Jazz and Warren Senders

Sudarshan Sangeet Sabha in Pune had arranged a session on introduction to Jazz last weekend. This was one of the unique opportunities to get introduced to western music in general and Jazz in specific. I had written about the need of such sessions in Pune sometime back here. It was 39th edition of this Sudarshan Sangeet Sabha which is a novel initiative by Chaitanya Kunte to bring unique music appreciation sessions every other month for music and musicology aficionados. I have attended many of them. I also was fortunate to help arrange one such program related to Bilagi Sisters couple of years back.

The banner of the program said, “Most of the connoisseurs love to listen to Jazz music, but many of us really don’t ‘understand’ what Jazz is! Boston based Jazz and Hindustani musician Warren Senders in going to explain the musical nuances of Jazz in a special program ‘An introduction to Jazz music’. He will also describe the history and work of milestone Jazz musicians along with rendition of the music.”

I had heard of Warren Senders, as someone being very curious of Indian music, and who has learnt Hindustani classical music in Pune. He is one of many who has followed that passion. Another one I know of is Marcus Corbett of whom I have written here. The topic of this session was interesting, not only because it was going to be an introduction to western music form of Jazz, but also as Jazz is also known as another form of art music which has scope for improvisation like Indian classical music. I decided to attend the session and we witnessed, next 2 to 2.5 hours of he passionately talking history of Jazz, its comparison with Indian classical music with lec-dem style, interspersed with lot of listening opportunities. Below paragraph has some snippets of what he said and illustrated.

The history of Jazz is intriguing and defining Jazz is not easy. It all started in southern USA, around 1910, especially, around sea port area of New Orleans area in Louisiana. And this history is very much part of history of black people in USA. He touched upon topics such as how it came to being, what instruments are used and why. The various cultural underpinnings which exist in Jazz since beginning, the amalgamation of various musical aspects is very interesting to understand. It was also interesting to understand how situations like war, commercial activities near sea ports can have deep impact on art forms. Cultural intermix, language intermix, ethnic intermix creates huge possibilities of different dimension, in various walks of life including art. The same thing happened here. New Orleans had free black community, French Creole, white population. Spanish-American war brought gang of military people, especially, military band folks, to ports of New Orleans. Each of them brought their own music, their instruments, and most importantly their rhythms. This became melting pot for exchange and invention in the music.

It sounded me more like evolution of Urdu language which took way back in 12-13th century.  Warren being trained Indian classical musician, also one who teaches that to western audiences, it was natural for him to compare Jazz and Indian classical music. This also was prompted, due to obvious questions from the audience, in this regard. Warren also freely shared his observations and nuances of similarities and differences. I mention some of them here: Complex/Profound lyrics does not help improvisation; Art music is building various rhythmic patterns over time; Loosing track of rhythm and constant error correction is essence of any art music; The improvisation should be able to tell the story, Jazz brings in sound of surprise, Structure of Hindustani classical music is termed as EDIOT-Event Density Increasing Over Time.

The later part of session had lots of Q&A which he patiently answered. One of my favorites which I learnt was that unlike Indian classical music, Jazz can start with fast tempo and slow down towards end.  All in all, it was very interesting for me to understand various musicological aspects of both Jazz and also Indian classical music from someone who is not native Indian. I badly wanted to attend his next day’s concert of Warren in the city, which would have allowed me to witness his rendition of ragas. That would have been wonderful to witness!

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