Kathmandu's first Jazzmandu in 2001 deserved the hype. The musicians, from Nepal and around the world, were excellent, and the atmosphere was energetic.
Six years later, the 'Kathmandu's phenomenal jazz scene' line is starting to sound like a bromide, in part because it's not entirely true. The sounds haven't really matured-there's still a lot of noodling, rock-tinged sounds, and staid chords that walk a fine line between clich?d and standard. Cadenza, which regularly expanded its range of styles, often goes into hibernation.
Sure, you can catch live shows in a number of clubs and bars by bands such as Inner Groove, the JCS quartet, and Cadenza, but the offerings can get predictable. Stupa's Yuvaraj Chhetri argues that that is because "jazz is an acquired taste," and that audiences in Nepal need some time before they can be hit with truly experimental sounds.
That attitude, ever-so-slightly patronising as it is, is the first line of reasoning most musicians we spoke with trotted out. But push the question, and you see another real barrier to regular, challenging performances-the lack of trained musicians exposed to a variety of sophisticated music. Jigmee Sherpa of the JCS quartet says this is why it is unreasonable to expect jazz to develop any faster in Kathmandu.
Mariano Abello, who plays with Cadenza and Stupa says he was shocked to find out that many talented jazz musicians here learn music by repeatedly listening to CDs and then imitating what they hear. Few would take the line that you absolutely cannot be a good jazz musician without formal training, but to raise the overall standard of performance and understanding of music, which in turn guides innovation, it's important to have some kind of training. Abello likens not having basic knowledge of music theory to knowing how to speak, but not being able to read or write.
This is why Abello and Nirakar Yakthumba of Stupa and 1974AD are setting up the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, to provide professional music education for students at all levels. The school, which will be located in Gyanodaya College in Jhamsikhel, will contain five practice rooms, two combo rooms, a percussion room, a classroom and a 200-seater auditorium. There will be state-of-the-art recording facilities and Yamaha instruments. The largely expat faculty will be chosen for their teaching and performing experiences. Lessons will focus on music theory, ear training, improvisation classes, arranging, and composition.
The school is slated to open in September this year. The promoters believe there is enough raw talent here. "In four years we will have Nepali musicians who can perform on the international circuit," says Yakthumba. The musicians in Kathmandu's closely knit jazz community are holding their breath. So are audiences.
For more information on the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, go to www.katjazz.com.
Stupa performs at Moksh on Tuesdays and Fridays, Inner Groove at Dwarika's on Wednesdays, JCS at Jazz Upstairs on Tuesdays and at Full Moon on Thursdays, and Cadenza at Jazz Upstairs Wednesdays and Saturdays.