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Saskia Laroo: Jazz Yatra 2004

AAJ Staff BY

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The crowd ostensibly went wild with her [Saskia Laroo] amazingly engaging show(wo)manship.
Greetings from India!
Best wishes for a Happy New Year to everyone reading here...
First of all, a salute to all the brave survivors of the horrible Tsunami on the day after Christmas and to those who are helping them become normal human beings again. May the souls of the departed ones rest in eternal peace.
Prof. R. Ganapathy of the Enrico Fermi Institute and Baker Chemical Laboratory, gave us a talk, an engrossing and bewitching talk on meteorites — and this I am mentioning because it gave me a fright, pretty close to the scare engendered by the Tsunami: underscoring the fact how fragile is the human existence. Meteorites are, well, charming pieces of rocks that shine out differently and if you get them chemically analyzed, the presence of nickel proves it came from outer space. Lovely piece of enlightenment, I thought.

During the question hour, from the motley group of amateur astronomers that ranged from a bright-eyed ten-year-old girl to a retired architect who has trouble remembering which year he retired, threw up queries. The good doc answered honestly with an admirable unhurried approach. One physics student with a conspicuous penchant for science fiction asked if the dinosaurs had been wiped off the earth by a meteorite or... Yes said the professor, but not only dinosaurs, every species of life was wiped out in an instant. The meteorite was just half a kilometer across and slightly longer. What's more, this has happened seven times in the checkered history of this lovely blue planet. Wow, I thought to myself, that makes us real special. If the cooking pot had been emptied seven times before we got cooked right into existence, oh boy, why are we hell-bent on mass suicide?

When is the next extinction due? With a Mona Lisa smile the pundit said it is long overdue. I hadn't stopped shivering when the Tsunami forced its way into our everyday lexicon with the tenderness of an enraged bull entering a china shop.

Back to business , we witnessed one day of excellent live performances at the Jazz Yatra 2004 in late November at Mumbai [Bombay]. It kicked off with two India-based bands: a trio with a dazzling pianist Harmeeta Singh whose brilliance shone explosively like a sun wrapped up in thin clouds, a good bass guitar and drums. Next featured a positively outstanding guitarist, Sanjay Divecha, who the program said had learned jazz at the Berklee School of music and had performed with leading jazzmen all over the US, with good support from the bass and drums. His own compositions sounded classy, and there is no gainsaying the obvious fact he is slated to go far.

The last performance on that day was that of Saskia Laroo, the young and energetic trumpeter from Holland. She came prancing onto the stage dressed seductively in a miniskirt and black stockings with sequins flashing mischievously. I noticed she is a left-hander, perhaps ambidextrous — for the pictures at her website show her being right-handed: anyway, that makes her more of an unusual entity than ever. She plays with the right hand compulsively fiddling with a wireless mike and another pocket-sized gizmo that I think was the ring modulator.

The faint echoes, reverb and other electronic effects she used from time to time, changed the entire acoustics of the excellent Bhabha Auditorium within the Tata Fundamental Institute of Research, on the southern coast of Bombay (Mumbai). The crowd went wild with her amazingly engaging show(wo)manship. The wireless mike allowed her to saunter through the audience right outside and back in from the other door. She danced and pranced, clambered up and glided down, all the while playing jazz tunes. Many of these were tributes to the venerable Miles Davis, and she later played her own rather catchy composition "Body Music," aimed at the younger crowd to get them clapping and dancing — and charging up the atmosphere, as if an electric storm were imminent.

"It's A Jazz Party" was another foot-tapping tune that caught the fancy of the audience who sang along, goaded by Saskia, and I was surprised to see grandmothers in burquas (head to toe veils) clapping in time and getting up to sway the hips a bit now and then. Amazing showmanship, everyone with me agreed. Saskia later came to Pune, and brought the house down once again at the Jazz Garden, an open air restaurant on a riverbank, that features jazzmen and women as often as possible.

Here she was slightly more exuberant — perhaps due to a smaller crowd that vibes even better, for almost all the 250 plus persons were my friends from our Pune Jazz Club, with their jazz-loving circle of friends. This was an historical event for us, and I must thank Saskia for having made the trip. Her pianist and co-vocalist Warren Byrd made a greater hit with his real cool cat demeanor, deep blues-singer's voice and funky style. India looks forward to having these two stars come back here some time, hopefully for a longer period.

This was the Jazz Yatra — I have tried to show just a glimpse here. I had missed the legendary Jean Luc Ponty the day before, due to various engagements elsewhere — this is a jazz festival that is second oldest and third largest in the world. Last year it was a "European Jazz Yatra" and this year Jazz India is toying with the idea of having a "Latin American Jazz Yatra." The word 'yatra' in Hindi means a pilgrimage, rather an apt label for a jazz festival I must say! I am in touch with Gabriel Estryk — a musician and events manager who is lining up three genius performers in this genre — two bands from Argentina and one from Brazil. I may try and get all the bands for the twelve slots in the 3-day long festival.

If any readers know such hidden geniuses, and the world outside the USA is creeping and crawling with jazz artists who need exposure, please ask them to get in touch with me as soon as possible.

Hey all you brilliant young jazz artists out there, contact me if you want to travel to India and perform. There are increasingly attractive opportunities here not only for performing, but for cross-pollination via Indian Classical Music, which at times appears pretty close to jazz, especially in the improvisational regimes.

Till next time then, take care, write to me and have fun: put some more jazz in your lives and see how it sparkles!


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