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All That Indian Jazz!

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All That Indian Jazz!

It’s swing time again. April 30 is International Jazz Day, where’s the party going to be?

In between all the clutter caused by Ayodhya, Aadhaar cards, IPL and intense heat wave, we can safely assume that the Jazz Appreciation Month all but passed us by. Yes, in fact April is when you should have used that ever-increasing bandwidth to stream jazz videos and given the latest puppy or political meme a miss.

Contrary to all contemporary propaganda, India before Independence was in fact a sufficiently more hospitable place. While US roared with racial discrimination, several renowned African-American jazz musicians looked eastwards and brought their saxophones and pianos all the way to our shores. It happened in the swinging ’20s and ’30s – jazz had arrived in India to stay.

When jazz pianist Madhav Chari – renowned and loved by anyone who has cared about the sounds of jazz issuing from India – died in November 2015, there weren’t just ardent fans who responded with poignant odes on social media. Those who watched him play live, even because a friend or an uncle had initially dragged them there, as well as others who attended one of his fantastic experiential workshops, couldn’t help expressing words of deep respect. It was just one of the many incidents that call forth the sublime community of jazz lovers in the country.

It is becoming a common misperception that millennials don’t listen to jazz. That would be incorrect, because most people still building their jazz vinyl collections are in their 30s (the uncles who always got drunk over a Herbie Hancock solo already have enviable piles of scratchy records that have spun endlessly on what we now call antique players!).

Joy Rodriguez, a man who considers himself too old to even be commenting on jazz for us mere millennial mortals, still manages to recall the week that was back in 1978, “We were at Rang Bhavan, in those days when it was a venue loved by thousands, when it brought us face to face with the kind of music Bombay deserved…and it was a week-long celebration, the first Jazz Yatra festival. The evenings were high with the energy of pure jazz.”

Although Bombay, Calcutta and Goa really took to this musical genre with great dedication, it’s true that those early passion levels are difficult to match up to today. Even the so-called ‘jazz bars’ like The Piano Man in Delhi and the regular ‘jazz nights’ in clubs slacken and give in to more ‘popular’ music we may call almost-jazz. But pick up a copy of Taj Mahal Foxtrot and you wouldn’t believe how the scene was swinging back in the day.

There are some cultural institutions though, that still bring us brilliant jazz, NCPA in Bombay being one of them.  Their Jazz Day event lineup features over 20 artists. Amongst regular festivals, the following have cracked the scene:

Jazz Utsav in February (Delhi & Mumbai)

Delhi Jazz Festival in March (Delhi)

Jazzfest in November (Kolkata)

Goa International Jazz Live Festival in December (Goa)

Finally, here’s how you can organise your own Jazz Day event! It could be a vinyl night listening to jazz on an LP player, or you can get hold of a projector and pour some aged scotch with friends as you watch live recordings. There is a ‘global jazz concert’ uploaded on the official UNESCO page, click here to get inspired and read more about Jazz Day here.

Image Credit: Nikhil Mudaliar

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Mineli Goswami is a 24-year-old Assamese-East Indian, which usually translates into pretty good weekend feasts. When she’s not at her desk struggling with poetry – more often than she’d like – she’s seen wasting time on an assortment of things such as lugging an antique SLR, breaking nails climbing boulders, and chasing turtles. She’s graduated in history and has an unofficial PhD in Bandra-style jiving.

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