Is Mumbai Still India’s Jazz Mecca?

EXEC speaks to jazz musicians and enthusiasts from the city to figure out if city’s love for jazz has stood the test of time.

From being the sound of the masses during its time, jazz has long since moved to the sidelines and is now considered marginal and non-commercial. Mumbai, which was an exotic Jazz hub at the heyday of its popularity, has understandably lost some footing over the years.

Naresh Fernandez, who has written extensively on the history of jazz in Mumbai feels the situation is not isolated to Mumbai or even India. “The bulk of the jazz performances hosted in the city these days are by the foreign embassies. There isn’t much of an Indian jazz scene anymore, not even in Mumbai,” he said. Dhruv Ghanekar, partner at blueFROG also rues for the general decline in the jazz patronage world-over. “Even in American, jazz is almost dead. Many of the big clubs in L.A and New York have shut down over the past few years. Sure, there was a heavy jazz scene in Mumbai in the 70s; it was part of the counter culture. But I don’t think we can hope for that anymore.”

He believes not enough is being done to make jazz appealing to the current crop of music lovers. “Young people these days really don’t come out and attend too many live gigs. They’d much rather go clubbing. Nevertheless, jazz programming here is still very old fashioned and leaves much to be desired.” He draws comparison to Europe where countless young and innovative bands are churning out what’s called improvised music which in still within the framework of jazz. He believes fusion is the way to take jazz to a new generation of listeners and it’s time to stop being stodgy about it.

Jazz guitarist, Sanjay Divecha slams the city and said, “Anywhere else is better than Mumbai”. He feels Pune has a healthy jazz scene now and for Fernandez, Goa is where there is some reasonable action. “There are really not many events here that showcase jazz. The right kind of publicity is not there and there is virtually no support through sponsorship,” Divecha laments. “And the state government only makes things worse with all their taxes on live entertainment.”

However, Romit Chaterji, Consultant to the National Centre for Performing Arts and a member of its jazz committee, has a different story to tell. “Mumbai is definitely always the city the shows the lead. This is the heart of the music industry and jazz definitely is still alive here.” NCPA hosts a jazz festival, JazzMatazz, which generates a huge amount of interest, according to Chaterji. The NCPA, which decided last year include jazz music regularly as part of its annual programming, is all set to host a music concert on June 8 with four dazzling names from the world of jazz. The concert will feature Bill Evans and Ranjit Barot, who will be performing for the first time together along with Etienne Mbappe and Marc Guillermont. And Chaterji says that the response is quite enthusiastic, judging by the ticket sales.

But none of the musicians/organisers we spoke to were able to name any venue other than blueFROG that regularly hosts jazz performances. But even Ghanekar admits its not as often as they’d like to. “We’d probably have a jazz band playing once in a couple of weeks. And sometimes, jazz acts traveling through the country to other destinations perform here.” Even then, the response isn’t anything phenomenal, he says. “I guess it depends on the bankability of the artist.”

Whether the lose of Jazz’s footing in Mumbai is because the genre’s slide from popularly in general or Mumbai’s failure in keeping alive is heritage is debatable. However, it remains a sad fact in a city where once greats like Louis Armstrong and David Brubeck performed at the prestigious venues like the Taj, now there are hardly any spots left where musicians can just jam or any audience left to watch them perform.

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