If the music and the musicians were excellent, then why couldn't the recent Swing and Blues concert hold audience attention?
“We want to introduce the aesthetic of jazz music to the general audience in India,” said Madhav Chari striding across the stage at the Museum Theatre, before the Chennai-based blues band ‘Incarcerated' opened the show. “Jazz has had a bad reputation in India. There has been a misunderstanding of what Jazz music is. Tonight will clear it up.”
‘Swing and Blues meet at the Crossroads' presented by Musee Musical and programmed by India's renowned Madhav Chari featured performances by both Incarcerated and Chari in Chennai's ‘first jazz and blues festival'. Split into two parts, the show consisted of lively blues items by ‘Incarcerated', led by Melvin Ranjan, and solo jazz piano pieces by Chari himself. Incarcerated's energetic renditions ranged from songs by Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix, kicking the evening off with a loud and rousing introduction to the blues. More subdued, Chari's repertoire included the sassy, staccato sounds of Gershwin's ‘Summertime'; Thelonious Monk's beautifully slow and dreamy ‘Reflections' and Charlie Parker's ‘Yardbird Suite' — all executed with remarkable dexterity and finesse.
But in spite of Chari's musical bravura, there was a palpable disconnect between the audience and the performer. Chari, his hands flying masterfully over the keys of his piano, was somehow unable to stir in his audience a response that held them rapt and in their seats. Here we had on stage an excellent musician, playing some very excellent music — so why the disconnect? Perhaps it was the justified, albeit slightly cranky comments made by Chari between his performances (‘Could you please take any noisy children outside — I can't carry on with the next item'; ‘I can hear people talking, could you please stop'), that created the rather awkward atmosphere — an atmosphere far removed from the laidback, relaxed mood that is so synonymous with this particular genre of music. By not falling at the feet of brilliance were we continuing the trend of being an audience that ‘misunderstood' jazz? The evening certainly showcased some spectacular music, but if its self-professed aim was to clear matters up, one is not quite sure that it did.
Keywords: jazz music