17-23 October 2014 #728

Marching to a different tune

Musicians of the Nepal Army meet KJC faculty members to form the first big band of Nepal.
Stéphane Huët

Armies are regimented and follow rules, jazz is free-flowing and improvised. Yet, that hasn’t stopped the Nepal Army from setting up Nepal’s first jazz orchestra.

In the combo room of Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC), the KJC-Nepal Army band is rehearsing the big band standard, Count Bubba’s Revenge. Conductor Rajat Rai, a guitarist and academic coordinator at KJC instructs his 17-member orchestra. The band is gearing up for their performance at this year’s Jazzmandu.

This is not the first time they will be performing together. The Nepal Army band and KJC Orchestra first got together in 2006 for a performance at the Ibsen Centennial celebrations in Kathmandu organised by the Norwegian Embassy in Nepal.

Since then, the band has gained recognition under the leadership of Rajat Rai and KJC Director Mariano Abello. When the group was founded, the musicians were familiar with their instrument but they were clueless about the organisation of a jazz ensemble. “It was difficult to play together at the beginning,” pianist Nabin Karki admits, “but we were so interested that we worked hard to reach the level.”

Soon after its creation, KJC-NA Band was invited by the South Korean Army to perform in a military function in Seoul. The band was next invited to perform at the American Embassy in Nepal for its Independence Day celebrations.

Earlier this year, the band got a huge boost in confidence after attending a workshop run by faculty members of American University Willamette. Rajat Rai got to improve his conducting skills, and drummer Jitendra Suman says he got a lot of useful tips.

Jazzmandu now appears like a new test for the Nepali jazz ensemble. “It’s going to be an experiment for us,” says Inap Shrestha, saxophonist and teacher at KJC. “It’s the first time we’re going to play in front of such a big heterogeneous audience.” With their Jazzmandu performance, the band also hopes to book more gigs around town.

Some musicians are nervous to be playing at such a big event, but are equally excited. “This is going to be an excellent platform for us, to be able to stage along with international artists,” says Suraj Dikhatri, who plays the French horn.

Nirmala Gurung, 26, the only woman in the band, plays the saxophone. “It’s a huge privilege to perform at such a prestigious festival,” she said.

Rajat Rai, although a veteran at concerts, admits this time he is quite nervous. “It’s the first time I’ll be conducting the band infront of a live audience,” says Rajat, “but I trust my musicians.”

The KJC-NA Band will be performing at the Jazzmandu, on 22 October at Yak & Yeti Hotel.

The String Master

Jonny Westhorp, 27, is an English guitarist who lives in Spain. He heard about Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory from his former teacher, Matt Warnock who had conducted a workshop there. Jonny has been involved with the KJC both as a teacher and a student.

When he was asked by Rajat Rai to join the KJC-NA Band, he didn’t think twice. “It’s very different from what I use to do in Europe, where I play with only a singer and a saxophonist,” says Jonny. The English guitarist had to find his place in the big group but now enjoys experimenting this new setting. “I admire all these talented musicians,” says Jonny, “and they have definitely made me want to join a big band once I am back in Europe.”

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