How this Delhi space is redefining the contemporary jazz experience

A scene from a gig at the The Piano Man Jazz Club   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

There are two kinds of jazz lovers in Delhi: Those who’ve sat on the winding wooden staircase at Piano Man and watched a live jazz performance, and those who haven’t.

It’s not jazz-jazz, the way my generation defined it. This one has cross currents of funk, R&B, Latino, even country. Which is a good thing, as there’s an entirely new generation of young people showing up to listen or play music that goes beyond ‘18 Till I Die’.

Jazz cannot be held hostage by any generation, even the one brought up on scratchy LP records of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. This is not to say that the ‘older’ crowd doesn’t go to Piano Man; they do. They come in ones, twos and big groups too. And they all hang out together, the seniors and the kids.

So how did Piano Man survive beyond the two-or-three-year-mark? Most jazz-themed bars/clubs in Delhi sputter and die before that.

Straight up

“From Day One, we’ve put the artist at the centre of things,” says the owner Arjun Sagar Gupta. “Everybody said I was crazy to do that, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. I tell my staff, we are here because the artist is here, not the other way around.”

Arjun knows his music. He’s a Fulbright music scholar, a living encyclopaedia on jazz, and does a mean rendition of ‘What A Wonderful World’ when in the mood. He’s also copyrighted what Piano Man calls the ‘Silent Song’: a performance in the evening when everyone must stop whatever they’re doing, and listen — the bar closes during that time.

Sentirenla Lucia, one of the best-known jazz-fusion and R&B vocalists in the country (and also a much-in-demand teacher who went to the famed Berklee College), agrees with Arjun. “What we get at Piano Man, in one word, is respect. We are not an ornament flung on to make the place look good.”

With chasers

Stefan Kaye the eclectic British-born keyboardist-percussionist of Delhi-based bands The Ska Vengers and The Jass B'stards — some say they’re the best band in Delhi — opens up the conversation further. “Piano Man is attracting a whole new generation of musicians and their fans. It’s become a hub for those who want to experiment, push boundaries, plant new seeds. It’s created a whole new subculture, and it actually goes beyond Piano Man.”

“Can a young person make a career out of being a musician?” I ask Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, the 20-something singer-songwriter from Berklee who trained under AR Rahman.“Yes, provided she explores other avenues too, like sponsorships, corporate gigs, and so on.” This echoed what Arjun Sagar Gupta had told me earlier, on scholarships, grants, and music workshops.

Cocktail kings

Sanjeeta and Stefan say there are no fixed ‘bands’ these days — they are more like projects, which change shape and definition regularly. So you might find the same musician playing jazz for Band X, and R&B for Band Y a few nights later. That’s the ‘sessions’ musicians approach that Steely Dan has — all albums are different, with different musicians.

No write-up about Piano Man can be complete without Paddy, aka Pradyumna Singh Manot, the Latino jazz pianist. Paddy is from Kolkata, the director of the NCPA Jazz Collective, and also runs a residential music school in his hometown – 12 Keys. He’s also brilliant at attracting the cream of musical talent — his band members are from Panama, El Salvador, Columbia, and Kolkata , where he nurtures local talent. “Piano Man is home for me, it’s not just a place to play. It’s where I meet exciting new musicians, jam with them, discover new territories, all the while keeping jazz at the centre.”

The Piano Man story also includes those like the just-graduated Drishti Sharma who went from being a regular to marketing manager. Drishti, a recent Eng Lit graduate from Hans Raj, used to hang around Piano Man with her friends till she got talking with Arjun Sagar Gupta. He hired her on the spot.

Finally, on a personal note: My 15-year-old daughter wants to be a jazz singer, takes vocal lessons from Lucia, and I frequently take her to Piano Man to learn from the musicians, the audience, and most importantly, soak in the atmosphere. I think it’s a great time to be 15 in Delhi, for an aspiring jazz singer. Welcome to the Birdland of New Delhi.

The Piano Man Jazz Club is set to open its second space at the 32nd Milestone, in Gurugram, this June

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 10:30:22 PM |

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