A few years from now it will be hard to remember a time when Kathmandu and Nepal weren\'t magnets for jazz aficionados. Starting next Tuesday, Maha Shivaratri, entertainment and culture take on a whole new meaning in Nepal, at the first Kathmandu Jazz Festival.
Already there are people buying tickets for every show, anxious not to miss out on what many see as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to hear top class musicians play all kinds of jazz at a variety of venues in Kathmandu and Pokhara. That the festival is spread over ten days gives the musicians-and their sounds-a chance to seep into public consciousness and, hopefully, widen the musical horizons of a nation that already verges on the obsessive about its music. Says Chi Thapa, bass guitarist of Cadenza, the band that inspired all this, "It\'s been a long journey for me, this introduction to jazz. This festival will give the younger generation a quicker avenue to this genre of music." In addition to the international acts, there will be performances by well-established Nepali classical and folk musicians, as well as younger artists, and a few sessions of jamming that shall happen as and where the fancy takes the performers. "My hope is," says Cadenza\'s Pravin Chhetri, "that the festival will expose fresh talent in Nepal. In these troubled times I can\'t think of a better way to promote harmony than making music."
He could\'ve added confidence to that-confidence in the country as a tourist destination as well as a place to promote business. It is difficult to overstate the potential of the coming two weeks to alter international perception of Nepal. As the events of the last 18 months have shown, suddenly it isn\'t enough to have only mountains, or architecture, or Buddhism, every tourist destination needs more and better things on offer. What Nepal offers needs to be upgraded every so often, and no one will deny that right now the tourism industry badly needs an overhaul.
Should the festival go well-and preliminary enthusiasm and reactions suggest it will-then about the same time next year there will be another one, and the year after, and so on, until it is an annual fixture not just on Nepal\'s tourism calendar, but on the Asian music schedule. There\'s no telling how many people will come here specifically for it, or stay on longer to attend, or simply come to explore the modern, cosmopolitan environment that nurtures such efforts.
Businesses seem to recognise the long-term possibilities and goodwill an initiative like this generates, and the display of support that has inundated festival promoters, Chhedup Bomzan, Cadenza\'s manager and owner of Upstairs Jazz Bar, and Susan Sellars, assistant coordinator of the Palmer Street Jazz Festival, is astonishing given the general decline in industry confidence and spending,. Sponsors have put up offers of air tickets (Singapore Airlines are flying in seven musicians from Australia), hotel rooms (Shangri-La Hotel are putting up 18 musicians in Kathmandu and Pokhara), media support (including this newspaper), and everything else musicians might require, from alcohol and tobacco to sightseeing, T-shirts and even insurance.
The Brisbane-based Afro Dizzi Act, almost every member of which has formal, university-level music training, meld in their performances their wide range of musical interests-funk, orchestra set-pieces, the gamut of jazz styles, electronic/ dance music, hip hop, soul and traditions of music from around the globe. With their expertise in jazz piano, saxophone, bass, percussion and new music-making machines, Afro Dizzi Act is among the most interesting outfits in Australia today, and every one its five members is in demand for performances with other artists as well.
Another musician peers and listeners alike are "glad to have in any group" is Kevin Hunt, one of Australia\'s top jazz pianists. Acknowledged as a splendid and skilful live performer with a nuanced grasp of technique and order, and an unabashed sense of fun, Hunt has been known to play around with the sounds of the synthesiser and belt out innovative and imaginative solos.
If you\'ve ever imagined making the rounds of the jazz bars of London or the international festival, Bernie\'s London Jazz Groove is the outfit to watch out for. Every name in it has a long history-Mike Cotton, a trumpeter forty years into the game who\'s played with The Kinks as well as jazz legends Aker Bilk, Bud Freeman and Harry Allen, among many others; Mike Hogh, a trombone veteran who founded the London Jazz Big Band and has played mainstream jazz with the likes of Max Kaminski, Bill Coleman, and the Charlie Watts Orchestra; Bernie Holden, clarinettist and saxophonist who is a regular fixture on the London and New York jazz scenes and the international festival circuit; Max Brittain, a guitarist who\'s played at every major UK concert venue and toured extensively throughout Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand, and worked with such diverse musical talents as Georgie Fame, Marian Montgomery, Terry Lightfoot, Ronnie Scott, and Charlie Byrd; and Peter Goodwin, a bass guitarist and veteran of London jazz since the 1970s who has a long-time association with, among others, the Soweto township jazz band.
The biggest draw of the festival for those who know their jazz history will be Australian Don Burrows. A multi-instrumentalist who plays flute, clarinet and all saxophones from alto to baritone, Burrows is a household name in Australia and has performed and recorded cuts with everyone from Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme and Stephane Grappelli to Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Kate Ceberano and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Burrows ran into Cadenza at the Palmer Street Jazz Festival in 2000, and was so impressed with them that he agreed to come and play here for nothing more than a nominal fee and airfare.
