Sunday, May 14, 2006

Lecturing On Jazz

Purnima, a neighbour and my mentor in matters related to Chennai and more specifically my area, rather our area since she's an oldhand at solving local problems, asked me once if I could lecture a group of her club on Jazz.

I said I would, and prepared myself for the task with a powerpoint presentation, using utmost loving care to ensure no major genres or styles and giants of Jazz were left out. She gave me just two days notice, which usually suffices for me, since I have often been asked to do impromptu things too.

One of the most mortifying moments in my jazz lecturing career happened about two years ago when I was to speak on a rather specialized subject, heavily advertised with posters and advertisements in papers, in Mumbai. The Influence Of The Blues On Jazz... lots of friends I had called over, two of my nieces who happened to be in Mumbai were asked to travel by bus for nearly two hours and be present. They did.

I sat up the whole night, since things were very tight with my work at the factory and I had been postponing the preparations till the last night. I remember I was working on the presentation, running into two CDs, till half an hour before the bus departure. I hurriedly had a bath, breakfast and ran to catch the bus. Getting off at Dadar, as I boarded the train to VT to reach Planet M, suddenly the realization struck me, I had forgotten both the CDs at home.

Two options stared at me, a] chickening out and taking the train back to Dadar en route to Pune, thus making over fifty of my best jazz pals enemies for life, or b] to get up and talk. I may make mistakes, leave out portions, may fumble, may get stuck, may get booed or jeered, but I would save my neck.

I chose the latter option.

Reaching Planet M, I explained the quandary to one of the shop assistants who said the whole store is yours, go and select any number of CDs, man. You can speak, we know it. So I went around, and that day none of the show organizers had shown up except Ashok Gulati of Jazz India who is very supportive.

The lecture went of smoothly. One jazzman and musicologist Jason Beaster-Jones from some university in US was present. He came up to congratulate me when my heart had stopped fluttering and fibrillating... he said he had a couple of bones to pick with me on technical points but when Jehangir, the owner of Jehangir Hospital and Jehangir Art Gallery said I had forgotten the CDs, he not only forgave me the inaccuracies, he thought the job was greatly executed.

Well, Purnima drove me to the Club, we had a grand lunch in style, her air-conditioned car took the edge off the beastly heat in Chennai and I had not withered away by the time we reached Egmore. I finally got up, she had wired her laptop to the LCD projector and I started defining jazz, giving names of styles/genres and the jazz giants.

I distinctly got the feeling I lost them. The crowd seemed to be listening patiently, trying to understand. It seemed as if they were trying to lip read me rather than listen to me... as if I were talking in Kirghizi or Armenian. Half way through the lecture my heart sank down to somewhere near my ankles. Purnima sat in the front row, giving me encouraging nods and interested looks. It was a total disaster, and a big let-down. I had thought a metropolis like this would have lots and lots of people who were knowledgeable about Jazz. Here I was, facing the crème de la crème and none one single soul could understand me. The only name that clicked was Louis Armstrong.

On the way back she told me, my lecture was too high flying, which it was not. The obvious problem was unfamiliarity of the crowd with the chosen topic. Food for thought indeed.

(c) Max Babi, 21st May 2006


At 4:20 AM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

Two different lecture experiences! -- in the first cliffhanger, it's clear you played music selections. It's not clear from your narrative if you also did so in the 2nd lecture -- or simply talked. It seems (with the hindsight of your post) like the given audience needed more like a "Jazz Basics," not an Encyclopedia of Everybody. Pointing out what's happening with any jazzman's take on a standard (like explaining any poet's navigation of a poem) may seem pedestrian, but it's where the rubber meets the road, as we say.

Topic to consider: Indo-Jazz fusion. Exhibit A: L. Subramaniam (his LPs from the 1980s). You might be able to use that as a hook, down there in Tamil land.

cheers, d.i.

At 6:52 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

Yeah d.i., absolumento righto.
In the first lecture I played CDs and talked without the PPT presentation, in the second, I could not play CDs, and now I feel even if I had played, it would have been all hogwash for them. Oscar Peterson kept playing whilst they were lunching, it fell on deaf ears... I guess I should edit the second part. Tks d.i.
And yes, Indo-jazz fusion is BIG here.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

Ah well, you can lead a horse to water, but cannot make it drink Pederson. I had no idea the Indo-Jazz thing was much happening currently in Chennai. Sounds like a topic all its own. BTW, I saw electronic violinist L. Shankar in concert here in DC a year or so ago -- touring with Zakir Hussain plus another evidently lately big-name percussionist (name I didn't/don't know), Hindu chap (who I guess recited Om & a few slokas but mainly did fancy Bollywood sound effects with his extended drum kit -- including some trick with water I think). Shankar is a curious fellow as well as fine mucisian (L. Subramaniam's brother). But we only seem to see those who've already been coming here for years. The new stuff of Chennai is unknown.

At 12:18 AM, Blogger Sucheta said...

Hello Max!

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

hello sucheta,
you decided to stop lurking and voice your opinion?

At 9:52 PM, Blogger Sucheta said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Sucheta said...

I was seriously reading your Tambaram story. Aage kya hua? Have left a comment there...
And I think not just jazz, you can deliver a lecture on writing skills too. You have loads of them, perhaps I can take a lesson or two as well.
I'm adding u on to my blog.


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