Jazz Yatra

Jazz is arguably the most argumentative form of music (even has diminished
and argumented chords!). So at the outset let me present my side of the argument.
Jazz is musical improvisation, right? Indian classical music is improvisation,
still right? Granted, Indian music does not have the harmonies of the west. But
the keyword here is improvisation and not harmony, absolutely right? Indian
classical music has been around for more than two thousand years. The Americans
discovered Jazz less than a hundred years ago. Right then, now that we have
established India as the birthplace of Jazz let’s head for the Jazz Yatra.Surfacing on day one are the cats (Kangaroos?) from down under. Jamie Oehlers
Quintet and the Perth Jazz Orchestra. Jamie opens. Good band. Great Jazz. Jamie
and the boys are jammin’ alright. On to act two which is… ahem, an extended
remix of act one. Jamie and the boys brought their buddies along to form the
Perth Jazz Orchestra! It’s always a thrill hearing the powerful and dynamic
sounds of a big band. Reminds me about what teamwork is all about. Each and
every member looked really happy to be a small part of the big picture. Standing
out and upfront with the big band was vocalist Mark Underwood with a rich and
velvety voice that reached out and caressed the audience. Very enjoyable evening.
Good start for Jazz Yatra.

Met up with lots of old and new friends all sharing a common love for music
being created live. Day one was the Aussies night out. Pity we didn’t get to
hear their musical instrument called didgeridoo or didgerididnt or something.

Day two features Jazz Yatra’s trump card. Trumpet player Dave Douglas from the
U.S. of A. Voted as world’s best trumpet player by readers of Downbeat magazine
and Archie comics. Satya led by Dave settles down on stage, I mean sits down on
stage. Just then heaven walks past me in her tiniest black number. Tosses her
tresses and glances in my direction. Music begins. Band hasn’t begun. Chaos.
Band begins. Wrench myself back to earth. Satya’s seated in a neat semi circle.
Myra cross legged on harmonium. Dave cross eyed on trumpet. Samir and
Sanghamitra cross country on tabla and tanpura respectively. Dave looks like a
snake charmer about to charm a snake right out of Samir’s tabla. Band’s playing.
Music flows. Sounds charming indeed. I notice a lot of snakes in the audience
slowly rise and slither towards the canteen hip flasks in hand. Crowd’s getting
restless, collective murmurs, customary grunts and some oinks of disapproval
about the raags being given to us by Satya…nass! Rang Bhavan is under threat
of being converted into a huge open air Just not Jazz by the bay! Mr. Compere
comes up and requests the crowds to stop disturbing the performers. I’m tempted
to yell back, ‘the performers are disturbing us’. The trumpet player may be hot
but it’s the batatawadas that are smokin’ right now. So I get up and head for
the snakes, I mean snacks, at the canteen located next to the loo! And I’m not
talking about the loo as in the Louie’s wife.

Okay I’m back. I don’t quit so easily. And guess what? Half the band is joined
by three other musicians to form Myra Melfords ‘Same River Twice’! I’m slowly
beginning to understand the mathematics of music. Things are getting interesting
at Jazz Yatra. The river flows. This band is wild. Making avant garde efforts to
push back the boundaries of Jazz. Pianist Myra’s brilliant and definitely an
inspiring band leader. Dave is beginning to sound like he has earned his votes.
The Jap chap playing bass seems to be getting more out of his headless and
fretless bass.

Day three opens with Harsha Makalande on solo ‘Hamburg Steinway piano tuned by
Mr. Mistry’ as Mr. Compere kept announcing a little more often than the
necessary sponsor plug. Anyway, Harsha sounds like he is rehearsing for his next
big solo performance. He probably feels that way too since there’s just a
handful of Jazz enthusiasts present in their respective seats at 7.00 PM sharp.
Then came the Vijay Iyer Quartet. Now here is a brilliant group of musicians,
each a virtuoso in his own right, with strings of academical achievement behind
their music. I could almost smell the textbooks from where it all came. This is
great Jazz. The musicians on stage are incredibly tuned into each other. They
have obviously been playing together for a long time or may be they can read
each others minds or perhaps they read each others textbooks. Then again, it
could just be the simple fact that they share each others T-Shirts.

Great performance. Good show. Brilliant musicianship. But for some reason the
quartet doesn’t really make me want to stand on my chair and yell ‘yebdiyow’. At
one point though, in the middle of the bass solo I did feel like getting up and
waltzing into heaven seated just two rows ahead. Unfortunately the tune was in
five and a half time. This would certainly complicate things in the ballroom
department of dance. What’s next ? Oh yes. Its Malcolm Mc’Neil, from New Zealand
and you better believe this, he is being backed by Jamie and the Jammers from
day one. Now Mally looked a little bewildered on stage. He was probably
wondering what the heck is he doing on stage at an international Jazz festival
when he should have been safely tucked into a cozy nightclub at some swanky five
star hotel in New Zealand. He did put up a spirited performance however, and
considering he found out who his back up band was only the night before showtime,
he did exceptionally well. In fact I even overheard a couple of women expressing
their intense desire to hug him as he sang, ‘have I told you lately’.

Time for the grand finale featuring petite Louisa Cottifogli backed by the Louis
Banks trio and act two featuring the big surprise, world renowned clarinet
player Eddie Daniels and wife Mirabai who seems to be on her way to nirvana via
the Indian Yatra. You’ve guessed right, the couple’s going to be backed by the
Louis Banks trio. I guess India has yet to produce another rhythm section as
awesome as Louis Banks, Karl Peters and Ranjit Barot. Little Louisa kicks off
the grand finale with ‘Vande Mataram’. Great. This little Italian has really got
us Indians by the balls. Then she proceeds to twist them around miming vocalists
from different parts of the world. I almost forgot what an Italian singer sounds
like. Now comes the sucker punch, she goes and does a Dave Douglas on us (she
starts miming a trumpet). And finally virtuoso clarinet player Eddie Daniels
takes the stage with the tireless trio. Scorching solos. Dazzling display of
musicianship and improvisational skills. Wifey joins the party. And promptly
starts cookin’. Reminds me of our own version of an American Jazz singer, the
ageless Pam Crain. A few exciting tunes down the show, differences seemed to
creep in onstage. Differences probably musical, financial, political or some
other ill seemed to crop up in broad spotlight. Differences at Jazz by the bay
is war. Differences at an international platform like the Jazz Yatra is world
war. And so finally the curtains came down on the world war, sorry, Jazz Yatra.
The bottom line is, the boys at Jazz India did make it happen against all odds.
Even if the batatawadas and babes were far more happening than the bands.

Colin D’Cruz