Shanti grew up in a musical family; his mother studied flute and piano at the RCM in London and his father was renowned as a boy treble in Sri Lanka. Both became music teachers. Shanti started cello at 8 years old and trumpet at 10, and was fully involved in musical activity throughout his schooling and university life, discovering and falling in love with jazz as a teenager.
He moved to London in the mid 80s and soon found himself playing Reggae, Soca, Congolese music and hanging out at jam sessions in the London clubs – 606 (Kings Road), Bass Clef, Palookavilles (the ‘church’), Brahms and Liszt, sharing the stage with the likes of Jason Rebello, Cleveland Watkiss and Courtney Pine. Meanwhile he spent many nights watching the top international stars performing at Ronnie Scotts Club.
He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and was featured soloist with Kenny Wheeler on the Guildhall Big Band’s CD ‘Walk Softly’. He toured with Tim Garland’s ‘Points on the Curve’ band, played with the Guildhall Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s with Randy Brecker, and discovered Afro-Cuban music with Roberto Pla. This was a revelation to him and he learned as much as he could about this music, always quizzing the Latin musicians about each players’s role.
In 1987 Shanti was fortunate to join Tony Haynes’ Grand Union Orchestra, who were playing World Music before the term was invented. They had musicians from Ghana, India, Trinidad, Chile, Brazil, South Africa as well as from the British Jazz scene, and the mix was irresistible to him. Over the years, Tony brought in musicians from Turkey, China, Egypt, Argentina, USA, Bangladesh, Scotland, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Portugal, and Shanti loved delving into all the different genres and how different musicians approached their music making.
Another rich musical scene in London that Shanti dived into in the 90s was the world of Brazilian music. He learned how to play some of the instruments in a Samba school, and started a long collaboration with Mônica Vasconcelos, contributing several compositions to her band Nóis.
Also in the 90s Shanti joined Mike Westbrook’s big band, John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions and Lindsay Cooper’s ‘Sahara Dust’ and toured with them in Europe, but most of his work in this decade was on the Latin music scene, becoming MD of Conjunto Sabroso, working with most of the bands in London also backing visiting artists from Puerto Rico and the USA in the UK and Europe.
Shanti has dipped his toe into the popular music scene, playing trumpet with the Brand New Heavies, Stereophonics, Basement Jaxx, Ricky Martin, Michael Bolton, Donna Summer and Friendly Fires.
With the Grand Union Orchestra, he became a workshop leader, and took part in many large projects featuring world and jazz musicians, as well as a plethora of local community and youth groups. He began playing Klezmer with Russian clarinettist Gregori Schechter and Stewart Curtis’ K Groove. He also joined John Etheridge’s Zappatistas, and appeared with the Don Lusher Big Band and Brian Abrahams’ District 6.
In the second half on the 90s he joined Alex Wilson’s band and recorded with Bobby Watson on Alex’s first CD, also playing alongside Bobby at the RFH during the BBC Jazz Awards. He travelled to Cuba in 1999 and played in concert with many of the Buena Vista Social Club, including Ruben Gonzales and Cachaito, also appearing with Frank Emilio Flyn’s ‘Los Amigos’. Frank Emilio subsequently invited him to perform with him during his solo concert at the Barbican, and with ‘Los Amigos’ in Germany. He also recorded on ‘Mambo Rage’ for Snowboy and the Latin Section.
After 2000 Shanti joined Karen Tweed’s ‘May Monday’, featuring Finnish and Swedish folk musicians, with whom he performed all over the UK and gave some masterclasses in Limerick University. He recorded with folk singer Bill Jones and appeared with her at Cambridge Folk Festival and the BBC folk awards. He continued his association with Alex Wilson, touring the UK and Germany, supporting the Afro-Cuban Allstars. He also had a residency with 5 Cubans and Venezuelans in a club in Leicester Square for 6 months.
