Complex, intricate, soulful, difficult: Jazz has its dedicated following in Bangalore. On International Jazz Day, we catch up with city-based jazz artistes for their take on this smooth art form

Radha Thomas, vocalist and band leader of UNK: The Radha Thomas Ensemble says: “I grew up listening to jazz because my mother played it a lot around the house. Once I’d got Rock n’ Roll out of my system (that was the first genre of music I performed in) it was jazz and nothing but standard jazz until I discovered I could write my own music too!”

For lead guitarist and vocalist of Thermal and a Quarter, Bruce Lee Mani, “I'd been listening to Jazz for a long time, but the first opportunity I had to perform was with the Rex Rozario Quartet, in the late 1990s. Rex (the sax player) was looking for a new guitar player in the quartet, and someone recommended me. I was in college, playing mainly rock, blues, and metal, and far from being any kind of Jazz guitarist back then (I believe I still am), but innocence and teenage vim prevailed. I took the job. And discovered I was way out of my depth at the first rehearsal. I’d listened to some of the music that Rex’s Quartet wanted to perform, but I had not studied it; I had no idea how intricate the harmonies were, or how to really blow through changes. I played with Rex's Quartet for a few years, till I just got too busy with work and my main band, Thermal and a Quarter.”

Marcus Daniel, Jazz pianist who also plays with his band, Traffic Jam, says: “I started Jazz lessons first with Victor Martin at around the age of 19 and learnt classical music under Neecia Majolly before I took Jazz piano lessons and contemporary theory from Steve Talaga in Michigan, USA. I started performing as a Jazz pianist professionally only from 2011.”

Speaking of what it is about Jazz that makes it unique, Radha says: “Each musical genre has aspects that make it unique. Like a fingerprint. I guess in Jazz that would be the harmony and the back beat. There’s nothing that can compare with it, and the sheer complexity of the music, of course.”

Bruce chips in, “Eventually a genre label is like any other - created to help the bean counters/legal eagles, keep everything organised. But Jazz, in my view, is like a beautiful, dangerous big jungle cat- all grace, poise and muscular movement, but with teeth too. It's like a juggler trying out too many bottles. And when he makes it through, it's a feeling like no other.” Marcus feels: “Two aspects of Jazz that I enjoy are the individuality and spontaneity.”

Bangalore has most definitely been a hotspot for music lovers and weekends here always witness the coming of an existing or new musical act to perform but in terms of how Jazz has been faring in the city, Radha finds: “Jazz in Bangalore is like jazz anywhere. A small group of people like it. And it takes backstage as soon as something more popular comes along. But there are some great Jazz musicians in Bangalore and close by.”

Bruce adds, “it’s not doing too well but maybe better than in some other parts of the country. There are very few young acts really getting into this music, performing, writing, recording, releasing, etc. It's demanding stuff, and it takes study, dedication and commitment - all of which seem to be in short supply.”