When asked about his experience working with veteran musicians from around the world, Louis says that those moments were full of learning.
Ahead of International Jazz Day, the godfather of jazz music in India, Louis Banks talks about his illustrious career and the evolution of Jazz music.
Born into a Nepali family with six generations of musicians, the godfather of jazz music in India — Louis Banks, has music in his genes. Although he began his musical journey as a jazz trumpet player, Louis found his true calling in the piano, after he first heard a western pianist play in Kolkata. After this serendipitous encounter, Louis started focusing on the piano more than the trumpet and today, after five decades, his name has become synonymous with jazz music in India. “My father gave me the opportunity to be what I am today. I got hands-on training which many youngsters miss, so I was fortunate in this case,” says Louis Banks, who cherishes the time he used to share the stage with his father.
The musician, who shares a great bond with Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and his father, the late Ustad Alla Rakha, will be performing at an event celebrating 100 years of Ustad Alla Rakha’s music at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. At the two-day event, Louis will perform with Zakir Hussain and other musicians.
Talking about Jazz, a form of music that is based mostly on improvisation, Louis says that jazz has evolved to a great extent over the years. According to the musician, jazz has its roots in the Blues and was simple in structure at the beginning of the century. Now, however, it has gone through a lot of refinement. “The essence of rawness has always been there but the progressive thinkers saw possibilities for jazz music to evolve and with their classical training and learning, jazz slowly began to get complex, however, the improvisation aspect remains the same,” explains the pianist. Unlike classical music, jazz is not restrictive and the performer almost owns the musical form. The pianist further elucidates that jazz, in a wider sense, is called ‘Chromatic music’ while Indian music has a Modal form. “In jazz, scale is used for reference but in Indian music, if you go out of scale, you are almost committing a sin,” he insists.
Louis also talks about the constant fusing of jazz music with other genres of music and says that the phenomenon has been happening for long and that it is beneficial for music. It started from the 1970s when musicians thought of giving jazz a global quality so they started mixing various forms of music with jazz. “It is the beauty of jazz that it is very flexible and attaches itself to any culture in music and adapts to the music of any culture. It is good because then music reaches many people through multiple forms,” he shares and adds that a very niche audience appreciates classical jazz, the rest enjoy fusion music.
In his illustrious career, Louis has worked with many Bollywood music composers, and among them is R.D. Burman, who Louis believes has a divine connect with him. He recalls the time R.D Burman heard Louis playing in a restaurant and invited him to play for his upcoming film Mukti that starred Shashi Kapoor. “Pancham da is the reason why I am in Mumbai. He brought about a turning point in my life as an unknown person. It was divine intervention,” reminisces the composer. After that, there was no looking back for Louis, and today, his musical career spans almost 50 years.
When asked about his experience working with veteran musicians from around the world, Louis says that those moments were full of learning. “It is like learning every day and I have learned a lot from everyone I have worked with,” he insists and confirms that his learning is not confined to master musicians, but that he learns from young musicians as well, “In their raw forms, they inspire me; they think differently because of no greater knowledge and they have innocence and neutrality in their ideas.” However, the musician rues the fact that there are young musicians who skip the rigours of the art form because they are swayed by popular tunes. “There are very few young musicians who are devoted to the serious side of music. Many just perform because they like a certain melody.”
Though he is known as Louis Banks today, not many know that his parents christened him Dambar Bahadur Budaprithi. His father Pushkar Bahadur Budaprithi who was named George Banks by the American jazz player Teddy Weatherford, re-christened his son’s name to Louis, after the great American trumpeter Louis Daniel Armstrong. “When my father moved to Kolkata he played with many jazz musicians and they gave him this new catchy name. My father wanted me to play the trumpet like Louis Armstrong, so he named me Louis Banks,” recalls the pianist.
When asked about the best advice that he has received from his father, and has passed on to his son and grandson, the pianist says, “Practice...practice...practice.” What about retirement plans, we ask. “Musicians do not retire. There is no such thing as retirement for them. They play till their last breath,” laughs the musician.