2001-2003 completed several Jazz Services tours in a trio with Pete Jacobsen and Clare Foster, as well as Claridade Brazilian band, whose CD he recorded and produced. He travelled to Rio De Janeiro and São Paulo and sat in with Grammy nominated Banda Mantiqueira, forming a friendship with top Brazilian trumpeter Walmir Gil (Djavan and Banda Mantiquera)), who subsequently played on Shanti’s CD ‘Round Trip’. In New York he hung out at Smalls for the late night jam sessions, and also met and sat in with Cuban trumpeter Chocolate Armenteros.
In 2004 he formed the group ShantiJazzWorld and composed music for it and played gigs around the UK, mainly in regional Jazz Clubs. He joined Jason Yarde’s ‘Acoustic Bombastic’. He was involved in the development of the ABRSM trumpet Grades, also playing on the CDs. He supported the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis at the Barbican with Alex Wilson.
Highlights of the next few years included playing at several Jazz Festivals in Europe (Klaipeda with Manteca is available on DVD), playing at the Blue Note in Tokyo, joining the staff at CYM in London, teaching trumpet and jazz ensembles, playing with LPO improvisors ensemble, supporting Wayne Shorter, playing at UK festivals in duo with Steve Lodder, and taking up principle trumpet in ‘Porgy and Bess’ in the West End.
In 2007 he released a CD ‘Round Trip’ on the Candid label and toured the album with ShantiJazzWorld. He recorded on CDs by Gilad Atzmon, Courtney Pine and Kuljit Bhamra. Educational work included Marlborough Summer School and Global Music Foundation seminars in Saarwellingen (Germany) and Certaldo (Italy).
2010 – 2011 highlights – guest soloist at Avui Jazz in Valencia, Bb Club in Berlin and Marlborough Jazz Festival. Running jazz and world music workshops, playing Ronnie Scotts with King Salsa, soloist in a collaboration between the Grand Union Orchestra and BBC Concert Orchestra, touring on Salsa Celtica’s 15th Anniversary tour and recording on ‘In Vivo En El Norte’. Shanti transcribed John McGlaughlin’s DVD ‘Gateway to Rhythm’, which is available on his site to download
In 2012 Shanti appeared on a live worldwide internet event for Heineken, toured in China with Friendly Fires and toured the UK with Andy Abrahams and the History of the Big Bands. He appeared with Lea Delaria at Swanage Jazz Festival, had an impromptu session with Robben Ford at the 606 Club, and played with Mônica Vasconcelos at the Rio 2016 event at Somerset House. He joined new big band Bansangu, who play music composed or arranged by its own members – they appeared at Canary Wharf Jazz Festival. He recorded for and played with Conjunto Sabroso for the launch of their CD “Yo Tengo Lo Que Queria”. In December he travelled to Brazil for some relaxation (and some music!).
2013 saw Shanti learning a new instrument – George Schlub
made him a valve/slide trumpet. Shanti published a book and CD of 12 elementary trumpet tunes in different world music styles for the ‘Globetrotter’ series on OUP. April saw the launch of a new trio project, with South Indian influences, featuring Ramesh Shotam and John Crawford at Tabernacle folk. He played with David Samuels of Spyro Gyra fame at the 606, and was with Snowboy and the latin section at the Hideaway in Streatham. Also at the Hideaway he worked with several great singers, Nina Ferro, Brendan Reilly, Annabel Williams, Lex Cameron, Donna Gardier, Nicola Emmanuelle, Juliet Roberts, Vanessa Haynes, Vula Malinga and Emily Holligan. He was Musical Director of a joint project between the Grand Union Orchestra and Essex and Cambridgeshire Music Services bringing world music to schools in both counties, with performances at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, and also in Harlow, and Colchester carnival. The year ended with a whole month away in India, studying and catching the ‘Chennai Music Month’. While he was there he played several concerts with Jyotsna Srikanth in Delhi, Bangalore and on Kappa TV.
