A Colombian team brushes up Kolkata’s 80-year-old jazz links

Jazz in India was introduced by the British during the early 1930s. Between 1934-1945, Calcutta was the scene of a torrid jazz culture led by a loose fraternity of African- American musicians who left Chicago and New York for lucrative careers in the exotic ‘Orient’ and even settle there. They moved between Calcutta and Bombay, but also worked at the popular hill stations where the Indian and European Burra sahibs would ‘emigrate’ from the boiling planes during the summer.

Jazz's progress in India can be said to have taken place on three tiers - the music was born in the base (grassroots), went on to take an elitist character, and then began to democratize through an extraordinary marriage with local traditions.

Fast Forward 2013. Kolkata got a chance to listen to a Jazz quartet from Colombia-the Oscar Acevedo Quartet. They were here to participate in the Delhi International Jazz Festival- 2013.The genre is a fusion of local Colombian, Caribbean, Puerto Rican and Dominican music and classical jazz that thrives in the metro- hubs of the Latin nation. The quartet consists of Oscar on piano, Gina Savino on vocals, Raúl Platz on bass and Jose Camilo on drums. As Oscar elaborates, “We are a group of Colombians who love jazz and perform regularly in the Bogotá area. We are mostly interested in doing jazz versions of Colombian traditional songs.”

Pianist Oscar Acevedo of Bogota, Colombia, is a music columnist for Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper. He also premiered a musical for children called Plonk, la Vida Suena. Talking about his musical journey, Oscar says, “My journey in music has been rather unusual because I started playing when I was 20 years old, going to study at Berklee College of Music. From 1984 to 2000, I did a lot of music for film and television along with the concerts and recordings with my band in Colombia. Amon those who influenced me, I may mention Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. Difficulties are always on the way, but I try to overcome them as they come.”

Raul adds, “I have been playing jazz for more than 20 years. I began listening to classical music as well as Jazz, and then I started playing guitar, electric bass. Then I began studying double bass at the conservatory in Bogota. After I finished my degree I won a scholarship to study at the Conservatori del liceu in Barcelona (Spain). Then I returned to Colombia and I started my project with singer Gina Savino. Right now with her we are working on our second album to be released this year.”

In a town dominated by college football and rowdy bars, people are often surprised to learn that Colombia offers plenty of opportunities to listen to live Jazz. Several of these events happen on a weekly basis, with each event offering a different flavour of Jazz experience.

Talking about the Jazz scenario in Colombia, Oscar says, “Jazz in Colombia is growing steadily due to an upsurge of players in the scene, young coming from conservatories outside of Colombia. Starting about 15 years ago, cultural institutions have also programmed more Jazz concerts in major cities of Colombia. These two points are changing very fast the local Jazz scene.”

About their Indian experience, Raul says, “India is amazing! It is our first time, so we are very touched by the people, we have been treated so well, we really want to thank to the ICCR and the Indian authorities as well as to the Colombia embassy in India for this great opportunity to share our music with all of you, I really hope to return very soon with my project!”

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