. The media is writing about this record label called Acid Jazz and talking about a style of clothes the "acid jazz" kids were wearing. New magazines covering the scene were popping up and it got really big with the likes of the James Taylor Quartet, the Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai. And then it dropped off as other new music styles came in.

In the early 2000s, I'd had a big eight year break from promoting live music. I needed a change so I just concentrated on being a DJ. Then in 2010, I started to do some little gigs again around Headingley and Kirkstall in some small venues and bars. I began to meet a whole new bunch of young musicians who were at the college of music.

1982, Paris - Lubi after record shopping at FNAC store at Rue De Halles near the Pompidou Centre

They were coming to my gigs and saying they've got a bands and hustling gigs from me. So I put them on. Bands such as Nubyian Twist, Thabo, The Grand Wazoo and Ikestra. I really found these guys interesting. They were heavily into Robert Glasper/D'Angelo as well as Herbie Hancock/Fela but they liked electronic music like Flying Lotus too.

They introduced me to his music and I thought myself that I really want to come back and do some big live gigs again. I wanted to put these guys on and my older musicians too from a previous generation so the two could mix. So at Soul Rebels, I did just that. It was a great session and it lasted 7 years, from 2012 to 2019. And then it was time to change again.

Today, jazz seems to be as strong as ever but we'll see in the next 12 months after we re-open up music again whether there's gonna be the demand for people to come to see and hear it still. New music and styles always come along after a while and people's tastes change. The music industry and the media move onto the next thing.

I feel like jazz will remain popular in the UK but will be more a concept of improvised music fused with other genres, like electronic music or music from across the globe, and not be genre restricted. There will always be that classic mainstream modern jazz sound around but under the surface, bubbling away, people will be experimenting and going in new directions. That's what makes jazz so exciting. It never stands still.

I'm really proud of what we've done here in Leeds. I've been doing more music promotions of new music during lockdown, and mainly our Leeds bands. There must be at least two or three Leeds release a month now. It never ends. I think because people haven't been gigging they've all managed to finish their recording projects over the last year and it's all coming to fruition now.

The responses I get back from DJs/radio shows/stations across the UK and the world regarding new releases from our city is that it's always very good music and of high quality. People in the music industry are taking note of the DIY jazz scene we have here now and liking it.

I was thinking about this recently and how much this has changed from the old days. In 1985, I bought an album by a Leeds jazz artist called Xero Slingsby, now a legendary saxophonist. That was probably the only Leeds artist album I bought for a few years. Already this year, we've had tons of local jazz artist releases including Shapeshifters, Svarc Hanley Longhawn, Vipertime, Lara Jones, Work Money Death, Yaatri, Ben Haskins Quartet, B.Ahwe, Space Dolphin, Tempo Feliz and the Fergus Quill Trio. So many albums and singles in just five months!

It's unreal but also really good and it's still really strong. And we have great Leeds labels now like Tight Lines Music, Hyde Park Book Club Records, ATA Records, New Jazz Recordings and Haggis Records all releasing local music. Plus with so many venues like Wharf Chambers, The Hifi Club, Belgrave, Headrow House, The Wardrobe, Domino Club, Hyde Park Book Club, LS6, Brudenell Social Club, 7 Arts and Assembly House featuring live jazz and jazz-related music, the live side of the scene looks good for a few years to come yet.

The thing used to be that people would come to Leeds College of Music from outside the city and maybe half of them stay and the other half would leave. More often then not, moving to London to try and make it there. I think that's happening less and less now but you shouldn't really have to go to London just to make it as a musician. Not in these days of fast broadband and internet. The reality is most of the media is still down there as are the big radio stations, record labels, TV companies and a wider music business network.

Slowly though our vibrant and buzzing Leeds DIY jazz scene is becoming more self-sufficient and maybe people are now finding it easier to stay here and make a living from music. I hope so. That's good for us as a city and for us as music lovers. Long may it continue!

Here are the other shows, click on the links to find more details about the cracking artists on show:


Follow and keep up to date with Lubi here:

To find more details on these events, visit here:

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