In the1940s, Nepal had little to offer an aspiring trumpet player. So Pushkal Budaprithi and his wife Saraswati headed to Calcutta, where they had a son they named Dambar Bahadur. Later, when Pushkal changed his name to George Banks, he named his son Louis Banks after Louis Armstrong. Today Louis Banks is India's premier jazz pianist.
At 13, Louis picked up the trumpet and guitar, so George took his son along as he played at various Calcutta hotels, making a name in India as a fine trumpet player and bandleader. Inspired, Louis taught himself classical piano. Over the next three decades he has been instrumental in defining jazz in India. Now, Louis Banks is returning to his roots in Nepal as the headliner for Jazzmandu 2004.
He grew up in Darjeeling, graduating from St Joseph's College at North Point, and Louis has never forgotten his Nepali background. During the late 60s, he was here leading a band at the Soaltee Hotel, and over the years has maintained high aspirations for Nepalis. "Given the opportunity, Nepalis can excel in many fields," Banks says with conviction.
Had he never made it in the world of music, Louis Banks would have dedicated his time and talent to painting. Since his childhood, he was inspired by the work of Vincent van Gough, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and the Dutch masters. Now he's trying his brush in impressionistic canvases influenced by Degas, Monet and a few contemporary Indian artists. Even in painting, his pull to Nepal is strong. "The magnificent Himalaya and the scenic beauty of the land, the rustic character of the people and the great temples are sources of great inspiration."
But Banks is a jazz pianist at the core, even known as the godfather of jazz in India. He has performed with the likes of Yolande Bavan, Charlie Mariano and Charlie Byrd and toured India with Dizzy Gillespie. Banks is known throughout Europe, Australia, Russia, China and the Middle East. He co-wrote and recorded India's first mega Broadway hit and has even hosted a popular broadcast named after himself, The Louis Banks Jazz Hour Special.
Besides being a renowned pianist, Banks is sensational at live acoustic and electronic performances on the keyboard and also as a composer. Far from being limited to any particular style, Banks is continually improvising, dabbling in popular and mainstream music including Indipop, modern progressive and contemporary jazz and Indo jazz fusion.
This time around he's even considering working Nepali music into his repertoire. "I am considering the possibility of using Nepali music in my fusion. I want to pick up a lot of Nepali music this time and will experiment with it in my musical explorations," he confesses. It'll be an entirely new element in his music and, as he says, "Nepali music is folk art."
Since he was last here 13 years ago, Banks has noticed some changes. "Unfortunately Nepal is taking too long a time to make its mark in the world as a progressive country and capitalise on its indigenous talent. The politics has taken its toll. The people have been let down," he says.
But Banks has returned to inspire the youth here to experiment with Nepali music, combine it with jazz, rock and pop so that their creation reaches a wider audience all over the world. "I want to urge them to achieve a high standard in performance and strive to be world class artists." It's the first time Banks is performing in a concert in Nepal and he says he's honoured and thrilled that he's been invited at Jazzmandu. Banks says without hesitating: "I am proud to be a Nepali and always make that fact known."