The Hifi Club Leeds is a live music and events venue that has firmly staked its claim as one of the most reputable and reliable clubs for independent music, with a wholesome and diverse weekly schedule encompasing everything from comedy nights to soul & funk. The Sunday Joint wraps up the week and highlights some of the brightest and freshest jazz luminaires from Leeds and beyond with an auxillary providing a much appreciated platform for performing musicans hailing from nearby Leeds College of Music (LCoM). Recently taking the helm as principal booker and promoter for The Sunday Joint, Lubi Jovanovic takes a sidestep from a busy programme for a brief retrospective and what’s ahead.

JAM : “Without too much of an introduction here considering you are pretty much unchallenged across the city and beyond as being the hugely knowledgeable and experienced DJ and promoter, carrying a back catalogue of jazz and associated world music gigs, sessions and promotions in numerous venues (for at least 4 decades or more) – amongst the many current DJ sessions and promotions elsewhere, you’ve recently taken up residence at The Hifi Club Leeds, as promoter and host for The Sunday Joint”

LJ : “Yes mate. I’m the new booker at Sunday Joint at Hifi Club every week. Started in January 2020. The owners of Hifi Club John Morelli and Steve Allison are old mates of 25 years. We go right back to 1995 and the halcyon days at The Underground”

JAM : “Literally at that! The fabled underground venue below the Town & Country Club” (now the O2 Academy – Leeds)

LJ : “Indeed! So they asked me to jump aboard as booker and help with promotion as they wanted to take it back to it’s core music – soul, funk, reggae, jazz, hip-hop, world music – and as a centre of the musical community based around those genres. They liked what I’d been doing with my Soul Rebels and RE:SOUL nights over the last 7 years in Leeds and so in autumn 2019, I got a call and was happy to take it on as my links to Sunday Joint go right back to October 1994 at The Underground along with the other DIG Family crew and was one of the first DJ’s at those sessions. So personally, it’s back to the future for me”

JAM : “That sounds like a condsidered trajectory. As much as mission statements suck, it is still important to have some kind of direction. Do you have an encompassing vision of what you aim to create there?” (at The Hifi)

LJ : “I do. I really want to bring the focus back to our very own Leeds vibrant DIY independent jazz/future & soul/global beats scene. Right now, I think after London, we have the most exciting scene in the UK. So many great bands & artists, loads of good venues (Steve Crocker at Jazz Leeds says there are around 20 venues in the city now dedicated to promoting jazz artists & gigs), passionate gig promoters, independent labels releasing jazz & jazz related music, jazz DJ’s. And at the heart of it for over 50 years now, we have that institution of musical excellence Leeds College of Music, drawing the finest young musicians, singers, performers and producers to the city from near and far. I want to celebrate all that big-time at Sunday Joint. Been doing it for decades via my own gigs but now I have the forum to do it every week of the year”

JAM : “You mention LCoM there. You’ve established a much welcomed relationship with the students who feature in some way on weekly billings at The Sunday Joint”

LJ : “To be honest, Hifi Club already had that link with LCoM for Sunday Joint support bands. I think it’s been in place the last couple of years. The College have an agency who get gigs for students and they supply support bands and even suggest headliners for the night. I wanted to keep that going. I have also been working closely with LCoM bands & artists over the last 8 years but my connections to the place go even further back than that”

JAM : “Really? How so?”

LJ : “I led a Latin jazz band in 1985 in Bradford & Leeds and my drummer was from LCoM and slowly, the whole band except myself and percussionist Chico Malo ended up being music college students. When we started the DIG Family in 1985 and promoting weekly gigs, we started booking our mates from LCoM with their own bands and that’s how it began. Right though the 1990s and the acid jazz days and again from 2009/10 when I started doing live jazz/funk/soul again up too the present time. I have massive respect for the institution”

JAM : “Haha! If not already, then you should have your photograph on the wall in the entrance alongside the other alumni. My son studies there, and through his eyes it’s obvious that young musicians have a voracious appetite to get out and play to an audience. While you mentioned earlier that it’s noted that there are numerous jazz venues across Leeds, The Sunday Joint is well recognised as an important hub for LCoM students”

LJ : It used to be one of the main hubs 15-20 years ago in the city, even 10 years ago, for both LCoM students, alumni, musicians and music lovers. I think the last 5-6 years, with the resurgence of jazz & jazz related music and the opening of new venues, plus more promoters jumping on the jazz train, it’s no longer one of the top spots but one of many”…

JAM : “Well, you can never have have too many jazz joints, right?”

