Saturday, October 02, 2004

Get Clued into Jazz - An Interview with Madhav Chari



“The idea for the Jazz Lecture Discussion series and Outreach Program, originated last year in Delhi, with a workshop I did for Spic Macay on Jazz. They were pleasantly surprised to find that the whole concept of jazz being unstructured music, was a misconception.”, says Madhav Chari, Jazz musician and composer, based in Chennai. 

Madhav Chari is no stranger to Chennai. He is an accomplished jazz pianist having performed with many jazz luminaries across cities in the US and also in Canada. He moved here a year ago, with the intent of performing here, as well as continuing his studies in Indian Classical Music and Philosophy. He has performed on various occasions over the past year in Chennai, not to mention at prestigious venues such as the NCPA in Mumbai and Jazz Yatra in Delhi and continues to perform internationally. He is now presenting India’s first jazz and modern music outreach program, right here, in Chennai. The program is two-pronged, with an outreach program for educational institutions and a Lecture Discussion series for the general audience.

Dwelling a little more on the popular misconception about jazz being an unstructured form, Madhav clarifies, “Let’s say I placed you in Senegal, and you heard people there speak Wolof. You may not understand it, and it may sound to you, with your framework of English grammar, like babble. This doesn’t mean it’s an unstructured language. The same applies to jazz. Jazz is fundamentally, fusion - a hybrid between languages of music. As a product of parent languages, it took many generations for it to become a finished product with a structure and a well-developed grammar.”

About the lecture discussions, he says, “The objective is to increase awareness about jazz and modern music in India. At a different plane, for those who have no formal background in music, I hope they learn more about music and its connection to society. When they go to a jazz concert after these discussions, their perspective towards jazz, and in general, any kind of music, would change.”

Why the Lecture-Demonstration format? “To understand jazz, or for that matter, any form of music, there are vast theoretical resources. But there’s nothing quite like experiencing it. If you listen to the Blues, you feel the emotion. No amount of written matter can replace that experience. After all, there are limitations to language when it attempts to describe something from another medium. Which is why, I’m also doing performances with my lecture discussions.” says Madhav.

Alongside the workshop for the general audience, Madhav is also attempting an outreach program among schools and colleges in Chennai. “The inspiration for the outreach program was a cute 10-year old boy at a school in Delhi. He was totally into what I was explaining about music and snapped up all that I taught, especially things like rhythmic patterns, at one go. When I asked his teacher how they were planning to nurture his talent, she mentioned that they were thinking of piano lessons. Here was this rhythmically gifted kid, who, by virtue of living in Delhi, had access to some extremely talented local resources like Tabla players from various Gharanas, and his talent was being diverted to the piano!”, says Madhav. This got Madhav thinking about a workshop for children and after a pilot at Amethyst earlier this year, he’s all set to get working at schools and colleges.

Why Chennai? “Unlike other cities, where people claim to understand jazz, in Chennai, we have an audience that is starting out with a clean slate and an inquiring mind as far as jazz is concerned. Moreover, they are attuned to the musical grammar of Carnatic Music and that makes it all the more interesting when I draw a connection between the two musical forms in terms of their structure."

Two topics of the seven planned under the Lecture Discussion series for the general audience, have taken place already. The remaining topics are: Feeling the Blues (Sep 25, Saturday, 3 PM, Amethyst), American Popular Song as Profound Artistic Statement (Oct 1, Friday, 6.30 PM, Max Mueller Bhavan) , The Movement of Africa (Oct 2, Saturday, 3 PM, Alliance Francaise), Thelonius and the Many Moods of Monk (Oct 8, Friday, 6.30 PM, Max Mueller Bhavan) and Telling a Good Story (Oct 9, Saturday, 3 PM, Alliance Francaise). No registration or tickets are required, but the venues have limited capacity. 

(edited version published on October 2, 2004 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai. Pic courtesy Third Eye, as published in magazine.)