Just Jazz for you!
As the Jazz Utsav gets off the ground this Friday, Soli J. Sorabjee prepares for cloud nine. ANJANA RAJAN meets the advocate of improvisation
PHOTO: V.V. KRISHNAN
MASTER STROKE Soli Sorabjee jazzing up the conversation at his Neeti Bagh residence
The office of Soli J. Sorabjee, former Attorney-General of India, presents as formidable a picture as one might expect. A neat, spotless waiting room where white predominates. Blinds of the window drawn. A low table around which are ranged plain chairs, on which are seated men, some young, some middle-aged. Yes, in this bustling outpost of the legal arena, men still seem to enjoy a majority. Armed with thick books whose titles do little to challenge the imagination. After all, how many flights can you take with "Tax Laws" except, perhaps the one from justice?
The only splash of colour is provided by the brightly coloured labels sticking out of the sombre text. Further inside, the eminent advocate is closeted in a "conference". No press conference, this, no music conference either. This is solid legal business.
So was it an overactive fantasy or steel vessels in his kitchen that conjured up the sound of clashing cymbals as one entered the reception? One will never be sure, but one thing is for sure. The veteran lawyer has got Jazz on his mind too. He has relieved himself of court duties for three days from this Friday, and is all set to enjoy the Jazz Utsav - 2005.
Starting Friday evening at Kamani auditorium at 6.30, the Utsav, which till now was known as the Jazz Yatra, features 10 bands from India, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, the U.S., Germany and Sri Lanka.
As the president of the Capital Jazz Committee, Sorabjee is more than a figurehead. An ardent clarinet player during his school days, he recalls, "Benny Goodman was my mentor. It went on till 1954. Then, I'm afraid, the briefs took over the music." Benny Goodman's framed photo adorns his drawing room showcase, and the doyen of the legal system has now graduated to listening to his CDs whenever time allows. But, he adds, one of his grandsons learns the clarinet, and another plays the drums.
The importance of the Jazz Utsav, re-christened, because, he says, the term yatra caused a lot of confusion, is that it provides audiences the opportunity to hear music from various countries. Also to the Indian musicians, who may not all be moneyed. "I find it very exciting," he adds.
As to logistics, "We go by the reputation of the bands and their CDs. We have to balance the bands. Some may be mainstream. Some may be more modern. Some may be a bit ultra-modern, which doesn't go down well with the Delhi audience. Then we approach the embassies to help bring them over, otherwise the costs are killing."
Though embassies have always been helpful, he emphasises the support the Delhi leg of the Utsav has received from Godrej as well as Jet Airways.
`A good mix'
The conference is on hold as the senior advocate holds forth amiably on plans and contingencies. "This period between November and December seems to be good for performers from the West. But our star performance is going to be Zila Khan with Louis Banks," he points out. "It's going to be a good mix, and everything is not going to be chicken masala."
From Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Zila Khan, known as a classical vocalist and daughter of sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan, seems a long way for a genre to travel. But that is its nature, a form that is not to be kept within strict parameters. "What attracts me to Jazz is improvisation. It is not played to a written score. No Jazz musician plays the same tune the same way as another."
Sorabjee is not the only legal luminary on the Capital Jazz Committee. Eminent lawyer Harish Salve is the vice president, and there is a range of professionals, including musicians and journalists. This helps in selecting artistes besides organising the shows. "Rehearsals, stage requirements, sound balancing," he enumerates, and hints that artistes' tantrums are part of the deal too.
* * *
Friday, November 18, 6.30 p.m. onwards
Steve Siqueira Quintet (India),
Jonas Hellborg group (Sweden),
Saturday, November 19, 6.00 p.m. onwards
Jazz Unlimited Sextet (Srilanka),
The Core (Norway), Solid (Norway),
Cow Beaty quartet (Denmark)
Sunday, November 20, 6.30 p.m. onwards
Charlie Mariano (Germany),
Lukas Roos & Lumahama (Switzerland),
Zila Khan/Louis Banks (India)
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