Kolkata celebrates its Annual Jazz Festival
Art & Culture ,
Art & Heritage
Three days, nine bands, eight countries
Kolkata is off to a musical start, as the cold December brings with it the city’s Annual Jazz Festival that plays host to jazz artists from eight countries for three days at Dalhousie Institute Kolkata. Also celebrated as a part of the Calcutta leg of the third edition of Bonjour India, Kolkata Annual Jazz Festival is all about the jazzy finesse.
This year’s Jazz Festival witnessed collaboration between Indian jazz veteran Amyt Datta, who featured with his quartet and Germany’s live animation and graphic artist Reinhard Kleist, as the opening act. The inaugural day also had performances by Pol Belardi’s Urban 5 from Luxembourg and Kefaya which is a joint collaborative between UK and Italy.
“Guerrilla jazz is all about voicing our political statements and beliefs. With so much going on, the only thing we wish for is freedom; whether in terms of cultures, traditions, ideas or creative liberty. We do not believe in borders and believe that music transcends borders and barriers. This is why, we have been taking lessons in Indian music for some time now, to emphasise on the power of fusion music” stated Kefaya band member Al Macsween.
Mara Minjoli, vocalist of Pol Belardi’s Urban 5, bowled the crowd over with her powerful renditions under the starry sky. She stated, “I believe Indian music is so beautiful. I have the honour to be exposed to Indian music upon my recent visit here and I must say that Indian classical music has as many nuances as jazz. Understanding such fine things about music helps one to have a deeper understanding of the genre.” Talking about Jazz Fest she added, “Coming and performing here at Jazz Fest was a wonderful experience. The crowd is so receptive and although, there was one song where I rapped in German, the reaction of the audience was not indifferent. I believe that small things like this help bring people and culture together.”
French jazz musician Erik Truffaz who grew up in a musical environment and performed on the second day of the festival feels that the music industry is not evolving at a pace it actually could. To him, the genre is, in a way, disappearing despite the possibilities of recording growing which to him is an interesting paradox as it opens up to opportunities for many new musicians with fresh tunes.
Celebrating the legacy of jazz in the city which was home to the late bebop jazz guitarist, Carlton Kitto, the festival takes place in the grassy lawns of Dalhousie Institute, a 150-year-old colonial club.
All about the jazz
Back in 2014, while having a chat with the energetic Kitto, it was well understood that jazz is an almost dying art in the city, in dire needs of an energetic revival. A statement he passed still resonates in my ears, “I shall die one of these days, but not Jazz in the city, at least that is what I want, but I am not blind.” Till date, Kitto remains the symbol of Jazz in India, immortalised through his music and articles and documentaries on him.
Ayon Sarkar, a musician from the city and student of Amyt Dutta, states, “There are fewer jazz artists in the city. Only the most dedicated of students take up jazz as it is difficult to master the art and technicalities that make Jazz music what it is. I believe, there should be more jazz music on the radio and television. It is not marketed well! The situation is not just Calcutta-specific but it is the same across the country. We need awareness; we need an audience for this genre of music.”
Talking about the need to promote jazz in the country, he stated, “Jazz Fest is a nice initiative and I have attended the fest before in Calcutta. I believe there should be similar music festivals dedicated to Jazz in the country. Of course, the artists who come and participate in Jazz Fest make it stand out which is one of the reasons why we should have more such fests.”
Incidentally, the origin of Jazz music in Kolkata can be dated back to 1920s in Bombay (now, Mumbai) and Calcutta (now, Kolkata), where African-American jazz musician came to perform. They, in turn, inspired Goan musicians who then imbibed jazz into the sounds of India’s early Hindi film music. As ’70s jazz scene started to become passé, a lot of musicians started to look for greener pastures.
In Kolkata, Jazz still thrives through different festivals and in the form of jazz gigs at different clubs and pubs. Trincas, the lone pub on the city’s party street still manages to attract jazz lovers of all ages, though the numbers are oscillating. However, the city sees a high number of jazz enthusiasts which explains the success behind Jazz Fest being held since 2013.
Nishit Arora, a well-known event manager in the city and director at Smoke Inc. explains, “Calcutta has a history with Jazz. Park Street was the hub where some of the biggest names in Jazz have performed. We have had legends like Louis Banks, Carlton Kito, Pam Crain and many more come out of the Calcutta Jazz scene. The annual Jazz Fest according to me is one of the most prominent events in the country happening for so many years. We as Smoke Inc have been actively pushing the Jazz scene for the past four years with our property Thursday Jazz Encounter and I feel there is a huge conversion that has happened. It is still not a very big scene but I feel it’s prominent enough and will only get bigger.”
He added, “Some other cities definitely have more venues for this kind of music but I don`t think our Jazz scene is declining. In fact, I would say it’s on the up. From our experience in doing gigs, we have seen a steady increase in the number of people attending and also I have seen a lot of people converting into Jazz regulars from never have attended any Jazz gig in their life.
Even today in mainstream commercial music you will hear elements of Jazz even though it’s not projected as a Jazz song. So firstly I feel it is important people understand and connect to a culture that has influenced so much music that is happening around the world and secondly Jazz as you think of is completely different. Jazz musicians are probably the most adventurous of the lot. They stretch the legal boundaries of what is supposed to be the ‘right’ kind of music. You could be listening to swing and bebop one day and the next day you hear some Jazz Hip Hop or Jazz fusion or something totally experimental and out of the space. Jazz allows you do that and that to me is really important if we are doing music gigs/shows.”
This year’s Jazz Fest will be closed by C.A.R. from Germany.