LJ : …”There really is a plethora of venues to see & hear jazz right now. Sometimes I think maybe too many and we don’t have as huge a jazz scene to actually support all the gigs & venues like we should. However, I feel the Hifi Club is still a great live music venue. It has all the right elements of the best live venues – a basement scene, nice stage, good sound, a decent size (not too big or too small), well stocked bar with reasonable prices, good DJ booth. So I think Sunday Joint will rise up again as the end of the week live music spot for both musical college students and non-students. That’s my plan anyway”

JAM : “You mentioned London. It’s still prevalent that fledgling students migrate to London to continue their musical routes. That’s a real shame for many reasons. But having played your part when they return to play at Leeds venues, that must give you an incredible sense of achievement”

LJ : “It’s inevitable. We have such a London-centric focus in this country, whether it’s business or culture, which includes music. Sad that it’s still like that. You’d think after punk rock and especially with the rise of the internet, you wouldn’t have to move to London to try and make it in the music business but seems to still be the case. Not all students who graduate from Leeds do it but probably half of them do. Some are from London and just move home”

JAM : “Well thats great kudos for LCoM, knowing that the College has got such a great reputation to have the capacity to draw students out of London”

LJ : “Others stick around for a few years and then they reach a point where they’ve done all they can musically in the city and have to move. It’s nice when I keep the link with those bands. Nubiyan Twist are the best example. I gave them their first real gigs in Leeds whilst they were 2nd year LCoM students. Booked them for support slots and small venue gigs and then pushed them up through the levels until they were headlining sold out shows for me at venues like The Wardrobe and Belgrave Music Hall. We’ve kept the link going and even though they are now touring the world, when they come to Leeds, I’m still their promoter. And yes, I am proud of them and a lot of the musicians I’ve worked with who I connect with when they’re music college students. Makes me happy that maybe I gave them that first helping hand at the beginning or words of encouragement. That’s what life’s about. Helping people. I didn’t drop out of the sky as a fully formed jazz DJ & promoter back in my late teens! Some people helped me get started and showed me the way and I’ll never forget that or them. I feel it’s my job to do the same for others coming after me”

JAM : “Helping people out, I concur. Back to The Sunday Joint, you’ve got some really interesting and diverse bookings confirmed well into April already”

LJ : “Yes I have. I hit the road running in December and booked up Sunday Joint from January to end of April and in January, I’ve filled in May-June and now booking July-August. I put all my heavy hitters in first, the bands I’ve worked with over the last 4-5 years who have been pulling 200-300 people to my paid entry shows. Folks like Necktr, Mansion Of Snakes, Project Hilts, TC & The Groove Family, Fergus Quill’s Imaginary Big Band. I just booked my first international artist – Nigerian afrojazz trumpeter Etuk Ubong from Lagos. He’s coming on Easter Sunday to launch his new album, just one of very few UK shows. I’m also bringing in Brazilian and Latin music and bands as that’s been my thing also alongside jazz for 35 years. We’ll be doing the after party for the annual Vamos Leeds Festival (Millennium Square Sun 19th July) at Sunday Joint”

JAM : “Promising prospects then, so this sound very much like you and the Hifi Club are seeing much more mileage with The Joint sessions?”

LJ : “I hope so. My initial contract is for 2020. The owners have given me 11 months (1 month of no bands over the Xmas period) to program and promote the night and then we’ll see how the year has gone re: attendances, bar spend (important as all Sunday Joint gigs are free entry so funded from bar spend), programming etc. Made a good start. People are talking about Sunday Joint again and we are out there with the promo. Come back to me next January and see if I’m still doing bookings. If I am then my programming in 2020 was a success”

JAM : “For sure. Earlier we mentioned The Underground. Such a great club back then especially with Casa Latina and the Sunday lunch sessions there, an early podium for Corinne Bailey Rae no less. I can recall at least two or three other subterraneous venues where you have promoted gigs. Haha!”

LJ : “It does seem like I only ever promote live gigs in Leeds basement venues. Ha! They really are the best. Started at Ricky’s in 1986, the basement of Coconut Grove. The DIG Family then moved ‘upstairs’ to the first floor at The Gallery but in 1994, we went underground again at the legendary and much missed Underground Club. Best ever venue I’ve worked in period. Spent 5 great years there. In 1999, we moved to The Wardrobe and since 2009-10, when I started doing live gigs again after 7 years of just DJing, I’ve mainly been there. In recent years though, done gigs in non-basement venues including Brudenell Social Club, Belgrave Music Hall and Headrow House”

JAM : “They are all great venues in their own right, but now you’re a jazz mole again?”

LJ : “It’s good to be back underground now every Sunday. Just feels right. Ha!”

JAM : “I guess there are the echoes of a rich history of underground jazz and juke joints spanning right back to prohibition Americana, the bittersweet decades of racial segregation, gangster-run joints and closer to home venues such as The 606 Club and Ronnie Scott’s?”

