Journey with Jazz Around The World in Eighty Minutes
I am sure you are wondering what I am writing above. Let me fill you with the details. A few days ago I attended a musical evening organized by Hyderabad Western Music Foundation , where noted blogger Subhorup Dasgupta, did a special presentation on the History and evolution of Jazz, with reference to the major cities Jules Verne took us in his epic travel novel ” Around The World in Eighty Days” So here in this very special guest post Subhorup takes us on history of Jazz with Phileas Fogg around the world in eighty minutes.
Over to Subhorup for a very interesting History of Jazz around the world
One of the most celebrated travel novels is Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Written in 1872, it captures the challenges of travel in that era, as well as throws in tonnes of cultural, historical, and geographical information, all of it spun around a fascinating tale of romance. At a recent illustrated talk on jazz, I used the metaphor of round-the-world travel to explore how jazz has been internalized by lands and peoples. As an afterthought, I decided to put it down in writing.
Jazz is essentially considered to be an all-American art-form. It was born out of the meeting of the myriad musical influences that the settlers brought with them. But more importantly, jazz began as the music of the dispossessed, the slaves, the millions of people who were transported from Africa by the settlers to help build (provide manpower) to build America. So while the French and the British and the Italians reveled in their new world life, with folk music and classical orchestral music, the black man who worked the mines, the plantations, the railroads and the factories borrowed it to create the unique music that we know as Jazz.
It began with the blues, as the holler, the cry of the workman as he labored, devoid of rights, living in inhuman conditions, and forbidden to talk about it. Like they say, life will find a way. That is how the blues were born, out of the call and response hollers of teams of laborers. They used the rhythm of the deep African forest to give voice to their sorrows and their struggles, and found strength and liberation through it.
Over the next 100 years, this form of music was refined, initially only by black people, and later by white musicians too, to create a blend of global influences that still addressed the primary questions of human suffering, exploitation, and determination. The two key features of jazz are swing and improvisation. With time, jazz sailed across the seas and found a home wherever it went, since human struggle is a common denominator.
In this article we retrace the route that was taken by Phileas Fogg way back in 1872 in Jules Verne’s novel and listen in to the music of the lands we pass to see if we can understand what the people of those lands are singing about.
The journey begins in London as Phileas Fogg takes on a bet that he can travel around the world and be back in London in eighty days. England of today is unrecognizable different from that of the nineteenth century. Whether it is for the better or the worse is a difficult and perhaps unnecessary question to ask, leave alone answer. The striking aspect of English society today is the emergence of a new kind of class consciousness. This was more bearable a few decades back, when it was possible to pass it off as the angst of the have-nots. Recent years however has seen the urban immigrant voice speak up with greater clarity, a clarity that can no longer be stifled by granting them a radio station or a television channel.
Born to parents from Barbados and Jamaica, rapper, historian, and inner city champion, Soweto Kinch symbolizes the new generation of global musicians who use their presence to document and impact social issues. Joined on this track by Jason McDougall.
Help by Soweto Kinch (6:00)
From London, Phileas Fogg traveled to Egypt, and it is possible that he heard strains of North African music as he sailed as close to the European shoreline as possible. The history of jazz in the Islamic world is a troubled one, since most Islamic states look down upon performing arts such as music and dance. Jazz musicians have clung on to their passion in the face of great odds to bring this music to the attention of local audiences.
Dhafer Youssef grew up in Tunisia, and imbibed the spirit of North African, Sufi and Islamic musical traditions. He plays the Oud (halfway between a lute and a sarod) and is a singer as well.
Odd Elegy by Dhafer Youssef Quartet (11.25)
Even though Salah Rageb set up the first jazz band in Egypt way back in 1968, jazz has had its share of struggle finding acceptance in the Arab nations. Salah Rageb’s greatest moments were when he performed and toured with Sun Ra. It was not till one year after his death in 2008, that Cairo started its own Jazz Festival. Eftekasat is one of the first Egyptian jazz acts to be noticed globally.
Jazzmina by Eftekasat (8:00)
The bet that Phileas Fogg took on was based on the publication of a news item about a railroad line that connected Bombay and Kolkata. What he did not know was that the railroad had not been completed, and this resulted in some anxious moments, as Fogg and his valet, Passerpartout hire an elephant to cover the 50 km of unfinished railroad.
Jazz in India goes back many years, and cities like Bombay and Kolkata had a documented and vibrant jazz scene as far back as the 40s. There are several factors that led to the decline of jazz in India between the 50’s and the 70’s – the economic slump, the closure of textile mills, the arrival of talkies, and the emergence of a new culture called Bollywood. However, most of the early contributors to popular Indian music were actually jazz musicians working sessions for the nascent film industry. The influence of jazz has never totally faded.
