Leeds' Jazz Underground Is Breaking Boundaries

Leeds' Jazz Underground Is Breaking Boundaries

It's a hyper-local scene with breathtaking ambition...

Back in the 1950s, Yorkshire was a destination for jazz lovers. Leeds especially, became peppered with New Orleans style jazz clubs as popularity for the genre grew.

Celebrated musicians like Ronnie Scott, Sarah Vaughan and Tubby Hayes made regular appearances at venues in the city, serving as antidotes to the economic and atmospheric sting of the Second World War and the era of austerity that followed. However, the wave of pop music that washed over the UK in the 1960s cast the Yorkshire jazz scene into the shadows. 

Now, Leeds is experiencing a Jazz renaissance. While London is often celebrated as the British home of jazz, shining a light on Leeds reveals the swathes of interesting, novel, cross-genre music coming out of the city right now.

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We call it ‘Jazz’, but this scene stretches beyond even the most loose definition of the genre - drawing on funk, soul, hip-hop, Afrobeat and grime for inspiration.

In Leeds, the stars have aligned for this jazz scene to take flight. Emerging artists now more than ever, have the physical and metaphorical space to explore their sound. As boundaries of jazz as a genre are tested, the limits of where artists can physically hone their sound are being pushed.

New spaces to rehearse, gather and perform are being discovered in the city - warehouses on the edge of town; community centres; cafés and bars dotted round the city. Art spaces like Assembly House Studios are opening their doors for jamming sessions. Multi-functional spaces like Hyde Park Book Club, a coffee shop-cum-bar, are playing host to the latest experimental jazz music. Jazz artists are headlining shows at more traditional gig venues like Brudenell Social Club.

Educational spaces are also nurturing and attracting new talent. Found in the heart of the city’s cultural quarter, Leeds College of Music overflows with ambitious and technically brilliant young artists. There is a keen focus on moulding students into career-ready, business minded musicians. At the same time, individuality, creativity and difference are actively encouraged.

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An atmosphere of inclusivity and togetherness permeate through Leeds, nurturing this individual sound. The emergence of collective culture is in large part responsible for the promotion of community in Leeds.

Will Lakin is a founding member of 15-strong Tight Lines Collective, a record label epitomising all Leeds has to offer with its burgeoning jazz scene.

“There’s a real unique, DIY culture in Leeds at the moment, that sets us apart from London or Manchester”, says Will. “Jazz is really the genre that’s heading up this movement. It’s not all about someone’s ability to play intelligently, or playing according to tradition - this makes the Leeds sound more angry, more punky, more progressive. It’s all about being part of a community and having the opportunity to be creative. It means that the music being produced is incredibly diverse”.

“A couple of years back, a few of us were playing in different bands in Leeds. We wanted to form a collective to show the public what we were up to. Tight Lines is more than just a conventional record label: we put on festivals, we film live sessions, we do radio and venue takeovers. This summer, we are excited to put on Salèmango Festival for the fourth year. The festival showcases new talent from across the North of the UK over two days of music”.

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To hear more from Leeds’ Jazz scene, check out the artists below... 

Necktr

Formed in Leeds in 2015, Necktr are a nine-piece soul-fusion outfit. The members of the band met at Leeds College of Music, gigging round their favourite venues within the city and building a loyal following in the meantime.

More recently, Necktr have toured with fellow Leeds based Têtes De Pois, and have earned a slot at Brainchild Festival in East Sussex.

The band are just about to drop their first EP, ‘Something’s Happening’, out on Wormfood! Records. Don’t miss Necktr at London Remixed Festival in East London later this month.

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Nix Northwest

Nix Northwest is a multi-instrumentalist schooled at Leeds College of Music. He combines a gravelly voice with jazzy instrumental breaks and features from a number of musicians.

Nix is really making waves right now in Leeds and in London, having just released a new EP ('Life's A Bitch', 'I Just Need An Early Night') on College Music Records, the launch of which was at London's Notting Hill Arts Club in November. The project features collaborators LAUSSE THE CAT and B-ahwe.

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Mamilah

Mamilah are a group of composers, musicians, producers and DJs, who met while studying at Leeds College of Music. The band draw together soul, jazz, latin and R&B influences to create a completely individual sound.

2019 was a big year for Mamilah - seeing them perform at Boomtown, El Dorado and El Virgo Festival. Previously the band have performed with the likes of Kool & The Gang and Yazmin Lacey.

If this leaves you wanting more, check out: Skwid Ink, ViperTime, Têtes De Pois, Ferg’s Imaginary Big Band, Ancient Infinity Orchestra, Submotion Orchestra, Project Hilts, and Abstract Orchestra.

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Words: Sophie Church

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