Madhav Chari is one of the most brilliant pianists from India. He has worked with top names in jazz at New York, such as Henry Threadgill, Kenny Barron and Wynton Marsalis. He has performed in hundreds of cities.
One day prior to Duke's birthday that fell on April 29, he selected to perform at Max Müller Bhavan in Chennai [Madras], the cultural capital of entire South India. This was to be a preview concert for invited guests, of a CD he is busy putting together, focusing on Duke Ellington standards.
He kicked off with the swinging number "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) and within five minutes had the audience transfixed. The fluency in expression, the facile ease with which he handled the phrasing and little flourishes here and there got him a huge applause as anticipated. The next number was in complete contrast, "In A Mellow Tone, with its mellifluous ballad-like ambience. This is difficult to present to an audience that has already felt the swinging thumping of the earlier number but he managed it with panache.
"Sophisticated Lady and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me were also played with mellifluous artistry and, paradoxically, with almost aggressive improvisation. Ellington compositions for the piano sound pleasing only when the nuances have been dealt with by a professional. That did happen so far. Another ballad, "In A Sentimental Mood, and the more up-tempo "Cottontail clearly had the blues element sparkling from beneath the complex tapestry of musical notes that Duke Ellington had woven, another enthusiastic round of applause signified the high level of appreciations from the cognoscenti.
"I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) and "Things Ain't What They Used To Be were played with characteristic gusto and a fine touch at the same time. As an encore, the very famous "Satin Doll was reproduced with an amazing fidelity. On the whole, Madhav Chari's piano skills shone through a clouded muggy day like a fierce sun. His astonishing fluency and mastery on the piano bespoke of the rigorous training and mind-numbing practice that must have preceded this excellent performance. When the classical pianists turn their scholarly abilities to jazz, discerning listeners can feel this wonderful music get up one notch higher.
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