Picture this: You are at the recording studio of the veteran jazz musician Louiz Banks, who is playing ‘My favourite things’ and ‘Nature Boy’ on the keyboard. Accompanying him is his son, drummer Gino Banks, and popular singer and jazz vocalist Joe Alvares’s daughter, Shefali Alvares. As the musicians from two different generations played along, a lot about the genre was discussed. On International Jazz Day (April 30), we get Banks and Alvares to discuss all that’s jazz.
What developed your interest in jazz?
Banks: My father was a jazz musician and he instilled in me the love for the genre. My interest in jazz took a giant leap forward when I heard pianists Oscar Peterson and George Shearing. I wanted to play the piano like them.
Alvares: In my case, the notes, the melodies, the sound and the intense rhythm sections of jazz fascinated me. Also, the renditions by the amazing singers I grew up listening to, with interpretations by my father and uncle Louiz [Banks], helped me grow as an artiste.
How do you think the genre has evolved in India over the years?
Banks: Jazz has been evolving in India over the years, but the growth has been quite slow. It was initiated by our own local jazz musicians, who were innovative and creative, and had the zeal to be on par with international jazz musicians.
Alvares: I feel it’s grown so much over the years in India. We are learning the genre more, listening to it, infusing Indian music into it and making it our own. Also, international artistes coming here and performing has helped the jazz in India get a lot more exposure.
Listen to Louiz Banks perform the Shiv Shakti at Montreal Jazz Festival here:
What does jazz mean to you?
Banks: Music is my life. I don’t exist without it. My love for jazz grew out of my passion to play something that stimulated my mind, and was challenging to execute.
Alvares: Jazz to me is a beautiful form of art. It’s the way a bunch of musicians integrate to create a special music. It’s also quite technical.
Listen to Lazy Afternoon Entertainment-Love Story by Louiz Banks here:
Which jazz musicians do you admire the most?
Banks: Besides Oscar Peterson, I also admire Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Zakir Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan.
Alvares: I really admire the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Chaka Khan, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Esperanza Spalding. My father, Joe Alvares, and uncle Louiz Banks have been my mentors. I’ve learnt so much from them over the years.
What do you feel about the idea of fusion music, where jazz is integrated with Indian classical?
Banks: It is a natural progression. It’s the future of music. Furthermore, Indian classical and jazz are like two sides of the same coin. Conceptually, they are the same. Both are totally based on improvisation.
Alvares: I agree. I think it’s brilliant. I’ve heard dad and uncle Louiz making wonderful music together, integrating Indian instrumentalists into a jazz song, where the interpretation of the track by the musician just changes everything. Dad has gigged with [late] U Srinivasji, who just made the melodies even more beautiful with the mandolin. Similarly, uncle Louiz also pushes the boundaries of jazz by exploring so much with Indian music.
Does jazz have enough scope in Bollywood?
Banks: Bollywood has been adapting jazz to their songs from time immemorial. Music composers C Ramchandra, RD Burman and Shankar Jaikishan have elements of jazz in so many of their songs. There is a lot of scope to use jazz in Bollywood music, because the genre is adaptable, flexible and rhythmic. It swings. It’s modern and progressive, and adds a certain zing to the song arrangements.
Alvares: I like the fact that jazz is being infused slowly into Bollywood music. Directors like Anurag Kashyap and composers like Amit Trivedi are trying to change the music of B-Town. I think Bombay Velvet had a lot of jazz. We need more music like that.