the-south-asian.com January 2004
ALL THAT SUNNY JAZZ
ALL THAT SUNNY JAZZ
The recently concluded Jazz Yatra in Mumbai, India, featured a stunning musical performance by Sunny Jain and his group Positive Rhythmic Force. Mesmerized listeners realized that it’s not for nothing that the India-born Sunny has been designated as the Jazz Ambassador of the United States by the U.S. government…
" India had more jazz music and musicians a decade ago than it has now," says Mesin Monzes, one of the jazz pioneers in the country, who after playing for forty years has walked into his golden sunset now. But he resurfaced, with the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old, to play at the recently concluded Jazz Yatra 2003, held in Mumbai and Delhi. Happily for classical music aficionados the festival made an attempt to bring alive the tradition of jazz music in India.
The festival itself was made possible by the Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee, who as the President of Jazz India’s Delhi chapter, went all out to make it a success, despite a constrained budget. The lovers of music had the good fortune of hearing some of the biggest names from the world of contemporary jazz.
Bands from Norway, Hungary, Canada (there is more jazz in Europe than any other part of the world) landed full force to unleash the soothing sounds of their saxophones, pianos, double bass, drums, percussion and even computers loaded with futuristic music.
One of the most popular bands of the festival came from New York led by Sunny Jain, an India-born native of Rochester. Fans know him as one of the greatest contemporary jazz drummers. Acknowledging his talent, he has been designated as the Jazz Ambassador of the United States. Not only this, his debut album As Is, released last year, has made jazzmen and jazz fans alike sit up in awe of this 28-year-old wizard.
Jain became involved in the world of rhythm at five. Growing up listening to classical music, he was captivated by the drive and groove of the tabla. Those formative years proved to have a tremendous impact on him, as he is now recognized internationally as a musician with a distinct and recognizable sound.
At age ten, Jain began playing percussions under the tutelage of Bee Bop drummer Rich Thompson. " When I went to study with Rich privately, I remember showing up at his place hoping I would learn some cool rock grooves to play on my new drumset. Instead, he put on Miles Davis’ Round Midnight and I didn't know what to think. I liked the airy sound of the trumpet and the feel of the music, but what caught my ear were the rhythmical complexities of what was being played," he says.
Dedicated To Drums
His dedication to the drums rewarded him well during stints with the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, various All-County Orchestras, Concert Bands and the New York All-State Jazz Ensemble.
In fact, his biodata boasts of a number of other achievements. After a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Performance he went on to do a Masters in Music Business. " It is important for a musician to learn the grammar of jazz. You may like it or not, may use it in your own style or maybe not, but once you are well versed, you are free to explore new areas of music," says the performer who was presented with the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award for high musical achievement.
Many purists play down on the new genres of Acid and Electronic jazz, but Jain says they should actually be open to it. Jazz, he says, is a reflection of society. It moves with the times and imbibes the environment. In the same vein, he adds that even new age jazz musicians should not look down upon old jazz. "It is important for them to learn classical jazz because it has a great educational value," he elaborates.
His Masters in Music Business also comes to his assistance. "It helps me place myself in the music industry. It helps to market myself as a brand," he says. Not that he claims to make big money. " I wouldn’t mind being rich. But I am not unhappy," he smiles.
Money is hardly a motivator for a man who gets his kicks from drum peddles. In 1994, Jain co-founded the jazz group Positive Rhythmic Force. " We actually started out as a group of friends getting together to jam and learn some tunes. Then we decided to get some gigs. Then we recorded a CD…and then another," Jain recalls.
Positive Rhythmic Force stayed together for five years and during that time, released two CDs, toured the Northeast United States, and were recipients of the Makin' Waves Award in New Jersey as Best Jazz Artist of 1997.
Though the drummer has interest in Hindustani music but it doesn’t show in his overall passion for Indian music. " There are just certain rhythms and beats that are indigenous to India and they are all held in high esteem," he says.
Jain is ably assisted by his group that boasts of the Karachi born Rez Abbasi who plays the unique hybrid guitar-sitar. " Our music combines the various influences and experiences that we in the band have been affected by. There's a little bit of everything in the music for everyone: Jazz, Indian music, ambient sounds and beats to dance to. I fondly hope that when we play we evoke some good vibes and emotions in people," says Jain modestly.
And at the festival the emotions were almost brimming over as Sunny Jain and his group started playing. When the performance was over they got a lusty standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
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