Tunes of struggle
This 30-year-old jazz pianist's debut album is inspired by the obstacles full-time musicians face, their phases of self-doubt, compromises and the Game of Thrones
He picked up the keys at the age of five, dreamt of becoming a classical concert pianist and finally got seduced by the improvisations in jazz. Since 2016, Anurag Naidu has played with many well-known musicians including Italian drummer Matteo Fraboni and American jazz vocalist Loretta Holloway, who have performed in Mumbai. And now, his recently released debut album is making all the right noises. But, honing his skills hasn't come easy, even though one might like to believe that being playback singer Shilpa Rao's brother would have helped.
Born in a family where his father had earned a degree in Hindustani classical music but picked engineering as his career, Naidu only started learning the piano when Hariharan, whom Shilpa was training under, suggested it. But Jamshedpur didn't have any teachers, so Naidu and his father would go on a five-hour train journey to Kolkata every Sunday for a two-hour class.
At 18, he cracked engineering entrance exams, but hid it from his parents, wanting to pursue music. But when he moved to Mumbai and watched a live concert for the first time at the NCPA, his dream of becoming a classical concert pianist shattered. "I realised I had lost too much time," Naidu shares. But that was before he was introduced to jazz via a Chick Corea track. He couldn't afford to go to the US, so picked a school in Paris to study jazz for two years. Health issues brought him back to Mumbai. "A lot of it was just mental — living in Paris was financially difficult.
It was an inward journey to finally recover and start gigging in 2016. People think 'Oh, you're doing what you love for a living, how nice'. But that's not true. You've got to lug around your instrument in autos, and chase guys to pay you after gigs. And it's difficult to get people to believe in what you're doing. Money can get you an audience, but can't make people believe," he says.
His album, J'ai Fame, which translates to "I have hunger", was recorded in Paris, and features songs like La Lune, which talks about how the moon phases but actually is the same, "while hinting at phases between the right hand and left hand in the piece," explains Naidu. There's also Hofor — a Game of Thrones-inspired track that arises from 'holding the fourth' — the fourth is an interval on any instrument. He is working on a track with Rao, which the siblings hope to release next month.
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