A great jazz artist stirs and grips the audience’s emotions

Evelyn Hii hails from sarawak and classically trained in the US. She is the proprietor of No Black Tie. It's stage has seen the Malaysia's top singers ans musicians and the region's best, not including an impressive lineup of international acts over the years and most importantly, The watering hole of choices for KL's intellectual, cultural, social and corporate elite. She speaks to Abhijit Ganguly about the jazz scene in South East Asia, during the official launch of Rooh Music's website.

What’s your opinion on the jazz scene in South East Asia? What’s it like to make a living as a musician there?

The jazz scene is South East Asia is definitely thriving judging by the number of jazz festivals that are being held in the region. Hopefully the jazz festivals can spark more ongoing interest in its appreciation from the community, as well as inspire aspiring jazz musicians in the region to take their art further. We also need the media to play their role – a jazz radio station or more dedicated to playing a solid jazz programme, from the great recordings of the past to the country’s budding jazz artists, as well as South East Asian jazz pioneers. Only then can we start to define what South East Asian jazz is there’s European Jazz, Scandinavian or Nordic Jazz, what about South East Asian Jazz? A festival in the region that showcases uniquely South East Asian jazz  artists?
I think that our jazz artists ought to approach their  art  with  more  attitudes, and a sense of adventure. Dig deep. We have such a rich ethnic musical heritage, our jazz artists should find inspiration from that and put some of their spice into jazz – to reflect the pulse and heartbeat of their urban environment. Listen and study the great masters, then start to deconstruct, reconstruct, improvise and create, be original, write original material, be brave, be free! Hopefully, our audience will then become more interested in what the jazz artists are saying, not just playing standards.
Making a living as a jazz artist in South East Asia is not hard, because the perception is that jazz attracts a well- heeled crowd, so there are always gigs available. The number of foreign jazz artists that have adopted Asia as their second home is also testimony to this.

However, for our jazz musicians to command a level of appreciation from the community, not as mere entertainers but as artists, we would need more dedicated performance venues for jazz, proper jazz clubs where it’s a conducive environment for playing and listening to jazz live, the rawness of jazz being played right there and then, the creativity, the spontaneity, fire and a sense of abandonment.
Music is above all a celebration of life, despite all that’s happening in the world today, there are still amongst us a brave new generation who are committed to a lifelong pursuit of a musical art that is jazz! Every city in South East Asia should have more than a few good jazz clubs!

What do you feel are the most important things for an aspiring jazz musician to spend their time practicing?

Practice the language of jazz, the scales, the modes, the harmonies, the chord progressions, the rhythms, practice and breathe the language until it becomes second nature. Be adventurous. Be curious. Be original. Learn a second instrument. Add to the imagination the tone colour of another instrument.

From your viewpoint what separates a good jazz musician from a great jazz musician?

A good jazz musician plays safe, every note is in the right place, very polished, thoughtful. A great jazz artist stirs and grips the audience’s emotions, is extremely spontaneous and free, and often encouraging and generous toward younger jazz artists.

Do you think that platforms like YouTube and MySpace are necessary for putting new bands’ music out there?

We are living in an age where platforms like YouTube and MySpace are necessary tools for any musicians to expose their brand of music- however, care should be taken to ensure that the videos are of high audio and visual quality before they are posted. Music is first and foremost an audio experience.


A saxophone in Indian Classical music! Why not? Says Indian - American Mittal

Aakash Mittal, based in Colorado, has an ensemble, “The Aakash Mittal Quartet,” which performs all original music. But that’s not the big thing about him. Mittal seeks to create music that relates to his dual American and Indian heritage, drawing inspiration as much from straight-ahead jazz and the avant-garde as from technology and the musical traditions of India. He has been keen to explore the possibility of using saxophone in north Indian classical music. To expand his knowledge of the Indian tradition, Mittal travelled to Kolkata, India, and is studying classical Indian music with world renowned artists Pandit Tanmoy Bose and Prattyush Banerjee.

Mittal says, “Among Indian instruments, the saxophone falls between a keyed instrument and a woodwind one, such as between a Shehnai and a Santoor. It is challenging to play Indian music techniques with a saxophone because the saxophone was not designed for Indian music. The saxophone was originally intended to be an orchestral instrument. Since then it has been adopted into numerous musical traditions so I believe it can be adopted in north Indian music as well. It's just an instrument, a tool, and how we use it is only dependent on our creativity. How do we create the aesthetics and soul of Indian music with this instrument? I think it’s less about the instrument’s limitations and more about training and environment. I am interested in exploring the possibility of playing gamakas and meends on the saxophone and the inherent emotional content of these sounds.”

In the 1990’s, there was a revival of swing music, which was popular in the 1930’s. Mittal used to dance to live swing music three to four nights a week. One day he wanted to play in one of the swing bands. At that time, he was playing the clarinet, which he had done since the 4th grade. Clarinet was not used in swing bands too much but saxophone was. He convinced his parents to buy him a saxophone. However, they would only buy him a saxophone if he promised to practice his clarinet everyday for a year. He did it and got his reward. 

Saxophone isn’t the most popular instrument worldwide. Most people play the guitar, piano or drums. Even in the United States it is more common to play guitar and write songs than to pick up a saxophone and play an improvised solo. “Saxophone is very common in jazz and American improvised music and you find it in some blues situations although not very often. Then there is the western classical saxophone tradition, but that is mostly based in France,” said Mittal.

