Madhav Chari, jazz pianist, performed with an all-Chennai trio -- consisting of himself, Naveen Kumar (bass) and Jeoraj George (drums) yesterday at the Museum Theatre in Chennai. I have written about Madhav before, when he performed with a French rhythm section [1,2] (who also back him on his recent CD, "Parisian thoroughfares"); and had previewed the concert here. Suffice it to say that it lived up to its prior billing. In an e-mailed announcement Madhav had declared it to be "absolutely the very first international standard jazz group from India since the incpetion of jazz in the country in 1927." It was. He said "We play jazz music: thats what we do." That's what they did. Over half of the programme was of Madhav's own compositions, beginning with "Tales of the south" (a reference, he said, both to New Orleans and to Chennai) and ending with "Blues for Havana". In addition they threw in pieces by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Cole Porter, and Sherwin/Maschwitz's "A nightingale sang in Berkeley square" (which Madhav played unaccompanied). They nailed all of them. Jeoraj took several drum solos, while Naveen played extended bass solos on Madhav's "Rejoice" and "Blues for Havana".
Madhav repeatedly said that the band is still feeling its way and is not really a mature outfit, which is why they chose not to play Ellington. But if there were flubs, I did not notice. The Parker was taken at breakneck speed, Porter's "Love for Sale" and Madhav's "Tango sentimental" were rhythmically very complex, and the chord changes in Coltrane's "Giant Steps" are a challenge for the best musicians. The band sailed through all of them.
But almost equally entertaining was Madhav's patter before the songs. He declared Chennai the most advanced city for percussion in Asia (previously he had said that though Chennai audiences may not understand jazz, they understand music better than anyone). He has a dim view of what has long passed for "jazz" in this country (perpetrated by people like Louis Banks), and took several potshots at the elites of Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi; he challenged anyone from those cities to measure themselves against Naveen and Jeoraj; he conceded that the sizeable audience yesterday (well over 400) may be achievable for jazz in Kolkata, but declared that there is no jazz drummer in that city who can keep time, so Chennai is ahead on that count.
Towards the end, he recounted a lady at a recent party asking him why he blew his own trumpet so much, and asked the audience (to resounding cheers): "Well, if I have the greatest jazz band in the history of India, am I supposed to keep quiet about it?"
Indeed, a few years ago I marvelled that there was a jazz pianist in this "conservative" city who was the equal of the best in New York. Now I find that there is an entire world-class jazz piano trio in this city -- but it now seems exciting rather than surprising. My opinion is that Madhav really does not need to blow his own trumpet. His piano, and his new rhythm section, are eloquent enough.