Archive for September, 2011

Jazzing it up!

September 2, 2011

Jazzing it up
By Pamela D’Mello
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Tucked away on the first floor of a nondescript apartment block,
surrounded by lush green paddy fields is the unlikely venue for Jazz
Goa’s recording studio. Nothing much to look at, until —
musician/producer Colin D’Cruz plays recordings of some of the new
talent he has discovered and your mood gets thoughtful. Coming out of
the speakers are songs and voices and instrumentation that could match
any of the new talent emerging out of the unknown worldwide.

There’s twenties something Neil Gomes, a multi instrument player, who
plays saxophone and guitar with equal ease, and a good voice to go
with it. “Neil’s song Perhaps, uploaded onto Soundclick, one of the
internet sites for new talent, climbed to number one on the site among
hundreds of songs uploaded there”, says D’Cruz. Now based in Mumbai,
the young musician is active in the live and recorded music industry
of that city.

Nor is Gomes the only young artiste to find his place in Jazz Goa’s
talent search. Twenty seven other singers and musicians have recorded
original jazz tracts on the Jazz Goa CD. There’s professional singer
Danielle Rebello, whose voice uploaded on the internet got her an
offer to record in Spain. Colin sees promise in many of his young
protegees.

For nine months in 2010 Colin put his love for jazz and building
talent by producing and running the Jazz Goa, slot on FM Rainbow in
Goa. “I showcased purely local talent on the show which ran from
10-10.30 pm every Monday, just to prove to station managers that local
talent can produce good music if encouraged”. Most station managers
blindly plug for Bollywood and international artistes, is his
complaint.

Colin’s song Smoking Chutney was nominated for the 2010 IMA awards in
the world fusion category, with the song picked out for the guitar
solo performance by guitarist Elvis Lobo.

While new talent is slowly finding its space via the internet, it is
Goa’s small but vibrant live jazz music scene that has been creating a
buzz for several years now.

The Saturday Nite Market in Arpora, North Goa, has emerged as one of
the prime venues for jazz and experimental music. While the bazaar —
originally designed by a German settler Ingo Grill — runs as a well
organised sprawling market of stalls, offering wares from shell
earrings to leather boots, to Indian handicrafts — the heart of the
market is its live stage, just off a buzzing food court.

Here, in high season, when the open air market attracts an eclectic
crowd of foreign and discerning Indian tourists, western settlers and
leftover hippies — the ground level stage becomes the setting for a
series of live acts each Saturday. So while fire eaters and African
dancers do their spot acts under starry night skies, there’s a real
cooler vibe when the musicians get on stage. “I’ve heard some of the
best music play at the Saturday nite market. Musicians from all over
the world, passing through, will just land up, contact the organisers,
and offer to play just for the joy of playing to an appreciative
chilled out global audience and that strangely produces some of the
most inspired music, out of the mainstream, and totally mind blowing”,
says hotelier Francis de Braganca.

Local jazz musicians love playing at the market, because the audience
that gathers around the stage is genuinely appreciative and the
ambiance is every musicians’ dream. “It’s a scene that I doubt happens
anywhere else in the world” adds Braganca.Two kilometres away,
Mackey’s nite market, also on Saturdays in the tourist season, runs
similar gigs that offers a stage for jazz and other musicians.

Another favourite jazz concert venue that’s heating up the scene is
Goa Chitra’s small amphitheatre in coastal Benaulim in south Goa.
Every week from October to March, the organic farm cum ethnographic
museum, hosts a jazz/fusion/experimental group for a small intimate
audience of around 200. “We keep it small, but musicians especially
love the intimacy of the place” says Victor Hugo Gomes, proprietor and
curator.

Last year, Goa Chitra had John Law’s Art of Sound Trio play in Goa,
just after their return from the North Sea Jazz Festival, in
Rotterdam. In November this year, Blues’ diva Danna Gillespie is
signed on for a fund-raiser concert. This year on, artistes will be
encouraged to give small workshops as well.

There’s a limited following for jazz, and the workshops are meant to
raise the bar on appreciation and allow young musicians to benefit
from the exposure.

As an event organiser, Gomes has always been more keen on the serious
experimental side of jazz and disdains turning jazz music into family
and tourist entertainment. Gomes still rues the fact that the Jazz
Yatra wound down completely. “Jazz is serious creative music, its a
group of musicians communicating with each other through their music
to create innovative sounds. You can’t do that if people are chatting
and children running around”, says Gomes. What annoys him more, and a
lot of jazz musicians will concur, is that hotels and restaurants pay
musicians a pittance. Jazz bands require a minimum of four musicians
on stage, and with hotels paying less and less for a night’s
performance, sometimes as low as Rs 500, jazz bands have had to
disband, emerge as soloists or duos, killing the magic of the jazz
band.

That is largely the story of Mumbai’s once thriving jazz band scene
that played in hotels like the Oberoi and the Taj. While many of the
greats of the swinging sixties have passed on, some of their younger
followers have relocated to Goa, some returning to ancestral homes, as
jazz warriors effecting a resurgence in Goa’s global tourist village.
Steve Sequeira, Mac Dourado, George Fernandes, Carlos Monteiro, Carlos
Gonsalves, Lester Godinho and Angelie Alvares, have done their bit,
playing jazz gigs in hotels and restaurants.