Asked how he felt about the use of technology in music, he said, “Personally, I like the sound of music that is using technology. I have not explored it much but it’s something I’m interested in.” Mittal uses some simple technology in his album “Videsh” to capture a foreigner’s experience of India. Amidst the hard driving compositions and improvisations Mittal weaves sound samples of Kolkata’s markets, streets, and conversations. 

He recently performed with Kendraka during the Smart Art Adda SMART initiative by Rooh Media Pvt Ltd. Asked about this experience, Mittal said, “It was amazing. They are incredible improvisers. They really play their instruments and compositions well. When I’m playing with them I feel like they are really listening to me and interacting.”

His advice to aspiring musicians? “My advice would be to start with listening. I really enjoy history and believe we need to listen to the history of the instruments being played. If you’re interested in jazz listen to the modern players and also go back and listen to the history of the music. Try to explore what other people are doing on your instrument. It is also important to stay curious and practice. Not just individual practice but working with other people. So listen and   collaborate,”


To her, India is a land of the 'Blue'

                                                                                                                                              Saori Kanda

Before she came to India, India used to appear to her as a place swathed in purple. After she arrived here, she started India in blue. As Saori Kanda, a painter from Japan, says “I realized blue is the colour of peace. And India to me stands for peace.”

Recently she created a riot with colours with her “music inspired painting” on a larger-than-life canvas with a Japanese folk fusion band named Kariyushi and, Miya fluitist. The place was Karigar Haat 2013, the International Art and Cultural Folk Festival orga- nized by AIM. Saori goes on, “I don’t have a preplanned idea while I paint. I try to get the vibrations and energy of the musicians playing and the mood of the audiences. For example the Koriyushi band was playing a song about mother and child.  It wasn’t about India nor Japan, It was about an universal thing. So I listened to the song, ideas came from the bottom of my heart and it exploded. Live painting is where all my passion is released. I exchange and share energy and emotions with people around me.” 

The Kariyushi band plays mostly traditional music from Yoron and Okinawa islands. With Tetsuhiko Tabata on vocals and sanshin and Miyako Maki, the band is now in its 16th year. It mostly plays folk songs of the region. The band players feel the songs talks about the true voice in our hearts. Though the young generation is getting drifted to modern western songs, the band tries to bring in modern elements into these songs so that these folk songs also become popular among the youth. Saori signs off saying, “We experience negative emotions, like anger, depression as well as cosmic emotions, the colour of love inside our self. We should let the positive thing blossom, like a white flower inside our heart,. When I paint, I try to spread that postivity to everyone around me. We must keep the white flower inside us continue to blossom all the  time.”

Saori talks about her journey, “I always loved drawing. During my childhood days, whenever I came across a piece of paper even if it has writings on the side, I just started drawing and that was my favourite play. So I grew up loving paintings and drawings. But long time ago, I worked with one musician who made me feel that I wanted to grow outside of the canvas. I thought the small canvas was not enough. I moved to painting spontaneously to her music as her music moved my heart and soul and that’s the time I started live painting.”

An Italian dramatist plans a movie on Binodini Dasi

                                                                                                                                               Cristina Donadio

Binodini Dasi has been Bengali theatre’s first and perhaps the most versatile leading lady ever. During a little over a decade she acted in some 50 plays. She became famous for her role as  Nemai  in  Chaitanya  Lila. Directed by Girish Chandra Ghose, one of the pioneers of Bengali stage, the play opened a new chapter in the history of Bengali theatre. After  watching  her  performance Ramakrishna, the  seer of  Dakhisneswar, went to the green room and blessed Binodini saying “Ma tomar chaitanya hok” (Mother, let enlightenment dawn on you.).And now Cristina Donadio, one of the biggest stars of both stage and screen in Italy, is making a film on her!

As she explains, “I see a lot of similarities between Neapolitan and Bengali theatre of Kolkata. There is the same amount of enthusiasm and passion. I want to make a movie about Binodini Dasi and it may be a co-production between India and Italy. I think it is not only a story of an actress but also of a great woman. In both Italy and India, there is a surge of violence against women. As a women performer I want to address the issue”

Cristina has been directed by the likes of Frederico Fellini in La Citta Delle Donne and Werner Shroeter, and has acted with the likes of Ben Gazzarra, Treat Williams and Klaus Kinsky.She was here in Kolkata International Theatre Festival organized by Kalindi Bratyajon.

Talking about the contemporary Italian theatre scenario, she says, “The scenario of theatre in Italy is good. I come from Naples, which has a deep tradition and culture of theatre. We have traditional Italian drama and many theatre companies work on classics like Shakespeare and Greek tragedy. Since 1980's there was change in the scenario and theatre became more close to the body and not just about script. We understood that tradition is important but at the same time to be non-conventional. Italian audiences like to watch “unconventional” plays that are “rooted in tradition”. The theatre became more real and since then there have been several theatre festivals in Italy.”

At the same time, she expresseed her concern about certain aspects  of Italian theatre today. “The government in Italy isn’t doing much for culture. We are going through a severe economic crisis and unfortunately the first cut in the public money was made in culture. We are suffering. The last twenty years Berlusconi messed up the cultural field in Italy. He is the owner of many television channels and many newspapers and magazines and showed women as sex symbol. We are living in a corner and the real tradition is getting lost. We have to fight against cinema that portrays women as sex objects, but we are surviving.”

When asked about her advice to the aspiring theatre players, she says, “Many people there say I am doing a character. I guess this is wrong. Rather one should say I am being a character. One needs to feel the character. This is the right approach.”

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