Jazz is niche music. With 90% improvisation, it demands the audience’s involvement hence turning it into a stimulative and a challenging interaction between the performer and the listeners. In our new segment ‘Jazz by the Best’, we will be interacting with few Jazz maestros from India and the world over.
Jazz as a genre is not passive but progressive. Evolution forms an integral part of it. Finding a comfort zone, in your past deeds, is the first step towards fading away as a Jazz musician.
Louiz Banks, is one such musician who has stayed relevant with the times. Though currently busy with his solo piano, jazz lounge projects and painting some abstract art, Louiz gladly agreed for an interaction.
His ancestors were musicians in the Royal Court of Nepal. His grandfather is credited with composing Nepal’s earlier national anthem, ‘Shreeman Gambhira Nepali’. It was his father who took a different musical stride and followed Jazz and western music. A well-known Trumpeter, Pushkar Bahadur, was instrumental in Louiz taking up music.
Louiz started off by playing the Trumpet but an audio recording of the great pianist Oscar Peterson, shifted his focus to the piano. A quick learner, Louiz started playing in his father’s band as a pianist. He was playing at clubs in his native Kathmandu when the manager of the then biggest Jazz club in Calcutta, Blue Fox, asked him to lead the band at his club. It was in Calcutta that he formed his first band ‘The Louiz Banks Brotherhood’, with a bunch of talented local musicians.
“Life has been a divine intervention for me, this is one such episode that changed my life” says Louiz.
Another life changing chapter for him was when a man in the audience at one of his shows asked him to join him in Mumbai and play the piano for his movie songs.
“I didn’t know who he was. I had no clue. I was busy in my own world” chuckles Louiz.
That man was R.D Burman, the legendary music composer. Louiz agreed to record for Burman’s movie ‘Mukti’. After numerous trips to Mumbai, Louiz joined Burman as a musician for his concerts.
Since then, he has been in the forefront of Jazz music scene in the country. Having collaborated with the maestros of Jazz and fusion music, Louiz etched a name for himself in due course. His arrangement of the famous national integration song ‘Mile sur mera tumhara’ got him acknowledged across the country.
But Jazz has always been his first love. For decades, he has been a name that has resonated with the genre in the country. He has seen the rise and fading of Jazz. What could be the reason that the once popular genre lost its sheen.
“When I came into the scene in the 70’s, the music scene was quite good. With jazz, blues, and some rock, musically 70’s-80’s was the golden era of music. By the late 70’s the music interest started shifting to the disco era and soon jazz faded. Another misconception that jazz was for the elite and for the age group of 40 plus didn’t do it much good” recalls Louiz.
Jazz was not able to hold its ground against the onslaught of pop and disco music. The culture was changing. Musicians had to play more of Pop and less of Jazz to make ends meet.
“A manager once told me to play something simple because he couldn’t understand my music. I was playing pop but had ‘jazzified’ it my way” Well that’s Louiz Banks for you.
The major force behind Louiz still being relevant and sought after, is his adaptation to the prevalent time. Most Jazz musicians were happy to bask in their past glory and perform the same old kind of Jazz. While Louiz went a step ahead. He was open to fusion music. He accompanied the great Pt. Ravi Shankar in his band ‘Jazzmine’, he even formed his own bands ‘Sangam’ and ‘SILK’, where the band fused Jazz with Carnatic music and more.
Ask him about his favourite among all his bands and pat comes the response
“Ofcourse The Louiz Banks Brotherhood! The guys were all great Jazz musicians. The best in Calcutta were with me. Drummer,bassist, saxophonist, guitar player, you name it”.
(Pic: Zakir Hussian, Sivamani, Louiz Banks, Shankar Mahadevan)
The Resurrection of Jazz
Coming back to Jazz in the present era, the scenario is changing. There are more gigs happening. Clubs are inviting Jazz bands to perform more frequently. This is aiding musicians hone their skills and improve as performers. With the increasing number of bands in contention for slots at various gigs, musicians are writing songs which are broadening the horizons. This along with the monetary remuneration has been instrumental in bringing a bit of the past glory back to the genre. This is a far cry from the very recent past.
“Its kind of a resurrection of Jazz now. The worst part about Jazz in India was that it was very difficult to survive just as a jazz musician. I am really happy to see some amazingly talented guys performing and being able to sustain themselves” says Louiz.
That youngsters showing a keen interest in the genre, augurs well for its future.
“That’s what I am most pleased about. I jam with youngsters nowadays and they are keen not only to learn but are also open to experimentation.” adding “I jam with their thinking and their energy, I find it challenging”
What tips would the maestro provide an upcoming musician?
“Practice. Practice. Practice. This is the most important aspect. Be serious about your craft. Strive to hone your skills by challenging yourself. Don’t ever fall into a comfort zone and always be updated with the latest in the Jazz world” says Louiz, as sternly as a school principal would.
Louiz was never a showman on stage, he would rather be sitting in the corner with his piano rather than jumping around it. This is unlike most musicians. Isn’t showmanship an important part of a performance?
“Absolutely it is. But showmanship never agreed with me. I would rather let my piano be the showman” smiles one of the most revered musicians of the country.