The Quarter gives musicians a temporary home to hone their skills

Updated: Jan 27, 2018, 17:31 IST | Shunashir Sen

The artiste-in-residence programme at The Quarter, a new cultural venue, gives musicians a temporary address to fine-tune their craft

There is a point during his live gig at The Royal Opera House on Thursday when Warren Mendonsa - widely regarded as the country's most accomplished guitarist - says into the mic, "You know, when we were kids, we used to dream about playing at this venue. And now we are doing it, and it feels great."

Blackstratblues rehearsing at Live at the Quarter as the artistes in residence this week. Pic/Supari studios
Blackstratblues rehearsing at Live at the Quarter as the artistes in residence this week. Pic/Supari studios

It's strange to hear Mendonsa say these words because given his stature, you'd expect him to have been there and done that. But as it turns out, the 38-year-old's long-cherished dream was realised only because his solo project, Blackstratblues, is the "artiste in residence" (AIR) this week at The Quarter, billed as the new cultural headquarters of the city.

Gino (left) and Louiz Banks
Gino (left) and Louiz Banks

The idea behind the AIR initiative, however, hasn't been fully fleshed out yet, says Ashutosh Pathak, one of the proprietors of the venue. At present, it involves an artiste selected for each week playing two collaborative shows, one at the Royal Opera House and the other at Live at the Quarter, which has a far more intimate jazz-bar setting.

Ashutosh Pathak
Ashutosh Pathak

"But we want to expand this current format," Pathak says, adding, "We plan to start workshops that the musicians will hold at The Quarter and at The True School of Music [which he heads] so that eventually it becomes a week-long residence. The main criteria for selecting the artistes are that there has to be mastery at some level and a unique truth of expression, because otherwise the audiences can smell the bullsh*t. What I am getting at is that it cannot be manipulative, and you can't construct the music like it is with a boy band."

He continues, "We also have an idea of asking people from international bands to separate and form local collaborations. For instance, we floated the plan with Michael League of Snarky Puppy [a contemporary jazz fusion giant], and he loved it. Of course, it's all still very nascent. But that is the kind of concept we have in mind and we are trying to see how it can happen."

Some parts of this big picture that Pathak has envisioned might sound ambitious. But even as it stands, this is the first time that the country has ever seen anything like the AIR programme, at least to jazz veteran Louiz Banks's knowledge. "This happens abroad, I know that. Zakir Hussain was the artiste in residence in San Francisco once, and for a week he performed there and spoke about his music," he elaborates.

Banks adds that the AIR initiative's emphasis on jazz is in line with a point he's been making for a while, which is that there is a resurgence of the genre in the country. "It's started, and it's amazing. The focus is returning to the music and something like this programme will help in that direction," he says.

Banks's son Gino, a cracking drummer himself, echoes that thought when we speak to him. But he also adds, "The onus lies on the musicians to step up their game and put out something unique, and to do something on the scale of the Opera House and then something on the scale of a small little jazz club."

That's exactly what Mendonsa, too, had to do because after his dream gig at the Royal Opera House, he batted on a different musical wicket when Blackstratblues took to the stage at Live at the Quarter. For a true-blue rock musician, he had to change his stance at the 80-seater venue, because as Pathak says, "One of the main intentions we had behind the residency is to take musicians to a place where they have never ever been."

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