International Jazz Day

In 2011, the UNESCO General Conference in coordination with the Thelonious Monk Institute in New Orleans (, proclaimed April 30 as “International Jazz Day”. The idea was to not only celebrate the music but also the values of freedom, creativity, empathy and peace it embodies.

Each year the event is celebrated in several countries around the world with one city playing the role of a global host. For International Jazz Day 2018, this is going to St.Petersburg in Russia with over 190 countries participating (see map below).


International Jazz Day Celebrations in India

In India, Bangalore, Panjim and Mumbai have highly-anticipated events planned as part of International Jazz Day 2018. Cities known for their vibrant musical cultures such as Itanagar and Gurgaon are also planning exciting events on April 30. The full calendar is available here: (

If your city is listed here, you should definitely join in the festivities to get a first-hand experience of jazz. But even if it isn’t you can still watch the entire event from St.Petersburg Live! For International Jazz Day 2018, they have an impressive lineup of some of the best-known jazz musicians like Joey DeFrancesco, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Branford Marsalis, Lee Ritenour and several others.

The Fusion of Jazz and Bollywood

Jazz music has had a long connection with India almost since it first began in the 1920s and 30s. A lot of Jazz music was played in the hotel ballrooms of Mumbai, Kolkata by famous visiting American Jazz artists such as Rudy Jackson. Post-Independence, however, as Bollywood music took on its own identity, jazz became somewhat esoteric and never managed to reach the masses. But internationally, there have been strong collaborations and creative efforts between jazz musicians in the West and Indian musicians which have resulted in great music enjoyed all over the world. Some of the most successful endeavors have been by musicians such as Ravi Shanker, L. Subramanian, L.Shankar, Ranjit Barot and Louis Banks from India who worked with the likes of Yehudi Mehunin, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin and Stephane Grappelli.

But What is Jazz?

Jazz, just like India, is an embodiment of many different languages and cultures but manages to retain a central core that is distinct and easily identifiable. While there is no central authority to judge what is jazz and what is not, understanding the characteristics of jazz music can help us appreciate the genre a lot better.

So while we will get to the technical aspects of jazz later (in another blog), here are four essential elements that makes a Jazz composition:

  1. Improvisation: This is a central characteristic of jazz music and is a necessary ingredient to make something sound like jazz. During a jazz performance, the musicians create their own arrangements based on the elements of the melody. This is very similar to an alaap in Indian classical music. While largely spontaneous, the musicians must follow some rules (forms) when they improvise, so the overall piece still sounds melodic and harmonious. For example a well established tradition is to take the chords and improvise over the notes that make up the chords (change order or change root); or find new chords or harmonics that complement the melody and play through them and so on. This is why no two Jazz concerts, even by the same band sound the same!
  2. Trading: In a variation of improvisation, the musicians try to talk to each other, often in a question-answer format, during a performance. So a horn player might pose a question that the pianist might answer or the bassist might ask something that the drummer might reply to. This banter is a very important element of jazz and adds to the soul of the genre.
  3. Syncopated rhythm: One of the signatures of an authentic jazz composition is the heavy use of syncopation (accenting a note just before or just after a beat). This gives a certain lilt to the tune that coaxes a listener to swing dance
  4. An absence of steady temp (rubato): Often in jazz, a song does not have the same density of notes and the musicians switch between normal time, double time or half-time to give the music an ebb and flow of energy. This unpredictability is a crucial element of jazz compositions.

Examples of Jazz Inspired Compositions in Indian Film Music

Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t film songs from Bollywood that may be considered as Jazz. However, the songs below do exhibit some of the characteristics of jazz music and bring about a marriage of ideas between the East and the West.

  1. Darbaan (Blue Violet) by Amit Trivedi
  2. Aise Na Dekho (Raanjhanaa) by A.R.Rahman
  3. Tala Rasa Ranga (Portrait of a Genius) by Ravi Shankar’
  4. Kaisi Paheli Zindagani (Parineeta) by Shantanu Moitra
  5. Sobit Amchem Goem by Frank Fernand

Try and listen to them. Aren’t they wonderful and fresh? Which of these would you say represent Jazz? What makes you say so? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

We will take a deeper look at some of these compositions in next blog. Meanwhile, enjoy all of these fantastic compositions and do join in the celebration of International Jazz Day 2018!

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