Flemming Rothaus Lauritsen started playing drums at age 7, inspired by his father’s jazz band; he had his first performance with his dad when he was 9. With a foundation in swing, jazz, and big-band, he moved to New York City in 1993 to redefine his style and sound. Since then, he’s experimented with world jazz, hip hop, blues, roots, and reggae, and is a tough musician to pigeonhole. He’s played with Bell Cafe, Ayo, and Gari, among others.
Flemming goes by Slim or, more recently, Ming: “In New York, when I was younger, broke and skinny, I would pass by this homeless guy on my block. He’d always call me Slim and ask for a dollar. My bass player picked up on the name and it stuck. Then, traveling in Asia, people couldn’t pronounce Flemming. They always said Ming. That’s how I got that one. My many names are a mess!”
I met Slim last year in Bangkok. During my travels in Asia this year, looking for stories to document through photojournalism, I ended up near his corner of China. I remembered he used to play in Dali, at a place called Bad Monkey, an English bar that draws some seriously crazy bands. I asked for Ming and they told me I could find him in Shuhe, four hours from Dali. What started as a social visit morphed into a project of its own when I saw all he’d been getting up to.
But how did a Danish-born, NYC-trained professional musician end up in Yunnan, southern China?
“Some time ago I was traveling around in Yunnan, and I saw this beautiful coffee place in Shuhe. Inside was this girl cutting flowers. We talked, we had coffee, and I told her something like, ‘Any place that has a piano is my home.’ A month later, I got an email from her saying: ‘I got a piano, now you have a new home.'”
With a baby on the way, Slim and his girlfriend, Jojo, have opened a jazz cafe and guesthouse called Caffeine. It’s got a serious musical atmosphere, often featuring Slim messing around on the piano, or guest musicians jamming on upright bass, Indian tabla, and whatever else is around, while people come in, drink coffee, and hang out.
The photos below were taken over the last few weeks.
On Slim's mantle are a cymbal and a Chinese vase, an interesting material distillation of his life.
Getting ready to play, Slim practices simple rhythms on the drums while teaching locals how to play different songs: "Simplicity is the key element for all great music. To get that simple takes work -- I'm playing with new styles, and this place gives me the time and space to be creative like that."
A Kazakh band asked Slim to play flamenco with them. Indian tablas were a good choice to get into that rhythm.
On some nights, Slim crosses town to join a Gypsy flamenco reggae band. "I love classical reggae. I'm inspired by Carlton Barrett, and I try to transmit to these guys the basics of that type of music; I work to get a clean, beautiful, perfect melodic rhythm. But my heart is with jazz. I can understand some people don't like rock, hip hop, or reggae, but jazz? You can’t dislike it! I want to open that door in China, so people can get familiar with great jazz."
You can spend hours talking music with Slim. In a small room along with five local musicians, he starts playing reggae while everybody claps the beat.
On songwriting: "I find this place very inspiring. It's just me and the music, nothing else."
The local Gypsy flamenco reggae band and Slim perform in a local bar: "I don't like to play too loud -- I want to give space so everybody can be heard."
Slim plays Chopin on the piano at his place. The notes can be heard from outside, and many stop in for a moment, curious, to listen to the classical music.
Slim and Beat
Slim and his new cat, Beat, take a moment to relax in the bar and listen to music.
Coffee -> wine
Afternoons often turn into jazz sessions at Caffeine, as you switch from coffee to wine. The place is like a mix of New York and Old China. The deep and down melodies hit the audience, and with the last bom the song ends.