How Bengaluru Architect Kamal Sagar Convinced Jazz Legend Ahmad Jamal To Perform In India
Sagar also set up the Windmills Craftworks Jazz Theatre and the Music Foundation to promote both international and Indian music in the country
Architect Kamal Sagar’s passion for music has always found resonance in his work. As the founder and head of Total Environment Building Systems, Sagar has designed aesthetically superior apartments, homes and offices with his wife Shibanee, some of which have been named after songs including “Time,” “Footprints,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Greensleeves” and “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” Earlier this year, Sagar set up the Music Foundation in Bengaluru, which will promote both Indian and international artists. For all those headed to the Ahmad Jamal concert in Bengaluru next month, you have Sagar to thank – the architect convinced the American piano legend to make a trip to India. In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Sagar tells us about his musical leanings and how he plans to drive the scene in the country.
What drew you to the music of Ahmad Jamal?
My father has been the source of all my musical influences. He has this very varied taste ranging from Jazz to Rock, Country, Latin, Western Classical.
I first heard Ahmad Jamal’s album Freeflight – been hearing it since the time I was born I guess. It was the crazy rhythm and intricate turns that the music would take that always amazed me. After that, during my school days, I picked up a cassette of the album Digital Works – in a stock clearance sale from a stationery store in Vizag – for Rs. 5. This one was even more crazy and I realized that Ahmad Jamal’s music was so very different from all the other jazz music that I was listening to, which included, in those days, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, Claude Bolling, Django Reinhardt, Herbie Mann, Art Van Damme, Stephane Grappelli, Svend Asmussen, George Benson, Earl Klugh and Plas Johnson (Johnny Beecher)
Over the years, I fell more and more in love with Ahmad Jamal’s music and have been collecting his albums from all over the world – from old used record stores in Europe to the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago and of course, more recently, from Amazon.
How did you convince him to perform in India?
I attended a concert of his in Paris in October last year and stayed back after the concert to meet him. I showed him my iPhone pictures of our Jazz Theatre and Microbrewery “Windmills Craftworks” in Bangalore, and explained how madly I loved his music and that it would be wonderful if he could do a performance in India. He explained to me how his chef was from Mumbai and that he had never performed in India. He asked me to send across the details and he would think about it. Later, after a few email exchanges, he confirmed that he would be able to make it in the first week of July.
Tell us a bit about your concert experiences in India or abroad
The most memorable concerts I have attended so far are David Gilmour (along with Rick Wright and Nick Mason) at the Rosemont Theatre in Chicago – with the Pink Floyd experience – complete with laser lights and phenomenal sound quality, Ahmad Jamal at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York and at the Chicago Symphony Theatre and the Odeon at Paris, the Allman Brothers Band at the Suwanee Festival and at the Beacon Theatre, The Hadouk Trio as well as Pokey LaFarge and also Ben Sollee at our very own Windmills Craftworks, Patricia Barber at the Green Mill in Chicago, and Supertramp at Toulon in France. Also Jethro Tull in Mumbai and Bryan Adams in Bangalore.
While we already know that Floyd and Noel Harrison have been on your playlist, take us through how your musical tastes were built
My musical tastes, influenced hugely by my father, range from rock, jazz, Western classical, folk, country, Latin, world, blues and sufi. I pick up interesting music on Lufthansa’s collection of latest music on their flights, on Amazon, at the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, loads of live shows, You Tube, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and JazzRadio.com. Some of my favorites, besides Ahmad Jamal and Pink Floyd, are MacDonald and Giles, Supertramp, the Allman Brothers Band, Trio Los Paraguayos, Svend Assmussen, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Omara Portuondo, Wind Machine, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Derek Trucks, Dolly Parton, Simon and Garfunkel, Claude Bolling and Ruben Gonzalez.
How did studying at IIT Kharagpur influence your musical leanings? Were you a part of band?
At IIT Kharagpur, I learnt how to play the bass guitar and spent a lot more time on rock especially The Doors, McDonald and Giles, Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Who, Allman Brothers Band, Jethro Tull, John Lennon, Traffic, Santana, Blood, Sweat and Tears and of course, Pink Floyd.
I played the bass from my very first year at Kharagpur and was the Governor for Western Music – for what was called the Technology Music Society (TMS) and headed the College Rock Band in my final year. We played mostly Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Doors.
After playing the bass, I have grown to love music with strong rhythm sections and with powerful bass lines.
Do you listen to any Indian contemporary bands and artists?
Not too much. I do not see the merit in Indian bands performing Western music – except for their own satisfaction, like we did, back in college. We need to create fresh original music that breaks new ground. I listen to Indian folk music and classical music as well as Sufi.
Could you tell us a little more about your Music Foundation and the work you are doing with it.
We set up the Music Foundation very recently – earlier this year. So far, we have conducted workshops and artiste residency programs with artistes such as Ben Sollee from Kentucky, Veronica Nunes from Brazil, Steve Yarrington from UK. It is through this Foundation that we are bringing in Ahmad Jamal.
Over the rest of this year, we plan to bring in several more artistes of very high calibre including Anat Cohen, Madeleine Peyroux, Anna Patton, Joscho Stephan, The Hadouk Trio, Pablo Ziegler.
Artistes that we bring in must meet atleast one of the following criteria:
1. BREAKING BOUNDARIES
The Artiste must have broken new ground in the world of music – created either a new direction or added a new flavor or character to an existing style or direction. Technical skill, while appreciated, is not a critical requirement and technical skill alone will not qualify. Creativity and powerful emotional connect will.
2. EXCEPTIONAL TALENT
If the artiste is not breaking new boundaries, and is playing in an existing style or genre, he or she must have exceptional talent – either years and years of practice or exceptional inborn talent, performing at a very high level of skill – again playing music that is engaging, provocative and intense
Finally, the music must demonstrate melody, harmony and rhythm as well as timbre and texture. It must be able to engage the senses or provoke the venting of emotions. It must either be very well composed, to high degree of detail or improvized in a manner that is harmonious and deeply engaging,
Over the years, by inspiring talented musicians, we hope to be able to help in the creation of a fresh new sound from India.