This new vanguard has also caused people sit back and question their assumptions that South Asians are all math whizzes, system analysts and potential CEOs of waning software companies. No longer will ‘desi’ be the exclusive badge of the IT geek. Soon it will be taken over by the critics to describe a new wave in modern jazz.
Here are some clips of these second-generation Indian immigrants doing their stuff (and changing the world as they go).
‘Ganesha’ by Rudresh Mahantappa
A frequent collaborator with the pianist Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahantappa spent most of his early years in Boulder, Colorado, though he was born in Italy. His father was an academic and Rudresh followed (sort of) in his father’s footsteps. He graduated from the prestigious Berklee School of Music and got a further MA in jazz composition from De Paul University in Chicago. Like all the South Asian stars in jazz, his approach to music is adventurous and eclectic. Here he fronts a big band that includes some lovely bansuri soloing by Raman Kalyan.
'Chaal Baby' by Sunny Jain
Leader of the bhangra-jazz outfit Red Baarat, Sunny Jain grew up in Rochester, New York, and has been playing jazz since high school. He leads a straight ahead jazz band (as drummer) but in recent years has devoted most of his time to Red Baraat, which brings a Punjabi dhol-driven, marriage-band sensibility to the world of jazz.
‘Sufi Stomp’ by Arun Ghosh
Born and raised in Britain, Arun Ghosh has placed the clarinet, once the king of swing jazz instruments, back on the agenda. With it he has brought, as shown in this clip, a bit of Sufi sensibility that harks back to the subcontinent.
‘Elvis Presley Blues’ by Harish Raghavan
Harish Raghavan grew up in Chicago’s vibrant Indian community where he studied both Indian and western percussion, before settling on jazz and the double bass. A frequent member of singer Kurt Elling’s band, he is regarded by all those with whom he plays (which is a huge roster of leading jazz men and women) as a standout bass player. Here he shows his versatility by accompanying Becca Stevens on a cover of the bluegrass song Elvis Presley Blues by Gillian Welch.
‘Galang’ by Vijay Iyer
Probably the best known of the desi jazz army is Vijay Iyer, whose parents migrated to the States in the 1960s. Iyer, who has led numerous bands, is credited with forging a new way of playing jazz piano, and he has also won a number of prestigious awards including a MacArthur “genius” grant. He was recently appointed to a professorship at Harvard. In this track he interprets a breakthrough hit by another South Asian expat superstar, M.I.A. Click here if the video fails to appear.
Nate Rabe was born and raised in India. He writes and comments on South Asian culture and music from Kuala Lumpur.
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