Before I get into the current jazz scene in India, I would like to give you my take on jazz…
Around one hundred years ago, a bunch of American musicians discovered the joys of improvising and called it jazz. Over two thousand years ago, Indian classical musicians were busy laying down foundations for improvised music. If jazz is improvised music, Indian classical music is jazz! Now that we’ve discovered who really discovered jazz, it’s time to take a good look at its state in India. The name of India’s most popular live jazz venue located in Mumbai, tells the story loud and clear. It started as ‘Jazz by the bay’, changed to ‘Not just jazz by the bay’ and should now switch to ‘Just not jazz by the bay’!
Granted, jazz has a niche following and commercial music rules. But then, a few years later that same commercial music is ruled out while jazz blissfully evolves, embracing all other forms of music along the way. We now have rock-jazz, pop-jazz, funk-jazz, latin-jazz, hip-hop-jazz, indo-jazz… to cut a very long story short, there is a -jazz attached to every genre of music and there will be a -jazz attached ot every genre that comes along. That’s how huge jazz is and it should now be spelled jaaazzz!
Jazz is the medium through which I express myself musically. Jazz allows me to be myself as opposed to pop that wants me to be Madonna. I’d rather be myself than strut onstage wearing conical jocks. In fact, not very long ago a leading music company in India released a male indi-pop star’s album titled ‘Mai bhi Madonna’ (I’m Madonna too) with the man dressed in drag on the album cover. Jazz suddenly began to make profound sense to me. I chose to play bass as I felt it was the coolest sound of music. Rhythm, melody and harmony makes music and the bass player is the important link between the three. I may not be upfront or in the spotlight all the time like the singer in the band but I am certainly right behind the song all the way.
It’s been a long, exciting journey into jazz for me. I made a lot of friends as a musician and a whole lot of enemies. I did meet a lot of people. If it wasn’t for my music I would have been a lighthouse keeper on Andaman island or what’s worse, I would have been a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Yes, music helped me get out of my shell and face the world with a song. I currently work on two resident contracts at the JW Marriott hotel with my indo-jazz fusion ensemble called ‘The Brown Indian Band’ for obvious reasons and at night at the Taj Lands End hotel with my band called ‘The Bassman’s Band’ for some strange reason. I often take time off from these two gigs to perform at concerts and corporate events all over India and internationally. One of the highlights of my career so far, has been performing internationally on the world renowned Hennessy XO jazz tour.
My journey into jazz has been fun and my best is always yet to come. To give back to the music that gave me so much, I setup an organization in Goa called ‘Jazz Goa’. After close to three decades of playing jazz with just about every jazz musician in the country, I would have loved to be called the Godfather of Indian jazz. The position has been filled I’m told, so I’ll settle for Godson of Indian jazz!
The jazz scene in India
India always had a parallel jazz scene going along with the worldwide evolution of this great form of music that found a hip name in America in the early part of the 20th century. If there was a big band scene happening around the world in the swinging sixties, there was a little big band scene going on in India aswell, in places like Calcutta and Mumbai.
When the electronic sound of fusion evolved in the eighties, we had our own fusion heros like Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain and Ravi Shankar running parallel and often ahead of the rest of the world. Right down to current sounds of yet to be labeled genre’s of jazz, there’s always a parallel evolution going on in our own land of improvising maestros (Indian classical musicians).
The recently defunct Jazz Yatra, started in 1978, featured no less than the jazz legends themselves. Over the years it grew into the longest running international festival in the world! And even served as a launch pad for the great jazz singer/pianist Tania Maria. I remember getting my biannual fix on world class live jazz right here in my backyard. The organization behind the Jazz Yatra ‘Jazz India’ ran into some serious inhouse squabbles and was dissolved to make way for ‘Capital Jazz’ a new organization that hopes to take over from where Jazz India left off. The two editions of Capital Jazz’s ‘Jazz Utsav’ so far, did feature some great international artistes, but it’s going to take a while before it gets anywhere near a Jazz Yatra.
Interestingly, jazz pockets keep springing up all the time in India, like Capital Jazz, Pune Jazz Club, Bangalore Jazz Habba, Chennai Jazz Club and Jazz Goa. Capital Jazz came together to keep an international jazz festival going in India after the Jazz Yatra folded up. This non-profit organization hosts the Capital Jazz Utsav in Delhi and the West Coast Jazz Utsav in Mumbai.
The Pune Jazz Club meets every third Sunday of the month at the Max Mueller Bhavan and one or two members present an audio-visual on his/her favorite jazz artistes. They also organize the occasional live jazz event at Shisha Cafe, Koregaon Park. The club members have a blast at every meeting that invariably turns into a party.
Bangalore has its fair share of jazz exponents and aficionados. The 2007 edition of the most popular cultural festival ‘Bangalore Habba’, featured a four day jazz festival within the ten day festival. Some of India’s most accomplished jazz artistes, including visiting international artistes performed here. From the tremendous response it got, the festival organizers decided on making it a permanent fixture every year.
The Chennai Jazz Club set up by jazz enthusiasts there, operates on similar lines as the Pune club. The meetings too, take place at the Chennai Max Mueller Bhavan. Membership has been steadily growing over the years with new jazz enthusiasts joining the club each year.
Jazz Goa was set up by musicians and jazz lovers in Goa to promote local talent, giving them a platform to perform locally aswell as internationally. Goan jazz musicians have always been at the forefront of the jazz scene in India. And Jazz Goa makes sure they stay in the limelight. The organization has also recorded and released jazz CDs that can be reviewed at www.jazzgoa.com.
Goa seems to be the next hub for jazz in India. Almost every visiting jazz artiste has Goa on their itinerary, mainly for its creatively inspiring environment. Jazz Goa offers these artistes a professional platform to perform in while they holiday in Goa. Goa being an international tourist destination, a jazz concert here attracts worldwide audiences.
Delhi too has a great jazz scene since the city is filled with international diplomats, most of them being jazz lovers. The five star hotels here often feature local as well as international jazz bands on resident contracts.
Kolkata, the once upon a time jazz hub, no longer has a scene to write home about since most of the jazzers there migrated to foreign shores, several of them to Mumbai. Coming back to Mumbai and its struggling Bollywood jazz scene, the fire still keeps leaping out of dying embers. There’s a Jazz Utsav rising out of a Jazz Yatra. And a Blue Frog leaping out of a Not Just Jazz by the Bay. It’s still happening here, even if it has to be sneaked in between ‘Kaliyon Ki Chaman’ and ‘Kajra Re’!
Jazz has always had a niche listener base worldwide and it’s not surprising for it to be side stepped in a country ruled by Bollywood. As long as people like me keep getting passionately hooked onto this soulful sound of music, the club’s here to stay!
By Colin D’Cruz