Grammy Award panelist Greg Banaszak on keeping bebop jazz alive

  • Poorva Joshi, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 18, 2016 11:30 IST
Greg Banaszak (centre) performing with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra in Austria (Photo courtesy:

Greg Banaszak learnt jazz from the greats, and he’s a voting member at the Grammys. If you love the genre, his bebop concert this weekend is one you cannot miss.

Remember the scene from The Great Gatsby when Jay Gatsby (Leonardo di Caprio) met Meyer Wolfsheim (Amitabh Bachchan)? Remember the jazz music playing in the background? The fast-paced rhythm accompanied by a cello base and a saxophone hitting the crescendo at intervals, is the film’s musical signature. Because the timeline — the film is set in the 1930s to ’40s America — coincides with the birth of bebop jazz, that would redefined jazz in the US.

“These were the times when band performances were the central form of entertainment in America. Many would go out to dance and listen to live music,” says Greg Banaszak, a Grammy Award panelist and an American saxophonist known for his bebop jazz sound. “Jazz was the dominant genre. A male vocalist, Billy Eckstein, had a great saxophonist in his band: Charlie Parker. The group wanted to experiment with harmonies in faster tempos. After the buzz of the night died down, they’d perform at Mintons’ Place, a club in Harlem, New York. That is considered the birthplace of bebop,” says Banaszak.

This weekend, Banaszak is teaming up with other international artists — US-based vocalist Andrea Snitszer and Mumbai-based drummer Benny Soans — to present a bebop concert in Mumbai. For Banaszak, it is part of a larger project: an effort to educate people about the legacy of Charlie Parker and the roots of bebop.

The young prodigy

Banaszak’s musical journey has taken him across many countries. But as the first solo saxophonist to have performed in Egypt, one of his most memorable concerts, naturally, was with the pyramids as his backdrop. “I performed there thrice: in 1991, 1995, and 2001. It’s magical, playing amid sand dunes and pyramids,” he says.

Following in his mentor’s footsteps, Banaszak, too, believes that every artist should also be a teacher. For this reason, Banaszak himself is a faculty member at multiple universities. (Photo:

It was a dream come true for Banaszak, who has been playing the sax since he was just 10. His parents were jazz enthusiasts, and often played vintage records at their home in Buffalo, New York. Banaszak recalls his moment of epiphany: “I was listening to saxophonist Phil Woods mull over Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

Also read: Sax and the City: How jazz in Mumbai is on a comeback trail

He’d go on to study jazz under the mentorship of legends such as John ‘Jackie’ McLeon, one of the students of Charlie Parker. “Though he was a jazz saxophonist, he insisted that I learn about other styles and be open to as much music as possible,” says Banaszak.

As a result, though primarily a bebop artist, Banaszak describes his personal sound as a combination of the styles pioneered by Parker, McLean, as well as legends such as Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.

On the panel

Following in his mentor’s footsteps, Banaszak, too, believes that every artist should also be a teacher. For this reason, Banaszak himself is a faculty member at multiple universities.

Interestingly, being a professor earned him a position on the Grammy judge’s panel. “I thought it was a joke when I heard the news. But then the president of the Grammy called to confirm it,” recalls Banaszak. What happens behind the scenes at the Grammys, we wonder. “The unexpected” is all Banaszak says.

Don’t miss

What: Bebop and Beyond will premiere on Friday, June 17, at 7pm.

Where: Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point

Call: 6622 3724

Tickets: Rs 300 onward on

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