Back in the 1970s, Bollywood did not hold sway over the Indian music industry. A chunk of that generation grew up studying in English schools and listening to western music. They were what was then called a ‘Product of Western Culture’. This entire bunch was hit by a phenomenon called ‘Woodstock’ and the entire culture of it. The youngsters back then switched to listening and playing more western music. Rock, Jazz and Blues was the popular music. It was an overhaul, a way out into expression that was quickly imbibed. It opened up a door for musical expression. A lot of venues sprung up where bands would perform and were paid well.
One of the products of this culture is Joe Alvares. Joe, who started out by playing shows at venues in hotels and what were copybook concerts of Woodstock.
“We enjoyed the absence of the Bollywood umbrella and western music became the choice of the masses. A lot of musicians came to the forefront at this time. Music progressed in absence of any direct competition and western bands strived in metro cities” recalls Joe.
Joe and his band ‘Savages’ were the first Indian band to release a western music album, ‘Black Scorpio’, way back in 1976. Joe’s influences have been majorly Stevie wonder, Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye and Sting, whom he calls his ‘bhidu’, among others. His performance at the Pre-Olympic Games opening ceremony is what he claims was his launch pad. He became a house hold name with the then popular T.V shows, ‘Pop Time’ and ‘Umang Tarang’. Joe initially started out as a rock music vocalist. It was after a 10 year musical sabbatical, that he made the switch to Jazz, RnB and Blues.
“As a musician I perceived more groove, better composition and more changes. Rock is mostly about playing 3-4 chords. Jazz could afford that flight. So I started my journey there” says Joe.
He would learn jazz as a vocal exercise not as a form of music he liked. But he admits he fell in love with the melodies. Joe is known to sing jazz with a twist as he never liked to sing with a slow swing. Though as a vocalist with a powerful voice, Joe is capable of singing even semi opera kind of vocals along with other genres, he does not feel he is a jazz vocalist.
“Quite honestly I am not a jazz singer. I learnt the standards when I wanted to make a comeback in 88” says Joe, adding that there are many better vocalists than him.
“Jazz is oceanic in its definition. Jazz is all about exploration of voice and technique. I am just a man who sings from the heart” smiles the man.
Over the past few years, Joe has concentrated on being a singer songwriter and doing original compositions. He along with his handpicked young musicians, whom he terms as ‘My Lions’, have performed these original compositions globally. According to the man himself, this helps him not to be compared to other artistes.
“I am enjoying the growth process within myself. I want to put my stamp out there in the musical planet as an original artist. You will find elements of all my favourite genres in my original scores” says Joe.
It is at this point that I am treated to an exclusive performance by Joe.
Joe was invited by the The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) as an ambassador for jazz music as a vocalist some years back.
“It opened up new horizons for me. It was what I wanted to do as a kid. Play my kind of music to the right audiences across the world, I got this at the age of 60. But it is never too late” gleams Joe.
Dwelling that unlike the west, the lack of music education in our country is a sad reflection of the great musical heritage we possess, Joe says
“The west has music graduation courses in which they teach all kinds of musical disciplines. This helps in honing a young kid’s talent and turning them into a disciplined and finished product.”
(Pic : Joe Alvares)
True there are guitarists, bassists, drummers but there are hardly any horn players. There has never been a horn section of international repute. This is due lack of music education. If a formal training can be imparted in a channelized way and even we can produce musicians like the west. This might be a reason that Jazz has never been able to match up to other genres of music in the country. But lack of music education is not the only reason for it feels Joe,
“In India the Bollywood music success has obliterated other genres on a mass scale. Jazz is left only to the believers, the one who prefer skills. Even the most talented musician has to bite the Bollywood bullet to put food on the table.”
But there will always be an intelligentsia that will follow jazz music and there will always be jazz players. Evolution requires space and our culture doesn’t support that. Culture has changed to consumption rather than an intellectual pursuit of art.
“Jazz demands a certain respect of listening and pre knowledge of the genre. Similar to classical music. The masses in this fast moving world do not have time for this. There is no attention span. Nobody is into intelligent lyrics or melodies. This is happening across the world. This is just a phase of life where mediocrity comes back” feels Joe.
In a mediocrity filled era, what does Joe Alvares have to say to the young guns who aspire to be musicians?
“Lions of future. Be true to your heart. Do not compromise on it. You have to decide if you want to die a genius beggar or an idiotic millionaire.”