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Bombay Jazz, a band comprising rising tabla master Aditya Kalyanpur, saxophone master George Brooks, legendary guitarist Larry Coryell, and flute maestro Ronu Majumdar, has been invited to perform at the San Jose Jazz Fest, Aug 7-9.
“We are constantly in search of the next new Indian artist,” says Brendan Rawson, executive director of San Jose Jazz. “We are particularly excited about the contributions of Indian and Indian-American musicians to the Jazz idiom. Some of the performers San Jose Jazz has presented over the year’s have included Black Mahal, Vijay Iyer, Sameer Gupta, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dehli to Dublin, Pandit Habib Khan, Karsh Kale, and Zakir Hussain. We feel we have only begun scratching the surface of the talented pool of Indian artists working here in the States and those in India.”
The fest typically draws 40,000 attendees and 1,000 performing musicians. This year, KCSM, the Bay Area’s jazz station, will be broadcasting live and web streaming around the world on Saturday, Aug 8 from the beautiful California Theater. Bombay Jazz will appear on stage at 5 p.m.
The tabalchi of the band, Kalyanpur, shot into fame when he was just a little boy, when he played alongside Ustad Zakir Hussain in the Waah Taj! commercial in India. Speaking of his journey, he says, “I feel blessed that I am able to collaborate with musicians globally and speak the universal language of music. I love every genre … Jazz to me means “be yourself”. In the West the emphasis is on rehearsals and to have a fixed set list for the show. In Indian music, neither the melody nor the rhythm structure is decided until the musician is on stage. And sometimes even while on stage I have to guess the melody and the rhythmic cycle and play along.”
Given the difference in styles, the band puts in some time synching up, getting into the same musical space. Certain compositions are set in advance; the band tries to rehearse on the day of the show, but mostly, it’s impromptu performances. Kalyanpur improvises off-stage as well, “Recording for A. R. Rahman, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and Pritam, is always sheer joy … I remember when I was invited to record for Mere Dholna at T-Series by Taufiq Qureshi at 1a.m. To work out those wonderfully composed rhythmic patterns by him and then to play them right there was so much fun and challenging!” Kalyanpur, who incidentally also contributed to Katy Perry’s Legendary Lovers, was invited to play for Bombay Jazz by Brooks.
The name of the band was inspired by the its namesake city, where the original band members, Coryell, Brooks, Majumdar, and the then tabalchi Vijay Ghate played together for the first time. That was for Jazz Yatra in 2003. In the next few months, the four of them played at an extensive European tour, where their synergies were formed. “It was evident rather quickly that we had a lot in common musically,” says Brooks, of the epic first few concerts. Kalyanpur joined the band about four years ago.
Elaborating on the experience of working with new artists, Brooks continues, “The thing about jazz is that it is up to the artist to find personal expression; who they are as an individual and who they are as a musician. A jazz artist should not recreate what’s been done, but they need to have a deep understanding of where jazz came from, from the blues as played by Coltrane, Parker, among others.”
Jazz found Brooks when he was on another trajectory altogether, he was studying medicine. He had been playing the saxophone since he was ten. It became a serious enough passion at 17, when he applied to The Boston Conservatory.
Brooks’ discovery of Indian music was less deliberate. He took a class called “Survey of Indian Classical Music” on a whim one day, and as he says it, “It was like a lightbulb going off. I knew I had to study more of it.” He accompanied his future wife to California and met Pandit Pran Nath. It was Nath who cultivated Brooks’ Indian musical sense and the two were guru-shishya for years.
Brooks collaborated with Terry Riley (popularly known as the founder of minimalist music in California) and sitarist Krishna Bhatt for years. In 1996, he collaborated with Hussain on an album; and for the last decade or more, has divided his time between India and the United States.
His 2010 album Spirit and Spice is indicative of his close association with India, Indian musicians, and Hindustani and Karnatik music. Apart from featuring rising stars such as Kala Ramnath and Hamsika Iyer along with greats such as Hussain and bandmate Mazumdar, the album highlights Konnakol, the Karnatik enunciation of drum beats. “Konnakol is a more straightforward way to introduce Indian music to western musicians: It’s easy to be understood when I say, “was that TaDhiMi or TaKaDhiMi?””
This immersion that spans various genres and generations is what will make Bombay Jazz memorable at the San Jose Jazz Fest.
Sat., Aug. 8, 5 p.m. 38 West Santa Clara Street, San Jose. $15 and up. http://summerfest.sanjosejazz.org.