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!

Vasantotsav Vimarsh

Among many things, Pune city is also known for various music festivals/concerts which are held through out the year. The most famous being one started by Pt Bhimsen Joshi way back in the memory of his guru Sawai Gandharv. Apart from music performances by various artists, they also have started recently two sessions called Shadja where documentaries/films around lives of music performers are shown, and the other one is Antarang wherein interviews of artists are conducted. Both of them are very useful to general audience to understand more about their favorite artists in general.

The other big name in the list of music festivals is Vansantotsav which is held in the memory of Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande. Starting this year, they now have started a session named ‘Vasantotsav Vimarsh’ which is aimed at discussing issues in musicology. I found this step very interesting. Musicological deliberations are very rare(the other one which goes close to this activity is Sudarshan Sangeet Sabha which is facilitated by Chaitanya Kunte). You will find that not every music performer is a capable of talking on musicology, and the vice-versa is also true-that is not every musicologist is capable of performing. Single person doing both is very rare-but very desirable for variety of reasons. Ashok Da Ranade was one such personality.

I, being very interested(due to my exposure to Indology) in musicological aspects of any music as such. Musicological aspects does not mean only music theory. Every student of music does go over theory formally or informally. Musicology goes beyond that. It can cover historical topics, research, current issues on performance, education and the state of the art, inter-relation with other forms of music, ethno-musicological topics, cultural aspects.

Here is quick account of this year’s Vasantotsav Vimarsh. Hope it generates some interest in readers of this blog on this topic. It was interesting to find that all of the speakers are trained performers as well which is again is very very rare.

Deepak Raja spoke on raag-tatva in his opening speech. He is accomplished sitar player and very active in talking and writing about various aspects of raag concept of in Indian classical music. He also runs his own blog as well. The details of is presentation can be found on his blog.

Samir Dubale spoke about state of education in music, challenges, and shared some of this experiments. He touched upon on topics of creating awareness and ability to understand classical music though his organization called SPECTRUM. About a decade back, I had attended this music appreciation workshop conducted by him and had found very useful. He spoke about on some of the ideas and initiatives they have taken to improve quality music education at FLAME school of fine and performing arts.He about how their ideas on education have attempted to encompass modern day advancements and how it gives exposure of modern day needs of music as an industry. He also stressed that this will help create music teachers who are equipped on various aspects of music and will fill that gap of quality music teachers especially at school level.

Urmila Bhirdikar spoke about Pt Mallikarjun’s music and relation with Maharashtra. This is the topic one of my current interest. She touched upon state of music during colonial era in and around of North Karnataka and South Maharashtra(then part of Bombay state). Many aspects of this topic were covered in Rahmath Tarikere’s book on Amirbai Karnataki which I had translated in Marathi recently. Urmila Bhirdikar is trained Kathak dancer and expert in sociology. Her views and findings from cultural theory perspective were very interesting

The session ended with Aneesh Pradhan speaking who himself being an accomplished tabla player. He spoke about state of music patronage during bygone era. He presented historical account of how music was supported by princely states’ generously and how were these artists treated. Gone are the days of princely states now, the music has stayed alive on patronage of society and general public.

The sessions were aptly compered by Chaitanya Kunte and stressed the need of such musicological deliberations which will enrich and spread awareness of music in society in general. Let me conclude this account by quoting Pt Usman Khan, sitarist, who said that his guru has advised him to not to lower his music to audience levels, but make attempt to bring audiences’ level to his level of music. I guess sessions such as Vasantosav Vimarsh help to achieve exactly that.