After the triumph of Jazzmandu last year, jazz aficionados know they can expect something out of the ordinary at round two of the festival this year. Picking up where it left off, Jazzmandu 2003 is a star-studded fortnight of music from the likes of percussionist Trilok Gurtu, guitarists Knut Reiersrud and Jesse van Ruller, flautist Jamie Baum and local jazz stars, Cadenza.
A decade ago there was no market for jazz. There were hardly any bands that played real jazz and the audience was limited to the brandy swilling elite. Those days seem far removed after the phenomenal rise in popularity of the genre.
The lure of jazz goes beyond just technicalities like range, depth, style, mood, variation and nuance. Central and essential to good jazz is love-art for arts sake-that blends technical skill with creativity and team cohesion. It is musicians' music "written" largely at the moment of performance.
Many local jazz fans credit The Upstairs Jazz Bar with introducing jazz to the Valley. A little restaurant above a nondescript grocery shop in Lazimpat, Upstairs is easy to miss. But spend one Saturday night there and you'll never forget the way: round the back and up an uneven flight of stairs to a dimly lit bar. The brainchild of Chhedup Bomzon, the manager of Nepal's premier jazz outfit Cadenza, Upstairs may have a placemat sized stage but it features the biggest jazz sounds in Nepal. The place is packed to the rafters when house band Cadenza and their friends perform. Navin Chhettri, the drummer and frontman of the band says, "We took the chance to experiment with jazz in Kathmandu because we had a gut instinct about this-you could say we are educating people and ourselves about jazz, because this a learning process." This year Navin is looking forward to opening for master percussionist Trilok Gurtu.
The idea for Jazzmandu coalesced after Cadenza was invited to play at the Palmer Street Festival in Australia. They asked themselves why Nepalis should be denied the experience of international jazz artists. It wasn't long before Upstairs Ideas launched a full-blown jazz festival in Nepal for the first time last year. International legend Don Burrows, consented to perform for the price of an airline ticket. Jazzmandu 2002 became a medium for showing musical solidarity for Nepal's nascent jazz community.
As Nepali tourism limps towards recovery encouraged by the recent ceasefire, the festival this year presents a non-traditional reason for travellers to visit Nepal. Organisers have been encouraged by the willingness of jazz artists to travel to a country till recently in the news for the wrong reasons. Susan Sellars, co-ordinator of Jazzmandu 2003 at Upstairs Ideas, calls this a "vote of confidence that sends just the right message." A few international tours have put together packages pairing Jazzmandu 2003 concert tickets with staples like trekking in the Himalaya. The festival will play in different locations around the Valley and in Pokhara.
Jazzmandu 2003 couldn't come at a better time. The chill of war and winter is behind us, we are optimistic about the former and assured of the latter. Good times are ahead-it's definitely all that jazz!
At a concert near you...
Voted the world's best percussionist three years in a row by Downbeat, Trilok Gurtu is the headlining act at Jazzmandu 2003. His unique approach to percaussion and drumming centres around an 180kg "floor kit" including tablas, dhol drums, gongs, cowbells and his infamous bucket of water (into which he immerses resonating instruments to astonishing effect). Gurtu has played with Don Cherry, Jan Garbarek, Zakir Hussain and was an integral part of The John McLaughlin Trio. He will perform once only on 13 March 2003 at the Royal Nepal Academy.
Afro Dizzi Act
Go with da 'fro. You know you can expect something different from these Brisbane boys from Down Under. Last they won over Jazzmandu audiences by mixing traditional grooves with hip-hop, rap, electronica and funk. Afro have a palpable band chemistry that embraces the audience. We are very happy to welcome them back to the Valley of the gods.
It is difficult to pigeonhole this versatile guitarist who travels with eight different guitars, each tuned to suit a certain kind of music and mood. Hailed as a phenomenon, his music has an immediacy that grabs listeners. His body language and mimicry are extraordinarily expressive as he reaches for something greater and more powerful than himself.
Jesse van Ruller Trio
This guitar genius was the first European to win the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition in Washington when he was just 23. Jesse van Ruller has performed with musicians and ensembles like Christian McBride, Ralph Moore, George Duke, Mike Stern, Kenny Washington, Tom Harrell, Philip Catherine, Toots Thielemans, John Clayton, the Metropole Orchestra, the Asko Ensemble and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Born into a family steeped in jazz, Williams grew up listening to Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and cites Lauryn Hill and Eryka Badu as musical influences. Williams earned a BA in jazz from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the UK. She currently performs with The Natalie Williams Quintet which has performed in Berlin, Leeds and London.
Ralph Thomas, maestro of saxophone, flute, bagpipes and percussion, has recorded with Chicago Blues legends Howling Wolf and Mighty Joe Young when he was attending the Chicago Conservatory of Music. Signed by Motown Records in 1974 he went on to collaborate with Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and recorded for "Roots" and "The Colour Purple". He has performed with Don Cherry, Loziada Empire, Sun ra, Mra Oma, Sunny Murray and Sara Alexandra.
Jamie Baum Quartet
The New York-based Jamie Baum could well be the First Lady of Flautists. Recognised for her extraordinary ability to present the flute as a lead instrument, Buam has won three US National Endowment for the Arts awards. She has represented the US abroad under the "Jazz Ambassadors" program. Baum also teaches master classes, compositional techniques and workshops. Recent recordings include Sight Unheard, GM Recordings, Woodwinds on Fire and Undercurrents.
From south of the border comes an act that combines the talent of Tala Faral, keyboardist from Madagascar, Lindsay Demello, Mumbai based drummer, Dwight Pattison one of Kolkota's hottest bass players and Benay Rai, a guitarist from Darjeeling. Their collective experience spans Bollywood movies, Aerosmith concerts, collaborations with other artists like Lucky Ali and Bombay Black, to Hindustani Classical music. Get ready for a heady brew of aural ecstasy.
Home Grown Stars
Part of having a jazz festival in Nepal is "showing off" our local talent to leave our international guests raving. Performing at Jazzmandu will be Cadenza, jHola who have been making their mark at Moksh of late, MIK which stands for Music Institute of Kathmandu and consists of our most talented young rising stars, Sita Pati an eight piece late minute addition playing folk and classical with a funky twist, the famous Prastar, Gandharba our very own minstrels, jazz vocalists Vidhea Shrestha and Shristi Thapa, Nepali classical group Vajra and many more.
More on Jazzmandu at http://www.kathmandujazzfestival.com