How covid-19 rewrote a new track for jazz music
Think “jazz” and the first names that come to mind would probably be Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane or maybe Bill Evans. The layman rarely regards jazz as a genre of music associated with anything outside the norms of the 1950s and 1960s, and yet in India the genre is rapidly gaining popularity and breaking musical boundaries, thanks to aficionados, students , teachers and performers alike.
“About a decade ago hardly anyone except a small group of people listened to jazz in India and today I have so many students who come to me and tell me they want to learn jazz because that they want to use it in music production and composing pop songs etc. reflects Anurag Naidu, a pianist and jazz teacher who trained at the prestigious Bill Evans Academy in Paris and recently became a modern jazz artist with his first album, I have Fame.
Anirag Naidu was already teaching jazz piano before the pandemic and now he has asked my students to switch to online lessons.
He continues: “But you can’t come and learn jazz because you want to master it. You have to feel it first, you have to love it, and only then can you learn it. It’s not just a form, it’s a whole philosophy of music. He intends to put up some basic jazz piano tutorials on YouTube, if it benefits someone who can’t afford exorbitant fees, or just raise interest or awareness. As of now, he himself refers to online tutorials from “My Music Masterclass” and “Elite Music Mentor” and adds, “These days, I only have to post a video online and 5 people immediately contacted me for lessons.”
The demand and passion for jazz is definitely on the rise with jazz-centric courses offered at leading music institutes in India – Global Music Institute (Delhi), True School of Music (Mumbai), and more. Talk to any jazz artist and you’ll know that learning this genre gives them an edge over any form of music, given its adaptability and flexibility. Naidu says, “Jazz means improvisation. If you play this, you can play anything.
Remarkably enough, these artist-teachers have continued their experiments with jazz and other forms of music even during the pandemic. Naidu was already teaching jazz piano before the pandemic and now he just asked my students to switch to online lessons. “I also realized the importance of technology in writing, recording and teaching music and opted to use the Logic Pro digital audio workstation on which students can improvise rather than improvising with them in person. All that time also provided a chance to start conceptualizing my second album, which will be quite different from the first,” he explains.
Indie musician Aditi Ramesh has also been making a lot of music during the pandemic with two releases under her belt this year, To tend to, a song about hope during lockdown and about healing the environment as the streets began to empty of their inhabitants and Sambar Soul, an offbeat, genre-defying song with elements of soul, hip hop, RnB and Latin grooves.
The same has not been the case for another independent artist, Shubhangi Joshi, who insists that things have slowed down after the pandemic. Although she and the band have tried to write new music, it’s hard to do it remotely and the members don’t force themselves to do it. Meanwhile, singer Vasundhara Vee changed course and self-published her first book, Big Dreams, Bold Choices: Handbook for emerging professional musicians in India. She is also looking forward to releasing her first solo single very soon in 2021.
Although Shubhangi Joshi and his band have tried to write new music, it is difficult to do so from a distance
Gaurav Shah, a student of Anurag Naidu and loyal jazz guitarist Floyd Fernandes, took online Skype lessons with them. A qualitative researcher by profession, he comments: “Thanks to the Internet, you can get in touch with all the talents you need and understand in depth the historical and contemporary context of jazz. Speaking about his lessons with Naidu, he says, “Anurag is one of the best jazz teachers and pianists in India right now – I really respect him. Not only his knowledge of jazz, but also his emotional quotient as a teacher. He knows exactly how to challenge a student and not just spoon feed them. I want someone who pushes me into a corner and lets me figure it out, and they just give me the clues.
Both Joshi and Ramesh draw inspiration from age-old jazz but boldly venture into new territory. Ramesh comments, “Traditionally, the jazz scene in urban India was seen as elite musicians playing mostly standards, but nowadays many jazz-influenced originals are being produced. There is a lot of crossover between indie music and jazz music, in terms of jazz musicians playing as session musicians for indie artists and indie audiences becoming interested in jazz through original music. The divide between genres and audiences is blurring. The original jazz music is totally amazing, so different from traditional jazz. It is definitely getting a wider and more appreciated audience than ever before.
Aditi Ramesh has also been making a lot of music during the pandemic with ‘Heal’, a song about hope during lockdown
For some, jazz music has represented solace during lockdown. And it’s heartening to see that as a musical genre, it is opening up into new territories, comments singer Vee: “Jazz has become very broad. It’s natural for an inclusive idiom. So today, there are people who represent aspects of the jazz universe. We see Jacob Collier explode the notions of pitch and harmony; Gregory Porter representing masterful storytelling; Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens being the rhythm queens; Lalah Hathaway completely blurs the line between RnB and Jazz; Jazzmeia Horn keeps the scat sensibility alive. Vee herself has performed live jazz for the past decade, but strongly resists the label of a jazz singer. “For me, a song is a song. I happened to end up resonating with songs from the soul, blues and rock worlds that employed the jazz idiom. So people started calling me a jazz singer. I still don’t consider myself a jazz singer.
It is difficult to pin down and define jazz because the genre is so full of experiences and changes with each decade and in each geography it touches. But if we were to talk about what makes jazz so ‘jazzy’, then what would be the ingredients? The charm of yesteryear, melancholy chords, freestyle singing and experimentation perhaps? What hooks audiences and performers to this particular brand of music? Says Ramesh, “I like that it’s basically this free space where nothing is a mistake – and even if it is, it repeats itself in a pattern until it becomes something. planned.” Naidu comments, “The subtlety of it. I’m blown away every time. Joshi thinks there are so many moods. It’s almost like seeing different colors when listening to jazz. The breadth of how a song can be experienced in so many different ways is magnificent.
Vee takes a totally different view and insists that it’s not the genre, but the singer and their story that makes a song what it’s right that jazz singers are usually the ones who can do it. the best. “If you really put your mind to it, your sense of self comes from the story you know about yourself. Music is a tool, a conduit, a language. The singer’s sense of self is the story. A blackmailer can relate with equal ease his true pain and his maddening joy, he is vulnerable and powerful at the same time.