May 19, 2024

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The sound of surprise: Jazz is one form where one can explore the world: Video

There’s nothing like a nostalgic chat. The other day, over a phone conversation, jazz event organiser and critic Sunil Sampat asked me how I got hooked to the genre.

Memories flashed back. In late 1983, I was 20 when my father was invited to a concert by French guitarist Christian Escoude and his quartet in New Delhi. I was into the regular Hindi film music, evergreens, pop, disco and a bit of rock. But this totally blew my mind.

At the reception at the Alliance Française director’s residence, I heard music by bassist-bandleader Charles Mingus and saxophonist John Coltrane. At the Delhi Jazz Yatra the following year, I saw trumpeter Woody Shaw and trombonist Steve Turre. The fascination began then. Like most people of my generation, I got into jazz-rock bands like Weather Report, guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and trumpeter Ian Carr’s Nucleus.

New rhythms

A new world was born, even as I simultaneously chased rock acts like the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Traffic, Cream, the Beatles and the Moody Blues. But jazz always came back. What was so special about the genre? In my early listening days, the improvisation and the choice of instruments attracted me. I remember watching a guy with a flute-like instrument that occupied half the stage. Other musicians made it to my vinyl or cassette collection. Flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione, saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., guitarists George Benson and Al Di Meola, keyboardists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, the great trumpeter-singer Louis Armstrong, pianist-bandleader Duke Ellington and the astounding singers Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Betty Carter.

Learning on the job

I had no clue about technicalities like scatting, syncopation or chords. The sound appealed to me and I loved it. But I didn’t want to stop there. I picked up a book which talked of the history of jazz – various styles like Dixieland, be-bop, cool jazz, free jazz, Latin jazz, fusion, smooth jazz etc. A few years later, a radio show presented by India’s leading jazz personality Louiz Banks helped me discover more. I wanted to pick up every album available, but where was the money? And there was no YouTube either. But thanks to friends, I heard trumpeters Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, and saxophonist Charlie Parker. Later, I was completely addicted to saxophonists Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon.

When I settled in Mumbai in 1991, the Jazz Yatras organised by Niranjan Jhaveri became an addiction. I had some cash to blow up at Rhythm House in Kala Ghoda but had to divide it between jazz, rock, ghazals, Indian classical music, film albums, and Indo-fusion acts like Shakti and L. Subramaniam. A senior colleague Sanjoy Narayan, a fantastic music writer, introduced me to the blues. Western classical came much later, but therein lies another story.

For me, music has been like travel. I can sit with connoisseurs like Sampat and Ashok Gulati, also involved with the Yatras, for hours discussing music. Jazz is one form where one can explore the world. Though most legends are from the US, you hear it in Europe, Africa, South America, India, the Far East, Australia, wherever. Someone described jazz as the sound of surprise. The surprises will never cease, and the journey will continue, just like booking plane tickets or making hotel bookings in imaginary remote lands.

by Narendra Kusnur


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