American saxophonist Greg Banaszak will introduce Mumbai’s Jazz fans to Bebop, a faster version of the Jazz they’ve known so far
Q. Bebop is a relatively less popular form of Jazz. Tell us about the genre, and how it originated.
A. Bebop came out of the Big Bands in the mid 1940s, and from many of the important Jazz artistes like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker, drummer Max Roach, among others. After playing dance music in the evenings, they wanted to play longer solos and expand in harmony and faster tempos and not just for people to dance with. They wanted something more cerebral and expand the evolution of the music. Bebop offers a personal voice for each member, and not just a big one sound of 25 people. It puts all promise of sound, tone and colour on the performer to create more.
Saxophonist Greg Banaszak at his last performance in Mumbai with the Symphony Orchestra of India
Q. So, is Bebop another product of Western American Jazz?
A. Bebop is not just Western-American Jazz. It encompasses Africa, India, and frankly some elements of Asia too. It is seen in instruments too, like the Djembe (a drum from Ghana in Africa), and the sitar and flute from India are part of Bebop. But it’s different from Indo-Jazz. In Bebop, we are playing faster tempos, so the sounds are quicker. Bebop is also a very broad term. Within Bebop you have Blues, Ballads, which we have a wonderful vocalist (Andrea Snitzer) singing at the concert.
Q. What’s your style of Bebop like?
A. My specific style embraces the old masters, and also, what I listen to —Ray Charles in vocals, and artistes from younger generation like Joshua Redman on saxophone. In Bebop you can learn from everyone — older and younger, there is no age limit or style. So, I can listen to Pandit Ravi Shankar’s daughter Norah Jones, and learn from her voice and take it on to my instrument, the saxophone. That’s my kind of style. I embrace the Blues, the Gospel and anything that makes people groove and be happy.
Q. You have quite an ensemble of talent at Bebop and Beyond (the band). How are the rehearsals going?
A. Everything is great. Everyone has so much talent. The pianist, Theron Brown, is featured in the Don Cheadle film, Miles Ahead — The Life of Miles Davis. The vocalist, Andrea Snitzer, has a very warm and embracing voice. It makes everyone happy. Trombonist Chris Anderson can play with such great velocity, so, it’s kind of amazing to hear him too. Every time I am in Mumbai, I like to play with Benny Soans. As for myself, I try staying along with them and keep track.
Q. You will be performing an original composition, The House that McLean Built. What’s it about?
A. I wanted to dedicate something to the people in Mumbai and India. I had such wonderful time last time. So, I created a melody based on my experiences and songs. It took time, but it is worth it. It has two combinations — a traditional Gospel Blues in the start, avant garde Jazz from the ’60s in the middle, and then it quickly goes to Gospel Blues — you know, the Southern Baptist Church type. It’s also a tribute to my mentor, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean.
Q. Jazz and America has a very old relationship. Several American Jazz artistes including Duke Elington have performed and produced music in India. Then, there’s Indo-Jazz music. What do you think make the two styles tick?
A. The answer is in two parts: first, we feel very close to the style of music in India — there’s Duke Ellington, father of Big Bands and Modern Jazz, who wrote songs in India. We love these sounds. So, it’s always a strong relationship between Jazz and Indian music. Secondly, as musicians it’s important to not just play where we live, but we must travel and expose audiences to this music as much as possible, especially younger people, who may not know of this. Without, which, it will be like a museum. They will never know how important it’s to see creativity happen live on a stage.
Q. Who are your favourite Bebop artistes from the new generation?
A. Saxophonist Mike Dirubbo from New York City. He is is one of the leaders of NYC in creating another flavour of Jazz, right into the heart where Bebop was created in Harlem. He is pushing it to the next level.
On: Today, 7 pm
At: Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Ticket: Rs 300 onwards