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Jazz Corner

Swing that Music!

Sunil Sampat Aug 08, 2013
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Composer Duke Ellington in circa 1930. Photo: James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Composer Duke Ellington in circa 1930. Photo: James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Swing! Suddenly the word seems to have become trendy, popular, au courant! In the recent cricket tournament in England, swing bowlers were very important, whether they bowled swing or even reverse swing.  Much like the word jazz itself, swing maybe a little difficult to define in precise terms. It is perhaps best understood as the type of music which wants you to get up and dance the jive. An approximate explanation of swing (in jazz) was offered by vocalist Jon Hendricks. He was attempting to vocalize the big band music of Count Basie, whose music had plenty of this item, swing. Hendricks was trying to explain to his chorus singers what he wanted from them and said, “On a four beat cycle, stay just behind the beat on the first three and make up on the fourth!”  That great maestro, Duke Ellington said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and promptly wrote a song by that name to make his point.

In the contemporary jazz scene in Mumbai, dominated largely by fusion, the sound of swing is not heard much. However, an entire jazz concert dedicated to swing and bop music will be heard on August 9th at the NCPA. This may well be a first; one cannot remember another such concert in Mumbai, at least not in the last 40 years. Apart from the works of Ellington and Basie, music from Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Monk, Horace Silver and others will be played by a sextet of international jazz musicians.

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As popular music of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, jazz had a large fan following. Local bands and musicians, playing mainly covers of the then popular songs were thriving as a community. Somewhere in the late Sixties, in the India of the license raj and of Fiats and Ambassadors, somehow the link with what was then popular with jazz internationally was broken. There seems to have been a jazz vacuum in India for a period of time. With the emergence of the electric keyboards, electric bass guitars and a dominating rock sound in the Seventies, jazz musicians found their inspiration in the sounds of various types of fusion. Indian musicians took this detour and considered it the mainstream and have remained in this time warp of sorts ever since. “To know where you’re going, you gotta know where you have come from,” said Art Blakey of the Jazz Messengers. It is an important message for serious, aspiring jazz musicians. With new jazz/music schools opening in many Indian locations, including one in Mumbai, there is bound to be a greater understanding of the roots of jazz with gen next. The music of bebop changed forever the approach of jazz musicians. First of all, it calls for great dexterity and mastery of one’s instrument or voice. This calls for creativity and improvisational skills of a high order and really involves the audience. It may be likened to a stirring verbal discussion by a panel of knowledgeable orators!

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An exciting, young jazz vocalist, American of Indian origin, Sachal Vasandani will also perform in Mumbai on August 25th. He has already received rave reviews on the American circuit and is bound to be a big star in the future.  These are exciting times for hearing live jazz in India.

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


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