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International Jazz Day 2022 | ‘There is no such thing as a wrong note in Jazz music’: Louiz Banks

Louiz Banks on working with R.D. Burman, composing ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’, and his band Silk with Shankar Mahadevan on vocals, Sivamani on percussion, Sridhar Parthasarathy on mridangam and bassist Karl Peters.

April 30, 2022 / 12:50 PM IST
Louiz Banks, now 81, played at the Blue Fox in Kolkata for nine years before he was 'discovered' by music composer R.D. Burman.

Louiz Banks, now 81, played at the Blue Fox in Kolkata for nine years before he was 'discovered' by music composer R.D. Burman.

Louiz Banks aka Dambar Bahadur Budaprithi wears the title of the ‘Godfather Of Jazz In India’ with humility. The 81-year-old musician has been spearheading the jazz movement in our country for the past four decades. On International Jazz Day (April 30), the celebrated pianist spoke about being a part of the inner circle of R.D. Burman, composing ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’, playing on the Broadway/Westend of India, Silk, jazz music and more. Excerpts:
What does jazz mean to you?

Jazz to me means freedom. It represents liberty without chaos! The music does not sound the same twice. Jazz is music creativity at its heart as I believe there is no such thing as a wrong note when Jazz music is concerned.
You’d once said that music composer R.D. Burman 'discovered' you and brought you to Mumbai. Yet you refused to work with him in the late 1960s. What was that about?

In 1979, R.D. Burman came to Blue Fox (then a restaurant) in Calcutta where he heard me playing the piano. I am still glad that he was impressed by my composition. He called me to his table to ask me whether I would like to play the piano for one of the movies he was composing music for. The movie had the lead actor play the piano, with a lot of scenes where I needed to play. Without any element of doubt, I accepted the offer and came to (then) Bombay for the recordings. Pancham da appreciated my work and asked me to stay back in Bombay and continue to work with him.

Initially, I had to refuse the offer because of my commitment to Blue Fox; however, I was thrilled to have taken up the proposal a year later. Since that day, I played piano music for his compositions, which slowly led to me becoming a part of his inner circle. This is how my decade-long journey with possibly the greatest Indian musician began.

You composed the music for 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara', a 1988 short film on national integration. Stalwarts performed for this one. Tell us about the memories associated with this...

The then Prime Minister of India, Hon'ble Shri Rajiv Gandhi, had launched a project for national integration for which there was a requirement for four songs to be composed as a part of the promotional films. I was commissioned to compose the music for the project and one of those four songs was Mile Sur... The song struck the right chord with the people in India, and I am still delighted and proud that people also called it the second national anthem of India. It is a matter of pride for any musician to have their composition become so popular that it is cherished for generations.

In the '70s, Calcutta gave you the opportunity to explore Jazz. Tell us about those times.

Calcutta in the '70s was rocking with bands and singers. Park Street was like Broadway in New York and Westend in London. Jazz bands and Pop bands were playing in eating houses and clubs every night. I was there for nine years in Park Street, Calcutta, leading a jazz band in a restaurant called Blue Fox. It was here I began to fuse jazz with pop, and it worked like magic. Also, my experiment with pop fusion started here.
Tell us the best thing about your band Silk - with vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, percussionist Sivamani, mridangist Sridhar Parthasarathy and bassist Karl Peters…

Silk was a collaboration of five guys on the same wavelength. All of these super musicians came together as one, giving out their individual best and taking the music to unbelievable heights. Silk was a fantastic fusion band, and I thoroughly enjoyed making music with these guys.

What do you have to say about the current state of music in the industry?

There is an imbalance with too much commercial music playing everywhere. The youth are being swayed into believing that it is the be-all of music. Therefore, it is a tough climb for serious music like classical and Jazz. I want to urge all not to try and understand the music instead just sit back and enjoy it!
You have designed and curated a piano course recently. What is the importance of music education?

My piano course, commissioned by Artium Academy, is totally online. The course is conducted by teachers who are well versed with my curriculum and are available to guide you through the course. We aim to streamline the course further as per the requirements of the students... I have always believed that learning piano is a foundation for any music education.

Is learning music online easier or harder?

Thanks to modern technology, learning music on online education platforms has become simple and effective. All you need is a computer with a wi-fi connection and, more importantly, a strong will to learn music. Online music education is the future of music learning, with the students not only getting an opportunity to work with some of the legends in the field through one-on-one attention, but also the technology is helping students with a platform where they receive advanced training tools and feedback to help them become better.
Your message to fans on International Jazz Day?

Keep believing in Jazz music and spread love, peace and brotherhood to all corners of the world through Jazz music.

Debarati S. Sen is a Mumbai-based independent journalist and consultant content creator. Instagram: @DebaratiSSen