LJ : “Absolutely. Look at some of Leeds’ very own jazz joints now – two of the best are basements. Sela Bar, now 16 years old, is on the site of the legendary 1950s jazz club Studio 20”

JAM : “I Never knew that!”

LJ : …”The Domino Club, Leeds’ jazz speakeasy, is in the basement of what was the old Atrium. One of the DIG Family venues after we left The Underground. The Wardrobe and Hifi Club still have that vibe I used to feel at The Underground. It’s about walking down the steps, hearing the music pumping as you are nearing the door and then entering the club, maybe the band playing already or a DJ. It’s dark but the bar is well lit and it’s calling you over to hit that first Jack Daniels! The start of a great night hopefully. For a few hours you can forget all the crap going on upstairs and outside and lose yourself in music”

JAM : “Very much so. Basement clubs become safe haven’s of sorts. Still, jazz clubs alone have elements of melancholly within them. It’s sobering that as of late we seem to be continually paying our respects to the passing of the remainder of those who we regard to be the most celebrated of the ‘jazz greats’ during that golden era of post-war jazz from the late 50’s into the early 80’s”

LJ : (Profoundly) “That’s the cycle of life. No one lives forever! The great thing about music is that we have those past masters in our lives always due to the recordings they made”

JAM : “And yet jazz continually resolves itself, and thrives with new talent”

LJ : “It does indeed. Jazz is always there. Never dies. It’s just had years of being underground itself, a niche music championed only by the hardcore fans and represented by the dedicated musicians. Then every 5-6 years, it seems to lift it’s head over the parapet and make some noises that the mainstream like and pick up on and before you know it, there’s a full-on jazz resurgence. We’re in the middle of one now! It’s my third UK jazz revival since 1981. I came in in the 1980s jazz dance/UK jazz revival. I was in the middle of the whole 90s ‘acid jazz” explosion. Now, in my twilight years, here I am again heavily involved in promoting and DJing jazz almost 4 decades since I first put on gigs by Jimmy Witherspoon, Lee Konitz and James Moody in the early 1980s”

JAM : “The new wave of jazz is really pushing boundaries again, perhaps thanks to the digital boom and the immediacy of making music. The sound seems to be fusing a lot of electronica. Do you think the Hifi will see the likes of say, Nubya Garcia or maybe Moses Boyd if they are passing through and want to play an impromptu set? Ha!”

LJ : “Ha! Well Nubya has DJ’d a club night already at the venue. If those cats are in town on a Sunday night, who knows? If it’s on the night of my RE:SOUL jazz/hip-hop/neo-soul jam session (last Sunday monthly at Sunday Joint), then they’ll be very welcome to sit in with the house band. Now that would be some great vibes!”

JAM : “Well of course its early days for you with The Sunday Joint sessions and we wish you a continued success, but to quote a comical movie line “if you book them, they will come” (referring to drawing in an audience) do you think that is still relevant to attracting today’s audiences to actually go out to live events, especially where social media, streaming and the internet are widely acknowledged for actualising the complete opposite?”

LJ : “I always believe live music can never be beaten. Whatever music genre you are into, nothing beats a live band rocking a great venue, no matter how big or small that venue or crowd are”…

JAM : “Hellelujah! to that!”

LJ : …”You can stream a gig into your living room or onto your phone but sorry, it’s not the same. I think if you book the right acts in a good venue and the sound is good, the ticket price is right (Sunday Joint has always been free entry), your promo is strong and the times are right, you will get the people to come. The essential thing for Sunday Joint is to maintain the 8pm opening and 8.45pm and 9.45pm set times for the live bands. The earlier the better. Sundays are no longer raving days!”

JAM : “Certainly true for me! Haha! Lubi, huge thanks for taking a timeout and in equal measures, a huge thanks from all who respect what you have and are achieving with your valued contributions to the music scene. Thanking you for your commentary.

LJ : “Cheers Jim. It’s been great to do what I love for a living. Music is my life. I love sharing it. Getting paid to do so is an extra. Been blessed also to have done this for so long. If people still come to my gigs & events and enjoy them, I’ll probably keep doing them until I get that OAP bus pass”

JAM : (Profoundly) “That’s the cycle of life. No one lives forever!”

L: DJ Lubi – Jazz Room @ Wild Style Club, Checkpoint, Bradford 1984. Top floor jazz dance session hosted by DJs Lubi & Chico Malo in our pre DIG Family days. R: 36 years after that first pic from 1984. Still mad for jazz, still crazy for Cuban vibes, still bonkers for Brazilian grooves. Still doing what he loves and loving what he does. Two more years and it will be officially 40 years. Photo credit © Lee Dilloway Photography

In coversation with Lubi Jovanovic 15.02.20

The Sunday Joint is a free entry event every Sunday from 8pm at The Hifi Club, Leeds. Here

Unless stated all photography © James A Mumby Photography