The annual festival of jazz music, what used to be known as the Jazz Yatra in the 1980s, continues under the new name of Jazz Utsav. For three days in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore musicians and fans will congregate for a celebration of jazz, which has always had a dedicated, if not a very wide, following in India. In the past giants of Jazz, and this is no exaggeration, have come down to participate in the festival—such well known names as Stéphane Grappelli, Sonny Rollins, Trilok Gurtu and Freddie Hubbard.

In addition to local talents from Delhi and Mumbai, musicians from the Netherlands, the US, Germany, Italy, Poland and Norway will also be performing at the event which has been sponsored by Seagrams 100 Pipers. This year’s line-up also includes the likes of the guitar great Larry Carlton from the US, trumpet player Saskia Laroo from Amsterdam, Murcof and Talvin Singh and Eric Truffaz from Mexico and our very own Ranjit Barot Group, which will feature British saxophone player Tim Garland and French electric bass guitarist Dominique di Piazza.

We spoke with the jazz pianist and composer Louiz Banks, who has lit up the jazz scene here for over three decades now, on the Indian jazz scenario and his favourites at the festival.

(Clockwise from above): Louiz Banks Matrixx, Larry Carlton, Ranjit Barot and Talvin Singh (Photo by Yann Coatsaliou)

Yes they do. Jazz is not on the decline, though, it is not as vibrant as I would want it to be. But we are getting there; we are getting youngsters interested in this genre, which is very different from commercial music. The attendance was good at the Jazz Utsav last year, which is proof that there are people who want to listen to jazz. There is following but it is a small following no doubt. There are few players and fewer outlets for them to play. That needs to change. But you can’t compare jazz to commercial music. It is deep, and it is not meant for time pass. It is like Indian classical music; if you understand it you will become a devotee.

How long have you been playing jazz?

For 30-plus years now. In the 1960s and 1970s it used to be the popular music of the day. People listened and danced to it. People had more time then and they knew how to relax. Now they do not want to get into music that will tax their brains. For me it was an uphill task as I was passionate about jazz. I didn’t want to play anything but this. I loved the challenges and joys of playing it. I did commercial music to survive. My speciality is the piano, (and) even after 30 years I am still learning.

What will you be playing and who are you looking forward to listening?

To my favourite guitar player Larry Carlton. I am paying tribute to the music of Herbie Hancock, the great jazz composer and pianist. He is my guru. I’ll be playing a cross-section of his works going chronologically with the Matrix trio that includes my son Gino Banks and Sheldon D’Silva. In addition, we have two fine guest musicians Tala Faral on the saxophone and Sanjay Divecha, who is a great jazz guitarist. I can assure you, the music will be sizzling.

The festival is on from 2-4 December. Click herefor details