The history of the Madras Jazz Festival somewhat parallels the delectable fluctuations in pitch that can be managed on the alto saxophone. The high has never been too high and the low never too low. In an existence lasting a tad longer than a decade, the festival has had its high points but there is still room at the top. And in its wilderness years, which arrived intermittently, it never scraped the bottom of the abyss.
When the sponsorships dried up and it was devoid of international acts, it put up a spirited show in modest spaces. For the sake of illustration, after a scintillating debut in 2011 with the Audi showroom in Nandanam serving as the stage, the festival settled down gracefully to less lustrous settings in 2012 and 2013, a thin budget forcing it to stick to Unwind Center’s performance arena. When Phoenix MarketCity came on board, it found a larger platform: In 2014, Louis Banks performed, along with Frank Dubier. For Dubier, it was the swan song. In 2018 and 2019, the stardust came from the Brian Morley quartet. In 2018, Morley’s brilliance had had an extended run, thanks to a fusion act with local mridangist Krishna Kishore, recalls Edison Prithiviraj of Exodus, the prime-most mover behind the festival.
During the pandemic, the festival retreated into a shell, again gracefully, eschewing the possibility of presenting a virtual version of itself. As it emerges out of a two-year hibernation, the festival (December 15-16) displays no signs of rustiness, having managed a few gilt-edged mentions in its bill of fare and also a reasonable sense of proportion while according space to international and local acts.
In the lineup
AKODA comes from Reunion Island with its Creole jazz, its past record powerfully recommending inclusion. Edison notes he watched them perform at Reunion Island and mentally put them down for the festival. France’s Eclectic Percussion Orchestra (EPO) offers fusion jazz, and Edison reveals, an Indian flautist in the line-up would richly contribute to the Indian component of the eclectic sounds. Then, there is Blessing Chimanga from Zimbabwe which has already racked up a following in Chennai.
Among the Indian acts is Tuesday Jazzers, a product of jamming sessions at Unwind Center on Tuesdays across six months. Edison notes Maarten Visser will remain the face of the festival with his vibrant curations.