After a long lull, the Indian jazz scene is buzzing with action once again thanks to a bunch of trendy young musicians.
If you believe the Indian jazz music scene to be anything but thriving, you are sadly mistaken, and likely live an existence in some degree of hermitude. Gone are the days when jazz shows in India were only of interest to a select middle-aged audience. A new generation of jazz artists, most of them in their twenties and thirties, are drawing younger, trendier crowds--without losing their appeal to older generations. “Jazz in India is growing at a much faster rate than anyone thought,” says drummer DhirMody, a mainstay at jazz gigs around Mumbai. “There is much more exposure and awareness because of music schools, workshops, etc.”
The jazz craze is sweeping into millennial agendas across the country with weekly jazz nights and improv jams. Venues like Cafe Zoe and The Little Door are the places to be on weeknights in Mumbai. In Delhi’s Piano Man, Jazz Club has established itself so concretely in the few years of its existence that it’s easily become one of the city’s biggest music influencers. Unlike hip-hop, India’s other burgeoning music scene, jazz draws concertgoers of all generations. On the recently-passed International Jazz Day, venues everywhere were filled to capacity--at times overflowing--with multigenerational audiences.
So fill up your glasses with the classic Scotch as Live In Style brings you 6 young Indian Jazz artists to watch out for:
1. Gino Banks
It should surprise nobody that Louiz Banks, a.k.a. the `Godfather of Indian Jazz’ has a son who is an accomplished musician in his own right. The younger Banks has been playing the drums since he was a child and played the percussion for his father’s Indo-jazz fusion band Sangam when he was a young nine-year-old. While plenty of musicians with less pedigree flip-flop for years on the decision to take their careers full-time, Banks decided to become a professional drummer at just age 15, with his father’s blessing. In the decades since, he’s performed with a variety of international musicians across genres, such as guitarist Guthrie Govan, jazz guitarist Mike Stern and saxophonist George Brooks. He's helped compose music for some Bollywood films and played with many bands, both local and global, such as Pakistani Sufi rock band The MekaalHasan Band, securing his title as one of the country’s most influential jazz drummers.
2. Mohini Dey
Even if you haven’t heard of anybody else on this list, Mohini Dey is one name that should jump at you right away. The enchanting 20-year-old bassist shot to worldwide viral fame when she was a child--you might recall early YouTube footage of the prodigal Dey at just 11 years old, slapping the bass with the skill of a musician of five times her age and experience. Like others on this list, Dey has had a little help from the family--her father, SujoyDey, an accomplished bassist, taught his daughter to play bass when she was three years old. That fatherly guidance shouldn’t discredit Dey’s innate talent, however. She’s played with virtuosos ZakirHussain and A.R. Rahman and has toured across the country and internationally. These days, Mumbai-based Dey is in the midst of recording her own jazz album, and is part of multiple projects, including Guitar Synergy, a jazz-fusion band with Louiz and Gino Banks, and Generation, a group made up of the younger Banks and Dey’s sister Esani.
3. Dhir Mody
27-year-old Dhir Mody looks like he can’t be more than 16, but his appearance belies his skill as a drummer. Mody began playing the drums relatively late, at the age of 20, which helped him while he was overcoming a serious medical condition. He immediately gravitated towards jazz, because of its heavy improvisational element. “It’s that ‘in the moment’ feeling,” he says, “It’s inexplicable.” At many of the most talked-about jazz gigs happening around Mumbai, it’s Mody who holds down the fort behind the drumkit. And it’s no ordinary drumkit: Mody has tricked it out to do a whole lot more than just keep a beat, like using a sampling pad to loop sounds live. He’s also looking outside of the electronic sphere to push his sound even further. “Lately I have been working on emulating electronic drum sounds through acoustic sounds,” he says. Nowadays, Mody plays with multiple big artists including the likes of -Karan Joseph, Zoya, Stitch In Nine and BhriguSahni. So the next time you head to a jazz show, take a closer look at the drumkit. You never know what you might find.
4. Shreya Bhattacharya
Shreya Bhattacharya is another artist with great covers: together with her jazz band Beer Puppets, she’s covered Al Jarreau’s version of Chick Correa’s “Spain,” American jazz pianist Robert Glasper and award-winning jazz singer Gretchen Parlato. Bhattacharya has masterful control over her heady, full-bodied voice, making her live shows a delight. The vocalist is an alumnus of Chennai’s prestigious Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music, but she first discovered her love for singing in the school choir.
5. Shubhangi Joshi
Shubhangi Joshi’s jazz-leaning influences were what pushed her to find the acoustic/jazz sound that she has today. Growing up, she listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, as well as two newer singer-songwriters who were likely also inspired by Ella and Louis: Corrine Bailey Rae and Norah Jones. As a result, when the singer-guitarist formed the Shubhangi Joshi Collective, it felt only natural to lean into a jazzier sound. “It was the kind of sound that I felt most comfortable composing. It gave me the voice I needed to express myself musically,” says 28-year-old Joshi. She has made a name for herself despite the fact that her family isn’t made up of professional musicians. “There was always some music playing in our house,” she says. “It felt natural to want to sing and compose.” The singer-guitarist is currently working on her full-length debut, due out in 2018, which she hopes will reach both a national and international audience.
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(Photographs by Ron Bezbaruah, Kaustubh Joshi, Anisha Lane and courtesy the artistes)