It’s no coincidence that when we call up Louis Banks to talk about American jazz legend Ahmad Jamal, he is listening to the Awakening, a 1970 album by the octogenarian.
“My first brush with Jamal was around the time this album released, and I was blown away by his lyrical compositions. It felt like a breath of fresh air,” says Banks, who, along with Sheldon D’Silva (bass guitarist) and son Gino Banks (drummer), will pay tribute to Jamal, later this week at the National Centre for the Performing Arts.
Ahmad Jamal, a Pittsburgh steelworker’s son who started learning the piano at age three from his uncle, has influenced generations of jazz musicians across the world. Banks is one of them. “He was playing alongside giants like Oscar Peterson, yet his style was markedly different from his contemporaries. He brought a lighter approach to jazz, making it catchy, lyrical and enduring,” says Banks. He gives the instance of Miles Davis, 20th century’s most influential composer, who was so enamoured by Jamal, that he said he wants his son to play like him.
Jamal, Banks says, was greatly inspired by pianist Art Tatum, whose body of work wasn’t his own music, yet was completely his. “He not only improvised existing melodies but also invented his own style. His lyrical line phrasing was juxtaposed with heavy chords. He transformed the genre forever,” gushes Banks.
Louis Banks will revisit Poinciana, a recurring theme in Jamal’s career
The 74-year-old is looking forward to playing Jamal’s version of The Surrey With Fringe on Top, a popular Broadway set and his all time favourite, Poinciana, from the 1936 Buddy Bernier-Nat Simon hit. Poinciana, Banks points out, has been a recurring theme in Jamal’s career. He had a 1963 album called Poinciana, and then an album in 1968 called Poinciana Revisited, and yet again, one in 2008 called Poinciana — One Night Only. “Poinciana became such a sensation that Jamal was able to buy a house and car with that money,” he says.
Sadly, Banks lost out on the chance to meet the legend when the latter was in Bengaluru last year. “But, I’m trying to get my album through to him,” he says.
Banks feels jazz in India doesn’t have many takers. “That's because we are submerged by titillating music,” he laments, adding that the genre will grow only if it receives more exposure. The concert, he hopes, will be a step towards achieving this.
Where: National Centre for the Performing Arts, Nariman Point
When: August 29, 7 pm
Entry: Rs 350–Rs 1,112