Louiz Banks gave a peek into his musical prowess at the two-day Jazz Music Festival in Chennai

The coconut trees in the open-air concert venue stood out under the beaming lights on the sultry night of Day Two of the festival.

During the first session, Indo-French band from Auroville 3 Raags took to the stage. Featuring the incredibly vivacious and talented duo Holger Jetter on the violin and Mishko on the electric bass, the band introduced the crowd to improvisational and fusion jazz; albeit a style that was perhaps too alternative for the randomised audience present at Phoenix Market City.

The evening also showcased the music of Maarten Visser, an exquisite Dutch saxophonist based in Chennai. His melodious, lengthy and intricate saxophone pieces held the crowd in cheering awe.

Bank of talent

Louiz Banks, an active musician for the last four decades, is one of the most renowned jazz artistes in India. A Nepali raised in Darjeeling, he found his love for jazz among the cool hills. Louiz was taught the classical piano by his father, a music teacher by day who ran a dance band by night, bringing the jive, foxtrot, and mamba to the night clubs of the 60s. By the age of 13, Louiz was playing, practising, and interacting with professional musicians, but the moment which truly spawned the artist arrived when, “My father had me listen to an LP by Oscar Peterson, and that was it. I had to learn jazz, I had to play it.”

A self-taught jazz pianist, he began his career running a jazz band in a hotel in Kathmandu, and then in Calcutta. Louiz had gained significant recognition at that point, and it was not long before fame and fortune struck. “A man called me over to his table one night at the hotel. He told me to come to Bombay and play for his films. It was R.D. Burman.”

Louiz then made his debut in Bollywood film music in the film Mukti (1977). He moved to Bombay and continued to play for R.D. Burman’s film orchestra as the head pianist until the legendary composer’s death. Louiz ventured into fusion when he first heard Carnatic singer Ramamani, and decided to combine it with jazz, forming the band ‘Sangam’ which performed 60 concerts across Europe. He later joined forces with singer Shankar Mahadevan and percussionist Sivamani; their acclaimed fusion band ‘Silk’ toured around the world. Louiz became a star musician meriting himself mainly on fusion of jazz and Indian classical music, but now is branching out into other genres, experimenting with Arabic and Brazilian tunes, and Hungarian opera.

Louiz and his son Gino have been collaborating on albums thkat feature Louiz’s life’s work. So far 10 albums have been released some of which are Pure Silk, Music for Romance (series), Labyrinth, and Introspection.