2014 saw Shanti studying at the Institute of Education in London for a Higher Education Teaching Certificate – he found it a fascinating course, reading about the psychology of learning, the latest research on one to one and group tuition, and developing curricula. As for performance, Shanti went to Colombia in January with Salsa Celtica, was blown away by the Colombian reception for the music. In London he played in several Cuban bands, Mônica Vasconcelos’ London Bossa Project, with a special DVD celebrating her first 20 years in London; In August he directed the first ever Grand Union Summer School with 40 students from Essex, Cambridgeshire, London and Portugal.
In 2015 Shanti played at the Purcell Room with Jyotsna Srikanth and world champion beatboxer Schlomo. He played with Jason Yarde’s Acoutastic Bombastic at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and appeared with Salsa Celtica on BBC Scotland. He played in the BAFTA special for Downton Abbey, which featured Kiri Te Kanawa and he appeared with Spanish drummer/composer Ramon Farran.
2016 saw Shanti recording with Bansangu Orchestra, playing with the Balkanatics and appearing at the Hideaway with Gwyneth Herbert and David McAlmont. He was at Glastonbury with Scottish Salsa band Rumba Caliente, and featured as soloist with Roberto Pla for the Barbican’s celebration of the UK Latin scene “Our Latin Thing”. He rekindled his association with Mônica Vasconcelos at the Olympic Park special Olympics celebrations and toured in Europe with Mulatu Astatke.
2017 started with a trip to Celtic Connections to play with Harpist/Composer Fraya Thomson, running a Grand Union project in Whittlesey, doing some teaching at LCCM, and arranging the horns/playing in a Bollywood concert in the Cadogan Hall. He led a touring quartet for the Grand Union in Cambridgeshire schools. The summer was spent touring with Aljaz and Janette’s show Remembering Fred. He played in a Grand Union show at Wilton’s Music Hall and with Alex Wilson at Glastonbury. August was spent visiting his Father’s birthplace of Sri Lanka and connecting with relatives who flew in from around the world. In the Autumn he toured with Snowboy in the UK, including Ronnie Scott’s and played with the Yiddish Twist Orchestra in Poland. He joined composer Byron Wallen in creating the music for a new play about Mental Health – ‘Conundrum’ by Paul Anthony Morris. He played with Mulatu Astatke in Oslo and Michèle Drees’ Jazz Tap Project at the Elgar Room (Albert Hall), also recording on Linley Weir’s Album ‘Just one more time’.
In 2018 Shanti played with Mulatu Astatke in Cape Town and Mannheim, and was a member of Orphy Robinson’s ‘The Voicestra Polyphonic Collective’ for the Gibraltar World Music Festival. He toured Italy, France, Spain and UK with Mulatu Astatke, and played with Salsa Celtica at the Carnoostival! He appeared with John Etheridge’s Zappatistas, and Jonathan Mayer, playing the music of his late father, John Mayer. He was at the Cork Jazz Festival with Bansangu and toured with Snowboy.
2019 started in Brussels with Mulatu Astatke, gigs with the Mantecas, Michèle Drees’ JTP, Roberto Pla, Sergio Marciano (from Vocal Sampling), and a new trio with Adriana Vasques and Marius Rodrigues. He taught on the Essex Easter Jazz course, appeared at the 606 with Rachel Z, and ran workshops for the Aldeburgh Young Musicians. He joined Natacha Atlas’ band and toured in the UK and Morocco with her. He recorded on the Trinity Drum Syllabus tracks and toured Scotland with Grupo Magnetico, finishing with a Glastonbury date. He played with Jason Yarde and Michèle Drees in the London Jazz Festival.
In 2020 Shanti was back at Celtic Connections with Salsa Celtica and toured Cambridgeshire schools again just before the lockdown started. The final show was supposed to be in the theatre at the Junction, both streamed and in front of a live audience. The audience didn’t show up at the last minute, so we played the show to a camera at the back of the hall, streamed to schools, who sent in questions during the concert for us to answer.
Since the lockdowns ended Shanti has been working with Omar Lye-Fook and Acantha Lang, with concerts in London and Europe.
In 2023 he started running the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and in 2024 was offered a senior lectureship role there, which he took up in February.