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JAZZ NATION – Multiple ways of speaking jazz

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JAZZ NATION – Multiple ways of speaking jazz


About the Author :-

Loic Sanlaville is a musician, composer and sound engineer born in France but considers India to be his spiritual home. He plays a broad range of styles- jazz, Blues, Hindustani classical & world music, as a soloist and band musician with Zuper Fast Trio, Luis Trio, Borders, a quintet with Funkoffenado, and World Ethnic Music Ensemble. He has performed at several venues including the Kala Ghoda festival in Mumbai, Kamani Auditorium, and Lalit Kala Akademis International Kala Mela 2018 in Delhi, The Piano Man, Alliance Francaises music festivals, International Jazz Festival in Madras and Pune, Kumbh Mela in Ujjain. He is currently heading the Guitar Department at The True School of Music, Vijaybhoomi University. 

Lage Lund is a Norwegian Jazzman based in New York. While everyone considers him as one of the best of his generation, he will humbly explain how he will only be able to speak Jazz with an accent since he is not originally from the U.S. He speaks with the accent of his cultural background. There are so many ways to speak English, and there are as many ways of speaking Jazz.  

Let’s have a look of those variations around jazz music. How does our own culture make us understand the same thing slightly differently? In the other way around, how can our own culture interact and influence Jazz? 

At the origin, the meeting between American and African culture, the Western harmonic system and the rhythm of Africa, explains why Jazz is naturally inclined to meet and interact with other cultures. As a Jazz guitarist, I’m always amazed how jazz sounds different from one country to another. While going to a jazz club in France, you’ll hear a Jazz which is slightly different. Attached to the tradition of Swing, and very, very romantic. You can hear the heritage of Django Reinhardt and his Gypsy Jazz, and the violin of Stephane Grappelli.  The instrumentation is different, more acoustic, with the Guitar as the star of the show. 

Some cultures match so well with Jazz that it becomes a new genre. The influence of Brazil, the Caribbean and Cuba is what we call Latin Jazz. In its earliest forms, it is a fusion of Afro Cuban Clave-Based rhythms with jazz harmonies. The dialogue goes back and forth and seems to influence jazz itself. Frank Sinatra’s and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s version of The Girl from Ipanema shows the proximity of those two musical cultures. Brazil has a lot of music in its culture, dance and the relation to the body. Jazz gets a rhythm twist there, using the warm tone of a classical guitar to highlight the story.  

Jazz is very open to influences, rhythm can be modified, the melody can be sung in different languages, the instrumentation can be electric or acoustic. Is it still jazz? For some it’s not, but the sure thing is that Jazz was a base for it. NuJazz is another great example of a different understanding of Jazz. Scandinavian European countries are well known for their creativity and social experimentation, while the rest of Europe is generally more conservative. The music scene follows the same cultural tendency of trying new things. Sometimes it is very far from the original version of jazz. Duke Ellington said, “If it doesn’t swing, it’s not jazz.” But I think that it can still be connected by musicians who studied jazz, trying to confront jazz with its unexplored limits, electronics and other materials.  

Labels like Hubro and music festivals support this wave of experimentation. 20 jazz festivals take place in Norway for just a 5 milion population, and artists who resonate worldwide are the Trumpet player Nils Peter Molvaer who use electronics. Esbjorn Svensson trio, Lisa Ekdhal, etc. It is interesting to notice the presence of Georges Russell, the American composer and jazz pianist who settled in Scandinavia from 1964 till 1969, he taught in Lund University, Sweden. As Russell was always searching for new concepts, he found in Europe a suitable ground for his experiments.  

Jan Garbarek is a name you’ll find associated with other musicians and genre. His collaboration with the Indian Tabla player Zakir Hussain “Making Music”, with Fateh Ali Khan “Ragas and Sagas”, with the Tunisian Oud player Anouar Brahem “Madar” shows than he is all about inviting other traditions in the dance of jazz. In a way he also a participant in exporting jazz and make it audible for people from different cultures. He is one of those jazz prophets who did a lot for the genre. We can say the same about many other artists like John McLaughin (Shakti) or the Israeli Upright Bass player and composer Avishai Cohen, who brought the American tradition back to Israel and participated to build a strong jazz community in his country. Georges Russell in Scandinavia, Mulatu Astatke (Ethio Jazz) for Ethiopia and many more stalwarts such as these exist.  

In the 70’s, the legend Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and others started using Funk, Rock, Electronic music in jazz. It was important to create a bridge between jazz and the new society, to stay connected with the audiences. Weather Report and Headhunters are some of the bands that open the way. In 2011, UNESCO declared the 30th of April as International Jazz Day. A day to celebrate music as a bridge between cultures in its infinite variation around jazz. As an ambassador of the intercultural dialogue, Herbie Hancock has been a giant, a pioneer and the main prophet.  

The story of Jazz is not over, its evolution is still ongoing, using anything and everything to reinvent itself and its story by way of new instruments and technologies. It seems that New York City is still the centre of the story as you can hear every kind of Jazz there. You can hear the best musicians from everywhere in the world, trying to understand the language of jazz from their own perspective. Each musician sounds unique for that reason. While playing a jazz song, you must put something authentic from you and see how it reacts with the melody and harmony of jazz. Like the French accent in English, it’s still English but with a French base.  

While thinking of the relationship between jazz and India, I couldn’t really answer the question fully. It doesn’t seem to be settled. There is a Rock influence more than a jazz influence, and Indian instruments are not fitted for harmony. But there’s reasons to look for something, like Zakir Hussain did with Jazz Drummers Eric Harland or Marcus Gilmore. The two genres share concepts of improvisation and complex rhythmic development. There is a great Indian Jazz player, Louis Bank who collaborate with American musicians, great projects like Miles From India (2008), Sachal Jazz Ensemble and Wynton Marsalis. Ten Years back, the True School of Music where I teach Guitar, and Global Music Institute in Delhi were the first music schools in India involving international faculty, exposing music students to jazz. In India, it is still to find its way between the vast music background of Indian Classical music and Bollywood which are part of the process. We have yet to distillate the concepts of Jazz through the Indian musical mindset. 

That’s what the saxophonist John Coltrane managed to do in the opposite way. He took concepts from Indian Classical Music and applied it to Jazz. Coltrane said about Ravi Shankar’s music: “I collect the records he’s made, and his music moves me.” In the quest of being more melodic, more spiritual, Coltrane felt connected with India, the concept of mood of a Raga (Rasa), the use of a Drone reflecting his research of modal approach. Coltrane “transposed” those concepts in his compositions, in a very conceptual way. 

Jazz is like a very open-minded person, capable of understanding the other, learning from them, and making the other better at the same time. There have never been more students learning Jazz in and around music schools in the world than now.  

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