Sunday, November 28, 2004

Jazz in Delhi

Finally have some time in hand — in front of a computer too — to blog a bit. But despite having thought up a zillion options to blog on over my weeks of blogging inacitivity, I can't seem to remember any of the things I had written over in my mind. Not even the angle on Dalhousie I had dreamt up close to 800 words on.
So I guess it's best to just bung in some stuff I learnt while spending time with these jazzwallahs from across Europe, in town for the Jazz Yatra. Friendly as good music practitioners should be, I managed to get in quite a substantial amount of time with some of the Norwegian and German music makers, and found out to my incredulity that in Norway, jazz is actually taught to children in school!
Of course I knew that jazz had moved out of America and it's Blackness and found a better home in Europe. This, my guess is, happened after the John McLaughlin, Stan Getz, Stephen Grappelli era, by which time jazz — that beautiful brand of the oppressed Black man's workaday music — had already changed colour. John Etheridge lives, as do many others, but America isn't good music land anymore.
In any case, while speaking to these members of the Norwegian band The Real Thing — an awesome non-vocals jazz band with a fabulous drummer and a huge dollop of swing — I found out that jazz (among other brands of good music like blues and rock) is part of the curriculum in Norwegian schools.
Why? Well, mainly because Norway, despite having a rich folk heritage and loads of myths and legends (remember Thor and his Mjolnir and Odin and Loki and Freya and Skuld and so on?), have never had a tradition of classical music like Germany or Austria have. That meant when the Norwegians migrated in hordes to the US after World War II, and then found their way back, they jazzed their way back. The slave sound of jazz appealed to them, and they spread the spirit across Norway. So much so that even the Swedes from across the border tapped their feet to the beat.
And therefore, in Norway (a country the band members call 'starved of music, but fanatical about any good sound') jazz found residence. They sing in English — 'it's a rough sound, our language, and is not very musical' — and play mainstream instruments like the bass, the lead, the drums, the accordion, the sax, keyboards...the works. They sing about everything, but especially of love. Not The Real Thing, because they don't sing, but the rest concentrate on love. Probably because they don't have much else to sing about!
I heard them a bit too. The Scandinavians and then the really, really well-known Peter Weniger Trio with Bono lookalike Weinberg on the vocals and sax. He's good, his team is not. The Real Thing is, indeed, the real thing. The Dutch Saskia Laroo Band was bad. As was Solveig Slettahjell and her band, though she has a mind-blowing voice. I didn't hear the Dutch Jazz Quartet or India's Dhruv Ganekar Trio.
All in all though, this being the first time I have heard decent jazz since moving to Delhi close to seven years back (bar a couple of hours with a terrible Finnish band and a couple of songs by Indian Ocean way back in February 1998), it was refreshing. But for the Jazz Yatra to get stronger, and for the party music generation to move towards it, things have to change. In which direction I don't know. Maybe in terms of more non-vocals' bands....
Maybe less women. Women can't jazz. Ella Fitzgerald, like Jerry Garcia once famously said of Janis Joplin, "was no man".