International Jazz Day: Meet Mumbai's young musicians

  • Arundhati Chatterjee, None, Mumbai
  • Updated: Apr 30, 2015 16:00 IST

The Jazz Age, as writer F Scott Fitzgerald called it, swept through the USA in the '20s, establishing big band and woodwind instruments as part of pop culture. By the '30s, thanks to the presence of several African-American bands, Mumbai offered a thriving scene for jazz artistes that lasted for three decades. Eventually, the art-deco ballrooms stopped hosting jazz acts, and musical tastes altered. With the sea of change, the genre became a thing of Mumbai's glorious past. The few jazz gigs today are mostly frequented by the older generations. However, in recent years, spaces such as Bombay Base and Café Zoe, along with a few music fests, have attempted to revive the genre. But exactly how successful are they? On the heels of International Jazz Day (April 30), HT spoke to some young jazz talents of Mumbai to gauge the situation.

Nigel Rajaratnam, multi-instrumentalist

A regular at music festivals like NH7 Weekender and Ragasthan, Nigel feels pure jazz is not really discernible among the city's youth. He explains, "The genre finds its roots almost entirely in African-American musical traditions. A lot of the references therein seem alien to the average Indian listener." But he maintains that there still is a dedicated bunch of musicians in Mumbai who keep the tradition alive. "A new generation of jazz cats seems to be slowly floating to the top, which is very heartening. Louis Banks, The Cordo Family, Shirish Malhotra and Rhys Sebastian, all do plenty and more to mesmerise listeners, old and new, with their acts," adds Rajaratnam. Ryan Sadri, saxophonist

The 31-year-old musician says he was introduced to the genre by one of India's finest jazz artistes, Mickey Correa. "His legendary stories of the 21 years he spent as a big-band leader at the Taj Mahal Palace, Colaba, inspired me to live by the spirit of jazz," says Sadri, who is a regular at Mumbai's musical festivals. But the scene, he says, "Is not consistent, and swells every now and then". He further adds, "Given the world we live in, where we're discouraged from thinking for ourselves and developing individual opinions, it's hard for art forms like jazz to flourish. However, regular events like the Live Sessions at Café Zoe, Lower Parel, are doing well to create a vibe." Gino Banks, drummer

Jazz veteran, Louis Banks's son, Gino, literally grew up on the genre. He looks back, saying, "My dad used to travel early every morning to the studio in Worli for his ad jingle work, and I would ride with him as he dropped me off to school (Bombay Scottish) on the way. In the car, he would play jazz music. At a really young age, it seeped in. I listened to artistes such as Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and Yellowjackets."

Today, as part of the indie collective Mekaal Hasan Band, Bankscollaborates with various artistes for fusion projects. He calls jazz fusion his 'comfort zone'. Although he thinks the audience today is "quite receptive" to the genre, he feels the number of venues popularising it are too few. "People have access to listen to stuff online. So, they are aware of the music, but there are only a few jazz gigs that happen in Mumbai," he says. Dhruv Ghanekar, guitarist

Pursuing jazz was a chance encounter for the artiste. Ghanekar reminisces, "I was bored of rock 'n' roll, and jazz sounded quirky, and spiked my curiosity. But little did I know how torturous and demanding the journey would be." He does not believe that Mumbai has a jazz scene. "It comes alive only once a year on April 30. In fact, owning a Vada Pav shop is more lucrative than playing jazz in India," he says. However, Ghanekar believes artistes such as Gino Banks, Sheldon D'Silva, Balani Brothers and Sanjay Divecha are keeping jazz traditions alive today. Rhys Sebastian DSouza, saxophonist

Born into a family of musicians (he is the son of pianist Merlin D'Souza and grandson of composer Sebastian D'Souza), D'Souza started to learn classical piano as a child, and loves to believe that he 'learnt to sing before learning to talk'. The city has more takers of fusion jazz than pure jazz, Rhys observes, adding, "Mumbai does have a rich history of jazz music through the '40s. Since Hindustani classical is strongly rooted in Indian culture, there is an inclination to bridge the two genres to bring the audience closer to jazz. We have to respect where we come from, and work up from there."

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