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Jazz Corner: The Jazz Scene

As live performing acts go, jazz is perhaps the most exciting

Sunil Sampat Nov 24, 2017

Ahmedabad-based jazz band Time Wise are one of the new and upcoming groups in the jazz scene in India. Photo: Mitul Kajaria

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In the past two or three years, I have been happy to see the local jazz scene hotting up. At least in the fair city of Mumbai, a number of venues have opened up for the performance of live jazz. I can count at least ten such venues which actively feature jazz in their live music programming at the present time. This is quite a leap from the one or perhaps two restaurants or bars that invited jazz music bands to perform, not too long ago. One loyal supporter of this art form was a popular bar and restaurant in Bandra.

However, live jazz was restricted to one day a month and although quite popular, could not cope with officialdom and fussy neighbors and gave up on this activity. Another bar and restaurant, also in Bandra invited jazz bands to play once a week for over six months in 2015. For some reason, this venue also decided to discontinue these live jazz gigs after a degree of success with the sessions. Fortunately, several other venues are now bringing in fair sized audiences for their jazz evenings. This in turn brings in more jazz musicians into the fray.

As live performing acts go, jazz is perhaps the most exciting. The music is unique and always fresh (at least in the hands of competent musicians), because it is based on improvisation and therefore is non repetitive.

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Jazz seems to have resonated among the younger crowd, at least in Mumbai. They are often seen at the new jazz venues. Even school and college students seem to be taking an interest in jazz, particularly in playing the music. Jazz festivals are regularly held in Mumbai, New Delhi, Goa and sometimes in Pune, Chennai and other cities. In our neighborhood, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have annual jazz festivals and events.

Jazz in Mumbai, perhaps elsewhere in India as well, seems to be veering away from the ”˜fusion’ phase, which seems to have dominated the Indian jazz scene in the past two or three decades; more emphasis on acoustic sounds and skills of the players is seen on their acoustic instruments.

In time to come, I would like to see the kind of jazz festivals one has seen, particularly in the U.S. in the town of San Jose, California, I went to their jazz festival a couple of months ago. The festival, held from a Friday evening to Sunday night seemed to involve several blocks of the downtown area of this city. There were a few open air stages which had music ranging from salsa, R&B to straight ahead jazz, a few restaurant/bar indoor venues, a couple of auditoriums and a few bands playing in the streets. The atmosphere was almost carnival like. Families and groups had set up impromptu picnic tables and were enjoying their wines, beers and cocktails with their meals. There were several serious listeners who were able to concentrate on the music; some others chose to dance, especially at the salsa stage where the music was always festive. For all this, top rated jazz musicians performed over the weekend.

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The nearest thing I have seen to this is the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai, where a similar festival atmosphere prevails, albeit on a smaller scale. One hopes we can move towards a jazz festival where partying and festivities form the basis and background for serious jazz music. Perhaps we will call it a Jazz Carnival!

Sunil Sampat is a jazz critic and Contributing Editor of Rolling Stone India. Write to Sunil at [email protected]

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