Under a starry sky, on the grounds of Kolkata’s Dalhousie Institute, Dizzy Gillespie is performing.
There’s more than just a wintry chill in the air as the audience takes in one of the most legendary Jazz trumpeters of all time. The atmosphere is electric, the excitement palpable and contagious.
Suddenly, from a nearby mosque, a few melodious strains of the azaan waft over, breaking the spell. For a few moments there is hushed confusion; and then Dizzy starts to play in sync with the call to prayer. Far from being rattled by the intrusion, he builds it into his performance. This spontaneous jam embodies the very soul of jazz, which is so much about improvisation, creating a unique magic that attendees will remember for the rest of their lives.
The culture of Jazz in Kolkata
Since one such lucky attendee, city-based blues singer Anjum Katyal, happens to be my mother, I am regularly treated to stories about the Jazz festival that’s been so integral to the Kolkata music scene ever since she was a young girl. The city’s tryst with Jazz dates back to the 1920s and some of the biggest international jazz and blues acts including Herbie Hancock, Erik Truffaz, Bobo Stenson and Jonas Hellborg have played here.
The annual Jazzfest, most recently organized by Congo Square, a non profit society of Jazz lovers formed in 2002, is really popular with residents. For the last few years Varun Desai of Littlei has been the organiser behind it.
As a young(ish) resident of the city I can attest to the fact that the live music scene is a little saturated. Though there is huge talent within the city and the various cultural wings of consulates do organize gigs sporadically, there is nothing to rival this concentrated Jazz feast with its variety of acts packed into a few days. As a result music lovers look forward to it all year round.
The Jazzfest — All you need to know
The Jazzfest takes place in the lawns of the Dalhousie institute, a 150 year old colonial club. Kolkata has a strong club culture, especially in “season time,” which is how residents describe the blink-and-you-miss-it winter where temperatures drop to slightly nippy and sitting outdoors is pleasant. It’s exhilarating to see the diverse crowd the Jazzfest draws. From middle aged regulars to young first-timers standing around in groups sipping their beers as they hang on to every note played, the festival with its relaxed vibe, affordable alcohol and food stalls doing brisk business creates a welcoming environment for all age groups.
Jazzfest 2017 is on 8th, 9th and 10th of December.
Kicking off the festival this year is Pol Belardi’s Urban 5 from Luxemburg. Pol is a prolific composer who has mastered multiple instruments and genres from rock to classical orchestra.
Rounding up the first day is Kefaya, who I’m also really curious to hear, because though their music has been described as “guerrilla jazz”, “contemporary world-fusion” and “global protest music,” by nature they defy definition, with a sound rooted in the varied folk music traditions of the world. Formed in the UK by musician-activists Giuliano Modarelli and Al MacSween, they comprise an eclectic mix of travellers, immigrants, and international artists who recorded their debut album while travelling and collaborating with musicians across India, Palestine, Spain, Italy & the UK, transcending boarders to create sounds of resistance.
Day two begins with a bang as famed French jazz trumpeter Erik Truffaz performs with Riatsu, a young electronic musician from Mumbai. This unlikely duo should be all the more electrifying because Erik’s tunes are known to incorporate elements of hip hop and dance music.
Next up is Mn’JAM Experiment from the Netherlands who promise to captivate us with a multi-medium performance that blends music and visual arts.
Closing day two is the Florian Favre Trio led by Favre, a jazz pianist and composer from Switzerland.
The final day of Jazzfest begins with Cruise Control on Trio, led by Martin Van Hees, a classical guitarist and composer from the Netherlands.
This is followed by the EYM Trio feat. Mirande Shah, a French jazz band made up of pianist Elie Dufour, bassist Yann Phayphet and drummer Marc Michel which offers to “strike a chord between great rhythm and beautiful harmonies”.
Bringing the festival to an end is C.A.R., a four-piece act from Cologne. Blending EDM with Jazz, their music tends to be experimental and ambient.
The schedule brings together some of the best global acts in contemporary jazz. An exciting element this year is the introduction of visuals into some of the performances, which will change the way the audience interacts with the music. I can’t wait for it all to begin.
Tickets available here: