Back with a big bang

Lancelot Joseph,
Business India,
November 10-23, 2015

Over the years, India has had a lot of jazz musicians coming and performing here. “But, for the first time since 1950, we have got a big band to India, ” explains Pradip Bhatia, one of the founding members of Jazz Addicts, an association of serious jazz enthusiasts that seeks to introduce the finest world-class mainstream and classical jazz to India. Bhatia has been a jazz lover ever since he acquired his first LP in 1956.

Jazz Addicts was co-founded, along with Bhatia, by Sunil Sampat and Apurva Agarwal. The trio, in tandem with the NCPA, was responsible for getting the Igor Butman Big Band to perform live in Mumbai and Delhi and let music enthusiasts witness classical acoustic jazz. It is among the best with its saxophones, trumpets and trombones, two vocalists and an acoustic rhythm section. They play greatly loved jazz music composed by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, etc, as well as originals from their own big band repertoire.

“A fine tradition of straight ahead jazz existed in Mumbai and Delhi in the 1970s and early 1980s, when the Jazz Yatra was organised every second year. somehow, that gave way to the sounds of electronica. and the familiar sounds of jazz, which we all loved, were a casualty. Jazz Addicts attempts to reverse that trend and return the traditional sound to the Indian jazz scene,” says Agarwal, a law graduate (corporate & commercial laws) from Dond University, Australia. On completion of his LLM, he returned to India where he worked for DSK legal (formerly Andersen Legal India) and Luthra & Luthra law offices. He now has his own firm – Universal Legal.

It was Agarwal’s passion for jazz music that made him team up with Bhatia and Sampat. Agarwal is currently advising builders and real estate venture capital funds on various property transactions and structuring financing in real estate transactions.

Jazz music can arrive with force or be a subtle, silvery delight while the saxophone screams and the trumpet quavers, demanding that your soul listen to its hot flashes. There has not been a jazz orchestra in Mumbai for many years...“The aim is to bring to India classical and mainstream jazz – in fact, the finest available anywhere. This is the music of the type heard from the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal, Dave Brubeck and vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan,” says Bhatia.

in recent years, the sound of foot stomping, swinging jazz – music to which one can dance and snap one’s fingers, has been replaced by jazz derivatives such as fusion, world music, funk and their offshoots. These are closer to the realm of rock or pop music. “As a result, classical jazz has been somewhat sidetracked. Through this endeavor and initiative, Jazz Addicts hope to revive the original sounds,” says Agarwal.

Jazz Addicts’ policy is to feature only acoustic instruments and not encourage the use of the electrical piano and synthesizer, the electric bass, computer automated drum machines, artificially modified electrical guitars and other electrical sound. Jazz Addicts believes that the electronic sound in jazz has reduced its rich character of sound. Since 2012, they have organized the Jus’Jazz festival, in November 2013 in three different cities in India – Mumbai, Delhi and Pune. They also regularly organize jazz concerts through the year at NCPA in Mumbai.

This is Igor Butman’s third visit to India for a performance and, although the Russian saxophonist has performed in the country twice with a quartet and a sextet previously, this will be the first time that he performed with his jazz orchestra. “We played for an audience that knows jazz, enjoys it and are not shy to show their appreciation,” says Butman, who began his career in 1976. “Everyday you are creating something new, you are always changing. we’re always trying to get better, we’re never 100 percent satisfied with what we do. Even if the critics like it, I want to go further. I want to get deep into different people’s music and different nation’s music and learn what they know, ” he adds. Dutman’s big band comprises saxophone, trumpet and trombone sections as well as an acoustic rhythm section including Russian vocalist Poline Zizak. The performance featured jazz standards and reinterpretation of the works of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones, among others, as well as Butman’s original compositions from albums such as The Eternal Triangle and Sheherazade’s Tales.

Butman has also played his interpretations of some famous Russian folk songs and his rendering of Duke Ellington’s Caravan has been superlative. This was a great performance of big band jazz, combining dixie to swing to contemporary to modern adapted for big band orchestration.