A little under 200 years ago, a bunch of American musicians discovered the joys of improvising and called it jazz. Over 2,000 years ago, Indian classical musicians were busy setting the rules for those American musician’s joy. 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 look at the state in India. The name of one of India's most popular live jazz venues in Mumbai tells the story loud and clear. It started as ‘Jazz By The Bay’, changed to ‘Not Just Jazz By The Bay’ and is rapidly heading for ‘Just not jazz by the bay’!
Granted, jazz has a niche audience and commercial music rules, but in the span of few years the same commercial music is ruled out, while jazz blissfully evolves, embracing all forms of music along the way. We now have rock-jazz, pop-jazz, funk-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 to every genre that comes. That’s how huge jazz is and it should now be spelt jaaaaaaaaaaz!
Why do I play jazz when I could easily make millions if I learnt to sing pop through my nose? It's because jazz allows me to be myself as opposed to pop that wants me to be Madonna. In fact, not very long ago, a leading Indian music company released a male Indi-pop star's album titled Mai bhi Madonna with the man dressed in drag on the cover. Jazz suddenly began to make sense to me after all.
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’m certainly right behind the song, all the way. I made a lot of friends and a whole lot of enemies, but I did meet people after all. If it wasn't for my music I’d have been a lighthouse keeper on Andaman Island or 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’m currently working on two resident contracts — with my Indo-jazz fusion ensemble called ‘The Brown Indian Band’ for obvious reason and my band called ‘The Bassman's Band’ for some funny reason.
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 organisation in Goa called 'Jazz Goa'. After close to three decades of playing jazz with just about every local jazz musician, I would loved to be called the ‘Godfather of Indian jazz’. The position has been filled I believe, so I'll settle for ‘Godson of Indian jazz!’
The writer is a bassist and leads the The Bassman’s Band.