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Shambala 2018 Pink Flamingo Jazz Café © Louise Roberts

Jazz is back! Musical musings from the Pink Flamingo Jazz Café

Jazz, long side-lined in unjust conflation with elevator music, is back!

The UK scene has never been healthier – with cities across the country now searing furnaces for incredible young musicians creating a new sound, which pays reverence to old greats and fuses it with Jazz’ offshoots like hip hop.

We’ve seen a real increase in jazz bookings at festivals, proving it’s no longer the reserve of Jazz only sit-down concerts. At Shambala this year we’ve got The Comet Is Coming, BLOW 3.0 and more bringing their mind melting Jazz innovations to our stages.

In advance of International Jazz Day on April 30th, we caught up with the folks behind Shambala’s very own Pink Flamingo Jazz Café. For those lucky enough to have stumbled across their secret underground jazz club at Shambala 2018, it’s clear there’s no better people to turn to to celebrate the cultural staying power and connecting energies of this diverse genre. For those who didn’t find it, better luck this year…

What were the ideas behind setting up the Pink Flamingo jazz club?

Chris (Johnson, Shambala co-founder) and ourselves had been talking for years about getting more jazz onsite, but it never quite came to fruition. There was a short-lived Shambala Jazz Jam, then for three years a collective of us played the now legendary 3am-5am nightly jazz slot at Swingamajig. We quickly found that, while we were just jazz nerds who wanted to play 1950’s hard-bop, at Shambala, if there’s a dance floor, no matter the music, people will want to dance. It quickly escalated into a kind of turbo swing and lost a lot of the nuance and linguistic interplay that makes live jazz so fun to watch, listen to and play.

Thus the Flamingo was born as an immersive experience inspired by the British jazz clubs of the 60s. It’s a step into bygone jazz dens, transporting Shambalans back in time, seated amongst the warmth and haze, a grand piano visible through sultry red lights. A cast of crooked characters run the show, weaving amongst the guests wheeler dealing, sleazy and slick as a smattering of chatter hums and drinks are drunk. Experience the best live jazz, and it’s diaspora played in an environment where you can really listen. All in a field, at 4am.

What were the highlights of your inaugural year?

The highlight for us personally was that everything worked! As it was our first year, we had no idea how people would react to the set up, the environment, the after hours nature, the shoes off policy…whether anyone would actually come!

To see queues out the door was amazing. The way that the music onstage blended seamlessly between classic jazz, Afrobeat, Hip Hop, Neo Soul and everything in between. All the best things, basically!

One question we get all the time is who was the singer who played the late slot every night? She’s called Kashu (Olivia Bhattacharjee) and you can hear her with us onstage again this year along with more incredible vocalists like Katy Moberley, who’ll have her own slot backed by Nubiyan Twist’s rhythm section.

Who did you put on?

Our programming is made up of partly spontaneous groups from our collective, which is an ever expanding group of musicians originally based around the Leeds music scene circa 2009-2015, when most us went to Leeds College of Music. This encompasses bands Nubiyan Twist, Tantz, Me and My Friends, Mansion of Snakes etc, members of whom played in various formations at Flamingo last year. Most of us have become London toffs now and new people are joining the collective all the time. Pink Flamingo is literally some of the hottest upcoming jazz talent in the UK today…don’t miss out, catch it this year before it moves up!

WHICH JAZZ MUSICIANS (dead or alive!) would you MOST love to have jam at the Flamingo?

Too many to name! But OK, go on then…

Hank Mobley, his deep pocket tenor sax solos and compositions are always a favourite among the Flamingos, and his string of albums on legendary label Blue Note really helped define the Hard Bop sound in the 1950s.

Ella Fitzgerald, a firm favourite for many, but while many know her big band recordings, her small ensemble cuts are just as incredible if not even more virtuosic and playful.

Robert Glasper, really helped pave the way for the now commonly rooted marriage of Jazz and Hip Hop. Hip hop has always been a branch of the tree, but Glasper’s explicit approach of taking a chord shape on the piano and literally shifting it around the keyboard is the same sound a producer would make when sampling – lifting chords from old vinyl records.

Check out the Pink Flamingo’s playlist, made with love for International Jazz Day 2019!

You can find it in YouTube format here.