Walking on a Delhi street and suddenly hear the distinctive strains of Dave Brubeck's Take Five wafting through the air? Stand and listen and you could well hear applause follow that mesmerising. Yes, it's live and happening in a city that in the past two-three years has developed a penchant for jazz, a genre earlier thought to clash with the city's Punjabi cultural ethos.
Now though, the genre - with its DNA of variation, improvisation and freewheeling rhythms - is finding new audiences and venues that host jazz artistes. Take Turquoise Cottage, Vasant Vihar for example. Long a haven for rockers of all ages, last year it started a weekly series called Harlem Nocturne Nights (leaning on the 1939 jazz standard by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers) featuring Adil Manuel and Vasundhara Vee. The popularity was for all to see. Gaurav Soral, owner, Turquoise Cottage, says, "The whole idea is to initiate people to jazz beyond the festivals. And you'd be surprised by the response we've been getting. One might assume it's largely expatriates but it's 70% Indians who turn up for these evenings." The event series is currently on a hiatus, set to return very soon. But Soral continues to host artistes like Rainer Pusch, an accomplished German saxphonist in his late fifties, who uses a 1930 Selmer saxophone with a metal mouthpiece (a rarity of the highest order).
Pusch was in Delhi over the past few months and graced various venues including The Living Room (TLR) in Hauz Khas Village. In the three-odd years since it's been around, TLR has hosted many jazz acts. Among these, Stefan Kaye, a British expat who has made south Delhi his home, with his Jass B'stards (and Ska Vengers and Emperor Minge), has been one of the most regular and sought after.
Nascent but growing
On the drums with Pusch was Reuben Narain, who is an alumnus of Boston's Berklee School of Music. He says, "It's mainly in the past three years that one has seen a surge in jazz-friendly venues in the Capital. Some have been able to sustain the momentum, others not so much." Narain has played at Baci in Sundar Nagar, TLR, and the newest of the lot, Boheme in Hauz Khas Village. Boheme's setting lends itself to easy listening music, especially jazz. Situated on a terrace, the climb can leave you breathless, but the view makes the effort worth it. Overlooking the Hauz Khas reservoir, sunsets here are something to look forward to. Sukomal Juneja, founder-partner, Boheme, says, "The setting is such that easy listening is just right. And jazz fits right in." Four months old, Boheme exudes a relaxed, Mediterranean street ambience.
Pusch was especially sought out by Ranjan Chopra, a saxophonist in his own right, who has been perfecting the experience at the sprawling three-acre Zorba with an amphitheatre, pool, good wines and cuisine, over the past year. It's because of his connection with jazz that, Chopra says, he will host more jazz artistes, along with providing a festival experience.
One sobering thought: there is no dearth of resident or visiting jazz artistes in the city. However not a single venue has so far created a niche with this most versatile of genres. Some work still left there.