The seeds of the classic music genre of jazz were first sown in India with the arrival of American and African-American jazz musicians in the 1920s. The early beginnings of jazz were seen in Mumbai (then Bombay) and Kolkata (then Calcutta), and gradually moved to other states.
“There wasn’t any jazz happening in Goa when I grew up in the 1950s. I was touring all around the country playing for a circus and picked up jazz in places like Delhi and Calcutta. Calcutta was the main hub of jazz then, with the famous Park Street, which had jazz being played on both sides of the street. In those days a lot of musicians from around the world would come to Calcutta to perform,” recalls reputed jazz musician Braz Gonsalves. It was only with time that the influence of the popular art form spread across the country, and its distinct musical arrangements and rhythms were adopted by other Goan musicians and artistes.
Drawing a parallel to the current jazz scene with that of the past, Gonsalves says: “The scene today is very different as there are more musicians and artistes playing the music now and they have opportunities we didn’t have, like going abroad to study the music. The newer lot is into it and want to learn so much more, and that’s really good to see.”
However, although Goa has been blessed with more opportunity, exposure, and a rich jazz tradition, the genre enjoys an albeit select audience in the state. “Jazz will always have a niche following and remain at the other end of pop in the music spectrum. In a country like India where Bollywood rules, it becomes a little more challenging to keep this great art form alive,” says music producer and musician, Colin D’Cruz.
D’Cruz conceptualised ‘Jazz Goa’ to promote a jazz music culture in the state. The organisation encourages local talent by allowing artistes to record both, audio and video, free of cost at the Jazz Goa studio in Sangolda. Since its inception, Jazz Goa has recorded over 300 originals by over two hundred local artists. D’Cruz has also taken jazz in Goa to new heights with the ‘Jazz Goa’ mobile app, a platform for artistes to showcase their songs and original compositions to a larger audience. The organisation aims at broadening the listener base by encouraging music lovers to experience and enjoy the magic of spontaneously improvised music through workshops and interactive sessions with performers.
The nature of jazz music is ever evolving, just as its improvisational nature. “There has always been a simultaneous evolution of jazz in Goa along with the rest of the world, right from mainstream jazz to latin-jazz, acid-jazz, and neo-jazz genres, it’s all being belted out in good measure by so many great Goan jazz artists,” says D’Cruz. “Indian classical music is quite similar to jazz in the sense that both are forms of improvised music. Indo-jazz fusion is our contribution to the global jazz scene,” he adds.
Presently, in Goa, just as Gonsalves says, jazz does seem to have resonated among the younger crowd. A sizeable number of youngsters seem to have taken an interest in jazz, in playing the music as well as attending live jazz events held at festivals, restaurants, and clubs. Youngsters are turning to jazz because of the freedom of expression it allows an artist. The artist is free to experiment with the rhythms, structures, and new ideas. Today’s upcoming musicians have a lot of respect for jazz because there’s so much to learn from it, says musician in the jazz-funk band ‘The Coffee Cats’, Jarryd Rodrigues. “Jazz is a genre where the creativity of a musician is tested and explored. It requires discipline, a certain level of understanding theory, harmony, and rhythm, and also, a good ear. Jazz has formed the basis and influenced so many genres like: hip hop, funk, neo-soul, etc,” he adds.
One of the biggest challenges, that remains though is creating awareness and educating the public. “There is still so much misinformation about jazz in Goa. People don’t know what jazz really is. They assume, if it’s not rock or pop, it’s jazz,” says musician in the gypsy-jazz band ‘The Banjara Quartet’ and founder of Audiophile Goa, Buland Shukla. He adds, “Jazz is not a word to be thrown around randomly to define something that is new or non-pop. Jazz has a history, a provenance. It is a struggle for freedom translated into music.” Shukla’s Audiophile Goa is an experience and retail centre for music aficionados. One can find a whole range of classic jazz vinyl records here, including first pressings from almost sixty years ago. The space hosts movie evenings on jazz artists followed by listening sessions on vinyl, in a bid to educate the populace about the rich history and heritage of jazz.
While the current scenario isn’t completely developed, the future looks promising. Institutions such as The Goa Jazz Academy have been set up with the aim to contribute and build a thriving jazz culture in the state. In fact, the Academy is organising the Jazz Ensemble Summer Scholarship 2019, which will include training and forming a jazz ensemble over the course of a two-month period and will be hosted by leading jazz educator, Matt Warnock. Operating out of Sangolda, the Goa Jazz Academy offers private and group lessons for guitar, bass, piano and drums, and a programme for children called ‘Mini Mozarts’. Director of The Goa Jazz Academy, Karan Khosla says: “Goa has an advantage in that it has more music venues than anywhere else in the country – it also has a very rich musical heritage. Our vision is to help build a sustainable resource of professional musicians from Goa that have all the tools necessary to deliver high quality jazz performances across the state and the world.”