Closer home, a combination that promises progressive and virtuoso jazz includes South African jazz pianist and composer for theater Donovan Rossouw, who is influenced by jazz, blues, southern African music and "Cape-style" goema, Bostonian saxophonist Carl Clements whose heroes include Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, and renowned Goan drummer Giles Perry, who graduated from the Berkeley School of Music, and after a stint in the Hindi film music industry, moved on to play professionally in the United States.
Mumbai-based Groove Suppa has its own collection of talented pros. Shyam Raaj, who plays tenor and soprano sax and flute, has played with Louis Banks, among others, and toured Europe and the US. Drummer Lindsay Demello is a regular session player and is behind Bombay Black, which recently opened for Aerosmith at an LA concert. Dwight Pattison has played bass with drummer Ranjit Barot and bands such as Indigo and Crosswinds. Benay Rai, originally from Darjeeling, is a session guitarist influenced by the blues and Hindustani classical music.
Nationalists will be pleased to note that Kathmandu\'s musicians are also well represented. The now-legendary tabla player Homnath Upadayaya will play with Cadenza and other Nepali classical musicians, demonstrating his versatility, and his commitment to convincing a wider audience that classical needn\'t be stuffy. A group of Gandharbas will play the arbaj and sarangi to add a stunning new sound to jazz paradigms, mainly to reinforce their belief that music needs both traditions and the space to ne innovative. The Elite\'s Co-Ed School Marching Band adds a light-hearted and youthful touch, bagpipes and all.
Where to hear what
Gokarna Forest Golf Resort, 12 March, Rs 880. From 12 noon to midnight all the bands except Don Burrows and Kevin Hunt take turns playing at a Woodstock-style show. A free shuttle bus runs every half hour between Gokarna and Thamel.
Jazz by the Lake, Shangri-La Village, Pokhara, 15 March, Rs 990.*
Dinner and jazz under the stars at the Shangri-La Village.
Jazz by the Lake, Lakeside, Pokhara, 16 March, ticket prices not confirmed.*
Jams in small bars around Lakeside.
Jazz Fusion, Patan Museum Square, 20 March, Rs 990.
Jazz fused with Nepali wind, strings and skins, a follow-up to Cadenza\'s sold-out show in October 2001.
Jazzmandu Shangri-La All-Stars Supper Club, 22 March, Rs 1,980.
Don Burrows and the all-stars of the festival backed by Cadenza, with a five-course meal at the Shangri-La Shambala Garden.
? The Shangri-La Village, Pokhara has a package offer for both nights. For details, ring 412999.
"Music is the message."
Though the band itself needs no introduction, here they are, the men who gave Nepal its first taste of high-altitude jazz:
Navin Chhettri, vocalist and drummer. Now 29, Navin started early, singing at four and starting guitar at six. In college in Darjeeling, under the influence of heavy metal, he started the band that played acid rock, classic rock and reggae-and eventually metamorphosed into Cadenza. After arriving in Kathmandu, Navin turned to the drums, and Cadenza began to explore the more complex chord structures associated with jazz. In 2000, Navin and his brother Pravin were invited to Australia\'s Palmer Street Jazz Festival, which spurred Navin\'s determination to bring jazz to Kathmandu to encourage cultural exchange, musical inventiveness and to give other musicians the chance to share the sheer excitement of playing at a jazz festival. "I love playing jazz and fusion, the immediate exuberance of creating and improvising. I chose this path, this is what I want to do the rest of my life, make music."
Pravin Chhettri, guitar.
Pravin, also influenced by heavy metal when younger, got into jazz after moving to Kathmandu in the mid-1990s. Pravin learnt to experiment with the genre and now switches from rhythm to lead to bass with equal dexterity. The 24-year-old also worked at a recording studio learning to record and mix.
Laxmi Raj (Chi) Thapa, bass guitar.
At 32, Chi is the oldest band member. Chi grew up on the classic rock staple, and formed his first band at 14. Then came a seven-year stint living and making music, blues and soul, in Pokhara.
In 2000, seven years after he got hooked on jazz, Chi joined Cadenza.
Jigme Sherpa, guitar.
The baby of the band, 23-year-old Jigme started playing guitar in his early teens, focusing on, again, heavy metal. He too met the brothers in 2000 while doing studio work in Darjeeling. "It\'s been an amazing road. I had to travel back to listen to and play earlier rock before progressing to jazz," he laughs. In the last year he has moved from playing rhythm guitar in the background to producing some pretty sweet sounds on lead. "I feel privileged to have the opportunity to play with international musicians. I think it\'s a plus for tourism in Nepal. Music is the message."