In August, I had the opportunity to present a four-part initiation series on the basics of jazz for a Facebook presentation organised by NCPA Mumbai. The final session covered jazz in India and Indo-jazz fusion.
One of the points I mentioned was the increasing popularity of specific days to present certain instruments. We now look forward to the online Mumbai Piano Day, which is actually spread over two days – September 12 and 13.
Curated by ace pianist-keyboardist Louiz Banks, the Gigatainment event will feature illustrious names like Gary Husband, Sharik Hassan, Stephen Devassy, Anurag Naidu, Lydian Nadhaswaram, Gulraj Singh, Myron McKinley, Berenice Scott, Tanmay Deochake, and Lachy Doley.
This is the third online ‘musical day’ this year, after International Jazz Day on April 30, also curated by Banks, and the Online Guitar Fest on June 6. In these days of isolation, the musicians played from their respective homes. The other such ‘day’ in Mumbai’s calendar is the Drum Day organised by Gino Banks, but the last episode was live at St. Andrew’s Auditorium Bandra in April 2019.
What is it About?
While Jazz Day has a large cross-section of instruments and emphasises on the jazz genre, the other days focus on specific instruments. While the larger tendency is to play jazz, there’s no hard and fast rule that everyone will play that style. Drum Day, for instance, has featured Indipop by Cassy Lobo and the Guitar Fest had Carnatic mandolin player U. Rajesh. Deochake, scheduled for Piano Day, specialises in harmonium.
The focus, therefore, is to bring about variety for a given instrument, with a similar instrument sometimes added to the mix. And with live concerts still nowhere in sight because of the pandemic, this is a good way to keep the spirit of performance alive, even though the show is virtual.
A few things need to be noted here. At the NCPA Let’s Talk Jazz Series, I pointed out that more and more youngsters are taking to the guitar, keyboards and drums these days, instead of other jazz instruments like the saxophone, trumpet or trombone.
In fact, while one still finds some saxophonists, there are hardly any trumpeters or trombonists among the newer lot. Some Jazz Day events haven’t had anyone playing these instruments.
One exception was the band Bombay Brass, which released its self-titled EP at antiSocial, Lower Parel, in January. Fronted by saxophonist Rhys Sebastian, son of popular pianist-keyboardist Merlin D’Souza, it also featured saxophonist I.D. Rao, trumpeter Robin Fargose and trombonist Ramon Ibrahim.
Other young saxophonists on the scene include Jarryd Rodrigues and Shirish Malhotra. But compared to the 1970s and 1980s, the number of saxophone and trumpet players is dwindling. During those years, one heard fantastic players like saxophonists Braz Gonsalves, Chris Perry, ‘Jazzy’ Joe Pereira, Manohari Singh, and Shyam Raj, trumpeters Bosco Monsorate and Kishore Sodha, and trombonists Anibal Castro and Blasco Monserrate.
Live Music, but when?
One of the reasons for this is the fall in the number of institutes and teachers catering to these instruments. Secondly, the natural instinct of many young people is, to begin with, keyboards or guitar, with some getting into bass or drums. Finally, in film music and jingles, with composers relying on electronic music, there is less dependence on horn players. However, one would always like a Saxophone Day or Brass Day, with the given number of players.
The other major concern here is when live shows will get back to their earlier format. With social distancing, fear of crowds among people, changing event economics, and audiences getting used to watching shows from home, a feasible concert environment seems distant. One may still enjoy Indian classical or film music from one’s drawing-room, as fewer people appear at a show, but jazz is a completely different scene.
The best jazz takes place when some five or six musicians are on stage together and go in for sudden improvisations. That impromptu element gets reduced when they play from separate rooms, no matter how tuneful or proficient they are. Crowd interaction adds to the excitement, and that’s missing at online events.
These days, of course, digital concerts are the only option. And if musicians don’t get enough opportunities, there is a chance of them switching to other genres for their earning, or even explore non-performance avenues. At the moment, one can only wait and watch, hoping things eventually return to normal.