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An ear for jazz

Lal, 69, is one of the 10 founder-members of Jazz India Delhi Chapter, a band of aficionados — now called Capital Jazz — that has been organising Delhi’s only regular jazz event for a quarter of a century, reports Amitava Sanyal.

music Updated: Nov 20, 2009 22:47 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Northerners prefer balle-balle and rock,” says Subhash Lal, ruing the lack of a well-grounded jazz culture in the Capital. He should know. Lal, 69, is one of the 10 founder-members of Jazz India Delhi Chapter, a band of aficionados — now called Capital Jazz — that has been organising Delhi’s only regular jazz event for a quarter of a century.

Ask him why they don’t organise more events, and Lal shoots back: “Show me the money.” Why are all Capital Jazz committee members over 50 in age? “Where are the young enthusiasts? We don’t want a circus,” says Lal.

The music wasn’t always this low. In the 50s and 60s, Connaught Place was abuzz with live jazz at watering holes such as Volga and Gaylord, Laguna and Alps. Patrons would often break into impromptu jigs to the swinging beats.

Much has changed since then. In the post-MTV world, jazz is seen more as a cerebral pursuit of those with more salt than pepper in their hair. And the social milieu in which it resonates is far removed from the grotty Volga.

Arjun Sagar Gupta, 24-year-old jazz pianist of The Variety Hour trio, says, “The scene is definitely better than five years ago. We get to do 5-6 shows a month… But the young cannot afford to come to The Park hotel, where we play on Sundays, for just the music.”

The event, too, has changed pitch. Two decades ago, it ran on several small contributions; this year, Seagram’s 100 Pipers is footing a large part of the bill, which, by the reckoning of Rock Street Journal editor Amit Saigal, is $120,000 (Rs 50 lakh). Earlier, you could enjoy an evening’s jazz by the Ashoka poolside for Rs 150 (Rs 25 for students); this weekend you have to shell out Rs 500 (no special rates for students) for a session at the FICCI auditorium.

That might mean there won’t too many young faces in the crowd. But then, the organisers seem to be humming an old tune: So what?

Saturday: Beatle jazz

Of all the artists performing at this year’s Jazz Utsav, Brian Melvin, chief instigator of the Beatlejazz trio, has the deepest and oldest links with India. The 50-year-old drummer, who first met Allah Rakha in San Francisco 35 years ago, never got weaned off the tabla. He kept meeting the maestro and his son Zakir Hussain, and learnt from both. “The instrument taught me the discipline and motivation needed to improve as a musician.” Melvin may also play the kanjira and the madol this time. “Jazz, with its improvisational style, is closer to Indian classical music than most other forms,” he says.

Melvin is touring this time with John Davis, who has accompanied him on stage with feted electric bass player Jaco Pastorius, and Peter Barshay, who has recorded with him on four albums. Don’t they feel constrained by the Beatles tag? “The only limitation is our imagination,” says Melvin. Trees can still be tangerine and skies marmalade. Let’s see how.

Other acts of the day:
Eric Vloeimans Quartet
Nils Olav Johansen Quartet

Sunday: Wayne Krantz & co

Left to his own recourse, guitarist Wayne Krantz wouldn’t call himself a jazz musician. Well, he might not even consider himself a regular guitarist. It was the spirit of improvisation that attracted Krantz, who has toured with the jazz-rock band, Steely Dan, to jazz. “I like improvisations more than composed music, though one has to find a balance. I use the guitar possibly as a drummer would, with a specific intent for the rhythm,” he says. But notes in jazz, too, can be “linearly connected”. So Krantz, 53, mixes sounds from rock, funk and even “electronica, in recent times”.

Compared to his recordings a decade ago, Krantz’s riffs have become sharper, his notes shorter and surer. He says, “I have become musically more aggressive. It flows from my foundation in rhythm... And I can’t leave that unexplained to my band.”

One person who will probably need little explanation is Anthony Jackson, who will be by Krantz’s side this Sunday. You be there.

Other acts of the day:
Andrea Marcelli
Amit Heri & Sanjay Divecha
Rafal Gorzycki EP Trio