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Rolling Stone India’s Jazz Playlist

The world of jazz piano (part two)

Sunil Sampat Aug 09, 2019

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Jazz piano is such a vast ocean. It can deliver a staggering range of sounds and this week we are looking at some unusual recordings from this vast collection. The idea with this list is not only to emphasize the diversity in the field but also to highlight some interesting sounds from the way jazz has been approached. We look at some of the influences of the African style of piano playing as well as some ways in which the ‘African sound’ has been noticed and incorporated into contemporary jazz styles. We also look at some fine exponents of this genre from India and of course, peek at some irresistible jazz offerings from its long history. Do Non-Americans play jazz differently? You be the judge!


Duke Ellington – “La Plus Belle Africaines”

One of the huge pillars of jazz, Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington composed more than a staggering 5000 jazz pieces. He was a fine pianist and led a truly powerhouse orchestra. In this track, Duke explains the reason for this composition. It is a masterful example of Duke’s orchestra arrangement. His piano playing is quite majestic and the African mystique is apparent throughout the playing.

Abdullah Ibrahim – “Water From An Ancient Well”

A South African by birth, Ibrahim, also known as Dollar Brand, is a gifted jazz pianist. He has been living in the US for a long time. A follower of Duke Ellington’s, Abdullah Ibrahim is much in demand at jazz festivals. He played in Mumbai some years ago at a Jazz Yatra. “Water From An Ancient Well” tells its own story.

Randy Weston – “Blues To Africa”

The blues are specifically an African-American product, born from the pain of decades of slavery. Randy Weston has been a pioneer in tracing his African origins through the music. Taking the “Blues to Africa” is a means to this connection. Weston has spent almost a lifetime in connecting the sounds of African music with jazz. He has been a prolific jazz composer as well.

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The India Connection

Jazz made its first appearance in India over 90 years ago, and although it has never become a mainstream sound in this country, several notable Indian jazz musicians have emerged from India. Here’s a look at some of them: first the established artists and then a look at some wonderful young talent to take Indian jazz into the future.

Madhav Chari – “Parisian Thoroughfare”


A superb jazz pianist and educator, Madhav Chari spent several years in the US as a student of mathematics! He also played with many notable jazz artists. This piece is part of an album of the same name. Tragically, Chari passed away a couple of years ago while still in his 50s.

Louiz Banks – “Shiv Shakti”

The name most universally associated with jazz in India would have to be Louiz Banks. A music genius, Banks is a masterful jazz pianist who delves into many collaborations with musicians from other genres. Here, Banks on keyboards is accompanied by his son Gino Banks on drums and Sheldon D’Silva on bass.

Merlin D’Souza – “Jazzification”

A jazz piano all rounder, Merlin is a creative stylist who has used her abundant skills to create a variety of sounds from jazz to Broadway and much in between. Her improvising skills are in evidence here.

And a peek at the brilliant young talent that has emerged on the scene. In their hands, jazz in India is headed into a bright future.

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Pradyumna Manot – “Billie’s Bounce”


This young jazz pianist from Kolkata is a fine exponent of the jazz piano, equally at home playing Latin sounds and bebop. Here he shows off his talent on the classic bop composition, “Billie’s Bounce.” Manot was trained by Madhav Chari.

Harmeet Manseta – At the Delhi jazz festival


A tremendous naturally talented pianist, Manseta is the first of the contemporary Indian jazz pianists to emerge almost two decades ago. His mastery ranges from sensitive ballads to up-tempo bop.

Anurag Naidu – “Hofor”


An alumni of the Bill Evans school in Paris, Naidu is a fine exponent of the modern sound, can be introspective and is a fine composer as well. Here he is heard with Marios on bass and Aron Nyiro on drums.

Rahul Wadhwani – “Round Midnight”

As with Anurag Naidu, Wadhwani has talent oozing out of his every pore. His stint in Vienna, learning the nuances of jazz piano and his hard work has made him a sophisticated jazz artist. Here he is playing Monk’s classic composition “Round Midnight.”

Karim Ellaboudi – “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

Although Karim was brought up and educated in the U.K., he is now a permanent resident of Mumbai and adds substantially to the music scene here. Fluent in many aspects of the art of jazz piano, Ellaboudi is a treat to hear as part of an ensemble or in trio format. Here, from a live recording, Karim shows off his ample talent in this jazz classic.

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