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The Blues Is Where It’s At

Live music is alive, well and thriving. The Mahindra Blues Festival in February and the Angelique Kidjo concerts in March were very well attended by obviously appreciative Mumbai audiences. I was thrilled to be there to participate with the energy that permeated through their sounds. There is some X factor associated with a live music […]


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Live music is alive, well and thriving. The Mahindra Blues Festival in February and the Angelique Kidjo concerts in March were very well attended by obviously appreciative Mumbai audiences. I was thrilled to be there to participate with the energy that permeated through their sounds. There is some X factor associated with a live music concert, even when the music might otherwise be not outstanding. While I enjoyed both these concerts, I felt there was something missing.

The two dimensional sound with only guitars and bass guitars used throughout, was monotonous. One missed the extra character added by the use of horns. A trumpet or saxophone in the mix would have worked wonders for the blues concert. The blues have undergone considerable transformation in recent times. The sound of stone or natural blues sound, which was the sound of bands such as the Muddy Waters band, has changed since the 1960s and 70s. My theory is that rock musicians, such as Mick Jagger incorporated the blues sound in their own expression. The popularity of The Rolling Stones and other British bands with their ‘blues’ inputs, have changed the perception of the blues sound among the audiences, particularly non American ones. Some six years ago I attended the Chicago Blues Festival which had a totally different flavour. Perhaps we have just got used to the sound of the amplified electric guitar and deafening high volume sound. There is so much more to the blues than that. For all that, the annual Mahindra’s Blues Festival is a delicious prospect for the future. It will only get better and better.

Memories of live concerts past are awakened by recent experiences. I feel very fortunate to have heard the great Muddy Waters in a concert in Montreal, Canada. His presence on stage was easy, unhurried and humble. He was not the kind of showman that Buddy Guy is, but his music was mesmeric. On the other hand the presence on stage of James Brown was nothing short of electric (I mean the sound not the voltage). It was impossible to sit still while he was performing. Brown’s constant energy, his big band and antics and his unbridled joy in the music made for a scintillating experience.

No less dazzling were the experiences of hearing Ray Charles and Etta James. Both were more subtle and smooth than James Brown, but very classy. Even more understated were the duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. They sat on their stools with acoustic guitars and told you elaborate stories.

The best jazz music comes from playing the blues. Listen to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis or many other jazz greats and you will hear the blues in their music. Great jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Thelonius Monk and others have composed some beautiful blues pieces. Listen to ‘Mood Indigo,’ ‘’Round Midnight,’ ‘Parker’s Mood’ or ‘Billie’s Blues.’ Goosebumps guaranteed. Louis Armstrong played and sang the blues from deep within him. Among other jazz vocalists there have been some outstanding blues singers. Billie Holiday exemplified this sound. Her pain comes through her music in everything she sings. Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald are always close to the blues. Count Basie employed Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams to sing the blues in his hugely popular big band.

We hope that future editions of blues festivals in Mumbai will broaden their talent base to include some wonderful blues talent from the jazz fraternity.

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