New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) India's best known jazz musician Louis Banks is keeping his fingers crossed. He hopes that one of his two latest international albums wins a Grammy nomination this year.
'And I wish one of them wins an award. Both have been sent to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the US, which presents the awards every year,' Banks told IANS in the capital.
He was in New Delhi to announce the names of the nominees of the eighth edition of the Teachers' Achievements Awards for contemporary music at a special function in the Metropolitan Mall in Saket as part of the eight-member jury. The awards are conferred on achievers in business, sports, music and communications.
Banks is credited with the signature anthems, 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara', 'Desh Raag' and 'Spread the Light of Freedom' - the jingles to national unity.
'This year, the two international projects that I have recently completed have been my biggest achievements,' he said.
'Both are jazz-based - like all my music. The first album is 'Miles from India', an unusual Indian fusion tribute to the founder of modern jazz Miles Davies. The idea was sown by a US-based record producer Yusuf Gandhi and Grammy-winning producer Bob Beldini. We wanted to pay tribute to Miles in a different way,' Banks said, explaining the making of the album.
'You see, Miles was very fond of Indian music though he never came to India. Wherever he discovered Indian music in the US, he used them in his recordings and concerts. Miles' musical thought processes had a lot of affinity with Indian music.'
Banks chose nine compositions from the albums of Miles Davies and arranged them the Indian way. 'We used Indian musicians to interpret some of the compositions. Miles' music is amazing. It is so flexible that you can weave any influences around it, almost seamlessly.'
The Nepal-born Banks used sitar, sarod, the Indian violin, the Indian flute and traditional percussion instruments to re-interpret the scores. He and his team selected some Indian ragas which were empathetic with Miles' music to Indianise the scores.
'We haven't touched or distorted the themes, just took liberties with the harmonies,' Banks said.
'Miles was fond of using the Greek modes of music. We sought out their parallels in Indian music and used them. The Lydian mode of Greek music for example is similar to the Yaman Raag in Indian classical music - almost like the concept of god. Be it Allah, Vishnu, Christ or the Buddha - they are all one.'
The second album in the running is a collaboration with guitar legend John McLaughlin. It is called 'Floating Point'. 'I just got an email from his agent that the album has been sent for the nominations to the Grammy list. It was a beautiful project,' he said.
The musician, born Dambar Bahadur Budhapriti in Nepal and brought up in Darjeeling, shot to fame in Kolkata when he teamed up with Carnatic musician Ramani in the 1980s. 'That is when I discovered Indian music. I was a complete jazz musician before, playing the American way,' Banks said.
Since then, he has partnered several other Indian musicians including Shankar Mahadevan, Sivamani, Karl Peters and Taufeeq Quereshi.
'I am trying to give jazz a new direction. I am tired of playing the conventional dance jazz music,' Banks said.
He is working on a project close to his heart with son Jean, an accomplished drummer. 'It is a progressive fusion jazz album. We have tested the sounds in concerts and listeners said they liked it. The music is very exciting, but might go over people's heads. It is hard-edged; not the sweet pleasant jazz sounds associated with me,' said Banks, who is looking for 'listeners rather than money, at this point in life'.
The album, which is yet to be named, features tracks titled 'Labyrinth', 'Trojan', 'Hill Road' and 'The Merger'. 'That should give you the clue,' he laughed, when asked to describe the album.
Recollecting the musical influences of his childhood, Banks said: 'I have always been listening to jazz since I can remember because dad was a musician. The turning point, however, came when dad brought home an LP of Oscar Peterson.'
He has also finished writing 24 etudes (a French word for study) - short 60-90-second piano pieces for students of music. 'All great classical musicians, especially the ones I love and grew up listening to - like Chopin, Rachmaninov and Mozart - have written etudes,' Banks said.
The cache of 24 etudes include 12 in minor keys and 12 in major keys.
'I have to leave something for posterity,' the musician said, for 'all that India is making in the name of contemporary commercial music is going nowhere'.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])