Victor Gomes can take credit for organising the first Great Music
Revival in the nineties, that brought on stage, the region’s best
known jazz musicians from the late Chris Perry, to Anibal Castro and
Braz Gonsalves. The latter proved that India’s jazz virtuosos could
still fill an outdoor venue, when he gave a memorable performance at a
2011 concert with Louis Banks in Panjim’s Kala Academy, drawing
flawlessly clear notes from his saxophone.

Gonsalves’s wife Yvonne still entrances audiences as she sings with
Jazz Junction each Friday night at the Goa Marriott and at Poco Loco
restaurant in Baga. “I could never give up Jazz music. I’d love to go
on and on and its great to sing in Goa”, says the soft spoken Yvonne,
who definitely picked up a love for jazz music from her late father,
the legendary Chic Chocolate.

Jazz as entertainment in Goa’s many restaurants may not quite be at
the creative cutting edge of music, but it still gives off great
vibes, creates a commercial opening for musicians, and when a
dedicated audience follows, the jazz club scene that emerges is no
less stimulating or creative. Jazz nights with Colin D’Cruz’s Jazz
Junction at Poco Loco is one of the most happening venues for jazz
during tourist season. Diners, mainly middle aged western tourists,
who return year after year, enjoy the drink and food and imbibe
equally of the music. “For the Poco Loco gigs, my good friend Bob
Tinker, plays a mean trumpet, joining us every year for a couple of
months, leaving his own jazz club in France to enjoy the jazz scene in
Goa” says Colin.

Colin swears that Goa is emerging as the new hub for live jazz music
in India. At Stone House in Candolim, one could almost believe that.
Thrice a week, Pascoal Fernandes, strums his guitar
playing jazz, soft rock and retro melodies for an audience of British
long stay visitors who are regulars at the garden restaurant set in an
old Indo-Portuguese villa with an old world charm about it. Pascoal
is a veteran with three decades of playing in jazz bands that graced
Mumbai’s five star hotels, and his virtuosity with the guitar are
proof. Owner Chris Fernandes is proud that Stone House’s reputation
for its music is as acclaimed as for its food and atmosphere.
“Musicians from among the guests, will often get on stage and jam up.
There are regulars like David Peterson, Elvis Rumiao and Tom Lee who
perform here, besides some of the guests themselves” says Chris. No
dance music, no rock-n-roll at this restaurant. Stone House is
oriented strictly towards jazz and the Blues and soft rock.

Jazz Inn in Cavelosim, south Goa is another restaurant run by a lover
of the music. Owner Chris Pereira, a former saxophone player, says
some of the best shows at his eatery are given by tourists, who simply
jam together on the instruments kept on stage. “Some of our magical
nights are when George Hamilton, a tourist and musician, plays his
trumpet and jams with local musicians to create a great atmosphere
united by music and camaraderie that is pretty special and quite
essential to any jazz club”, says Pereira. Wednesdays and Saturday
nights are reserved for blues and jazz, often so full that Chris has
to turn down table bookings.

It is this sort of not so insignificant audience for jazz music, that
some club and restaurant owners are chasing, when they set up special
jazz nights. Pianist Xavier Pires with his small jazz group plays
Thursdays at the Casino Carnaval. The Pentagon restaurant in Majorda,
south Goa chases a small audience, but has an unlikely group of jazz
musicians who jam up to play once a week. The group of jazz musicians
include a priest, a cardiologist, a bank clerk and a farmer!

As with all businesses, they wax and wane, some shut down, some
stagger along, some struggle to build a “scene”. Baga’s Take 5 club
has a tepid on-off scene, while Jazz Corner in Candolim, under a new
management has had a change of character, switching to Rajasthani folk
dances! Restaurants that once featured jazz nights move over to other
genres in search of a paying clientele. And musicians do realise that
jazz has to compete with DJ dance music, techno, rock, reggae, retro,
Latino and standard pop for space. Despite this, jazz has its niche
and lovers of the genre are keen to hold that space and even expand
it.

Heritage Jazz — a concept that married jazz music and heritage
architecture in a colonial mansion in Panjim’s Campal quarter —- has
seen dozens of successful concerts over the past decade.
Non-professional pianist and owner Armando Gonsalves, drove the
concept of holding balcony and courtyard performances by foreign jazz
groups that became hugely popular. Gonsalves is now attempting to
marry Konkani lyrics and jazz to recreate Konkani jazz. Nobody has
forgotten that regional Konkani music got its greatest all time hits
when jazz composer Chris Perry teamed up with singer Lorna Cordeiro in
the sixties. “It’s really the way forward. Someday a Konkani song
could win a Grammy award. That is why I have convinced the five
Monserrate brothers of Mumbai to regroup as a band” says Gonsalves.

This article appeared in Soundbox 1st anniversary issue page 49:
http://www.soundbox.co.in/wp-content/uploads/magazine/issue13/