Sakhipost interview with Louis Banks, godfather of Indian jazz
Jazz music is synonymous with Louis Banks in India. It would not be wrong to say that Louis Banks introduced Indian music lovers to a new musical genre: jazz. No wonder he is dubbed the godfather of Indian jazz. In an exclusive interview with Sakshi Postsays the pianist Reshmi AR on his illustrious musical career, the piano program he created and more
1. Tell us about your program designed to help set a standard of excellence in music education for children and working professionals?
I’m thrilled to partner with Artium Academy to use their technology and platform to team up Piano for kids and music lovers. The foundation of all music learning begins with learning a piano, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way than this to help pass on my experience and learn to prepare future musicians in India . I designed and developed it entirely from scratch and will be taught by handpicked teachers who have worked/trained under me. I will be personally invested in the course with one-on-one consultations and conducting masterclass sessions. The course aims to help students focus on contemporary music and songwriting, giving them a holistic musical education, thus laying the foundation for a Gold Standard of music education.
2. Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain called you a performer of unparalleled genius in the foreword to your biography—Louiz Banks: A Symphony of Love. What does it do?
I feel truly honoured! Zakir Bhai is very nice, I’ve always admired him as a fellow musician who has incredible musical talent and creativity, and on top of that, he’s a great human being and a good friend. But in all humility, I’m not a genius and I’m not without equal as I’m described, I’m just an ordinary human being who loves music and lives for his passion. I am forever grateful for the immense love and support people have showered on me and I will be forever grateful to God for blessing me with music.
3. How important is music education?
Learning music, as we know, is no longer a hobby. It is also not a tool for a potential career opportunity. Musical education is a crucial tool in the development of the personality of any individual. Each individual must learn to sing or play at least one musical instrument. Learning music has become easy with online music education platforms such as Artium Academy. Any learner who aspires to become a musician should focus on the fundamentals of music i.e. theory and practical aspects. Once the base is solid, you can move in any direction, whether it’s classical or modern popular music.
4. We always thought that music should be a physical activity. Is learning music online the same thing?
Artium Academy has developed a platform where the process of learning music as well as musical instruments is personal and personalized for each student. With our one-to-one lessons, students will be able to learn at their own pace, which was never possible in classrooms before. Our students can schedule their modules according to their convenience. Through live interactive sessions on the Artium Academy platform, we ensure that our students can engage with us from the comfort of their home. Apart from providing various tools to help students practice during the lesson, the dashboard also consists of a personalized learning graph on various musical parameters. Students can track their progress on the graph while practicing. We do our best to help students along the way and throughout the course, ask them to submit an assignment based on their learning progress, and provide feedback to help them excel. Students will have access to their previous modules and assessments to review modules and assessment submissions again and analyze their progress.
5. What plans do you have for online music education through this specialized course?
I strive to bridge learning gaps in music by providing a platform designed to shape the talent of our students and guide them through their journey. My goal is to make India – the piano/contemporary music capital of the world – and I strongly believe that online music education can play an important role in helping India move steadily towards realizing this. dream. This is precisely why I have designed the program for all groups of learners – although no previous experience is required for students to enroll in this course, the whole program offers three courses – Preparatory | Basic | Advance – with an effort to help students perform on the big stage
6. You learned the ropes from your father. Tell us about your exposure to music when you accompanied him to concerts
I will be forever grateful to my father, who tirelessly trained me and made me competent enough to sit with his professional band in clubs and gigs from the age of thirteen. I still remember listening with admiration to Dad playing Haydn’s trumpet concert with the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra. Besides being an arranger and composer, he was a great pianist and an even greater trumpeter. He was also an excellent teacher, I have fond memories of practicing the piano every morning with dad and doing all the piano exercises one by one with him. He used to sit next to me with a stick and correct me every time I played a bad note, his stick and his continuous training made me who I am today.
7. Tell us about your beginnings and your work with RD Burman
RD Burman came to Blue Fox in (then) Calcutta in 1979, where I used to play piano. He was impressed with my composition and asked me to come to his table to ask him if I wanted to play the piano for one of his films for which he was composing music. I accepted the offer without hesitation and traveled to (then) Bombay for the recordings. Pancham da was satisfied with my work and asked me to return to Bombay and continue working with him, which I did only a year later due to my Blue Fox commitments. From that day on, I played piano music for his compositions, which slowly brought me into his inner circle.
8. You also composed jingles. Is there creative freedom in jingles?
Yes, there is creative freedom in jingles within the confines of the client and producer’s brief, as well as the time constraints involved. When composing a jingle, we need to come up with an idea or musical theme that enhances and complements the advertised product, and I admit that is not easy. But I gradually learned the techniques and became India’s jingle king, having made hundreds of jingles during my advertising career. It was a memorable experience and in the process earned the title of creating a record.
9. Most musicians feel nervous at the start of every gig, regardless of whether they’ve played countless times. Is it the same for you?
Even after all these years of performing hundreds of concerts around the world, I still get nervous before I go on stage. You need nerves of steel and great confidence in your abilities, your teammates and the choice of the repertoire that you are going to present. It is only after my first song has been successfully performed and well received by the audience that I am able to control my nervousness and play with the desire to give my best.
10. How has jazz music changed over the years?
Jazz has always been an evolving style of music, with new approaches and styles introduced by serious practitioners of the genre almost every decade. Ragtime jazz and other styles gave way to modern jazz and jazz fusion. Surprisingly, some musicians with this inclination continue to play all these different styles. Nothing disappears on its own, but styles are merged and fused with new approaches. Music knows no borders and jazz, in my opinion, is the most democratic music in the world.
11 Tell us about your jazz fusion experience
Ramamani, the incredible carnatic singer, was my first inspiration to try to combine jazz and Indian classical music. I went to see her at a concert and was super impressed with her. I approached her and asked her if she wanted to sing jazz fusion with me. She was thrilled with the idea and couldn’t wait to put it to the test. The Carnatic Jazz Band Sangam was founded by Ramamani, the Carnatic College of Percussion Ensemble, Ranjit Barot, Karl Peters and myself. Sangam was a huge success and we were invited to tour Europe and play many jazz festivals around the world.
Fusion is extremely relevant for everyone. It has therefore evolved into a fantastic tool well accepted by music lovers. Fans love the wonderful juxtaposition of musical styles because of their uniqueness.
12. Do you think that the Indian music scene hasn’t evolved yet, in terms of concerts?
The music is not finished, it is constantly evolving as talented new artists join in and introduce new ideas and techniques into their compositions and performances. At present, concerts have provided a global platform for musicians to show their talent and express their creativity, originality and artistry. As young artists continue to contribute to music in the areas of style, composition, creativity and performance, I believe the Indian musical landscape will continue to grow and develop.
13. With the pandemic changing the way we consume music, do you think live concerts can be revived as before?
Live concerts will come back even stronger than before, as public venues have opened up and events are held with limited access. People go out and attend concerts. During the lockdown for the past two years, people have been craving to go out, as venues are slowly opening up now, there is a new era of optimism and excitement building, and I believe concerts will thrive as before. , if not better.
14. Young people these days are considering early retirement. They want to make easy money so they can relax, and you still have the same passion?
I believe you have to have a passion to be resilient, if you really love music you will never stop creating, even after so many years, I see how music evolves and it inspires me to keep going. There is no retirement in the music industry, we make music because we are in love with the process of creating new music. Only those who crave the money and the ads and have no attachment to the music itself will consider early retirement when they have earned enough money or when competition in the field increases.
In my case, music is my life, so whatever the circumstances, I can never give up on music. There are still many musicians who live for music like me, music is our passion and we will continue to play and create.