Bands like Mohiner Ghoraguli and the Louiz Banks Trio have kept innovating with the Indian sound of jazz. Here is one of the contemporary masters performing for MTV Unplugged and playing, if there is something called that, Bollywood Jazz.
Dil Se by A. R. Rahman from MTV India Unplugged Season 2 (7:00)
From Kolkata, Phileas Fogg traveled to Hong Kong, the infamous crossroads of Colonialism, Imperialism, and Far Eastern stoic mysticism. As a trade hub, Hong Kong was quick to abandon all pretensions of being a Far Eastern nation, and was perhaps one of the first city nations to embrace the principles of globalization. The music too is a reflection of this multicultural mish mash of ideas and values.
Along with Eugene Pao, Teriver Cheung has put Hong Kong on the global jazz map. Jun Kung is a jazz drummer, underground music evangelist and composer better known for his background scores for the Hong Kong film industry. This generation of Hong Kong musicians is comfortable in all settings, and it is not surprising to find celebrity acts put up performances in the unlikeliest of locations, be it a street corner or a mildly popular nightclub.
Smells like teen spirit by Teriver Cheung and Jun Kung (8:00)
From Hong Kong, the story takes us to Japan. Japanese jazz is a reflection of the resilience of its culture. While most cultures have permitted free intercourse of musical ideas resulting in a jazz that is relatable to local audiences, in Japan, you will rarely hear jazz that draws upon traditional Japanese musical ideas or forms. Instead, one finds structural, technological, and compositional advances that are perhaps way ahead of the rest of the world.
A very large number of Japanese jazz musicians are hugely successful in the mainstream world of jazz, settled in the western world, and playing music that is conventional, undiluted jazz. The jazz acts in Japan are known for their post modern (and deconstructionist) forays into atonal music, electronic manipulation of sound, and for their compositional adventures. Sonicbloom, which Hiromi Uehara leads (with four keyboards) is one of the most electrifying acts in Japan.
Summertime by Hiromi Uehara & Chick Corea (7:00)
From exotic Japan, Fogg travels to the west coast of America, to San Francisco. The west coast has always been the home of cool as opposed to the more aggressive, unrestrained, bop heat of New York. It has also been the home to the newer genres of electronic and NuJazz. But if there is one thing “jazz” that you would identify with San Francisco, it has to be the SF Jazz Collective, a three-week coming together of genii that takes place every year. These are eight of the brightest names of jazz who get together once a year to do a season of concerts, focusing on interpreting the works of one great jazz composer, and also put out one original composition each from the band members. All of these, (the concerts, the interpretations, and the original compositions) are then redacted into one limited edition album release. Needless to say, these releases as well as the concert season are cherished possessions and experiences for jazz lovers.
Sudoku by SFJazz Collective (10:00)
From a jazz perspective, the west coast does not figure greatly in the early history of the art-form. After Chicago and New Orleans, if jazz had a home, it had to be New York. From Miles Davis, Coltrane, Clifford Brown to Max Roach, NY has been the hotbed of innovation. New York was where jazz came from the factories and the plantations to get dressed in fine clothes, to make conversation with the white folk, and to be turned into a commercially viable performance art. New York was where you went if you wanted to make money from your blues.
This post has been leaning towards the heavier side of jazz history, so here is another breather – a light hearted ska rendition by a NY jazz band of an all-time classic – Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.
Take Five by New York Ska Jazz Collective (5:00)
The last leg of Phileas Fogg’s journey is a testimony to adventure and innovation as he engineers a sailors mutiny in order to reach back home. If it has been a long time since you read the book, or if you realized while reading this post that your kids have not yet read the book, may I invite you? And how best to round off the journey than with a return to the roots, the blues – in a performance that sees the leading lights of jazz revival in America with Eric Clapton, Britain’s definitive contribution to the evolution of guitar gods.
Just a Closer Walk With Thee by Eric Clapton, Wynton Marsalis, and Taj Mahal (12:30)
After this eighty minute journey, it is easy to grasp how insignificant our differences really are, how music transcends borders and finds a way to speak its own unique language of every heart, and how silly our tribal obsession with our identities is. The purpose of my sharing this post and this music is to (hopefully) help you see that we have willingly become partners to our own destruction, that we have bought into the whole us and them conspiracy, and that we can still summon up the resources to celebrate our collective humanity. We do not need to be helpless bystanders. We are not voiceless. We are the masters of our destiny.
A true connoisseur of the finer things in life he recently started a web-based specialty fine tea venture, Blend of Tea, which lets you get the best of tea home delivered anywhere in India. To know more about Hyderabad Western Music Foundation please check here.
I hope you have enjoyed this special post on the journey with Jazz around the world with Mr. Fogg.
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