The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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World carnival of jazz and blues

Get set to welcome on stage the captivating confluence of jazz guitar guru John McLaughlin and the flamboyant Zakir Hussain on the tabla next winter.

The cult east-west fusion jazz group Shakti, which had regaled fans in Calcutta in the Eighties, will be back in town to weave their magic at a three-day international jazz/blues festival being planned in the city in January 2004. The music carnival will be organised by Congo Square, a non-profit society formed recently to promote jazz and blues in Calcutta.

“We want to create a bigger following for jazz and blues music by way of concerts, workshops, clinics and festivals in town, where all serious musicians will be welcome,” says Satyajit Roychaudhury, president of the society, explaining Congo Square’s charter.

Roychaudhury, then secretary of the Jazz India Calcutta Chapter, was instrumental in organising four annual international jazz festivals (JazzFest) between 1978 and ‘82. The immensely popular festivals, held on the St Paul's Cathedral grounds, had attracted over 30 internationally-renowned bands.

“We hope to revive that spirit and love for jazz in Calcutta through this festival next year, and the Cathedral grounds would be the ideal setting, the authorities permitting,” smiles Roychaudhury. Apart from Shakti — now sans L. Shankar — the international festival is likely to feature Norwegian jazz vocalist Karin Krog and Rozanna Bitro, among others.

For the 57-year-old engineer and IT pro, who graduated in naval architecture from IIT Kharagpur and later did his Masters from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, jazz and blues held out an early fascination. While pursuing a career in the US, Roychaudhury underwent extensive training in jazz improvisation and music theory.

“The availability of gigs and the profusion of jazz on the numerous radio stations made things a lot easier for me and I found myself frequenting festivals like Newport, listening to the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner and McLaughlin,” he recalls.

Roychaudhury also composed a lot on mini disc during his stay in the US, and now plays the tenor sax in a close-circuit jazz band, alongside marine engineer friend Anjan Ray (on guitar), another governing-body member of Congo Square. “We use a Compaq computer with the versatile Jammer software as backdrop, and our repertoire ranges from George Gershwin to Miles Davis, John Coltrane to Art Blakey.”

As a first step to its jazz-revival formula, the society is organising a multi-layered concert — ‘Jazz, Blues and Beyond’ — on February 10 at Nazrul Manch. The show, to be opened by city-based blues-rock outfit Skinny Alley, will feature world-renowned bassist Jonas Helborg and Shawn Lane on guitar.

The duo will be supported by the three sons of percussion great Vikku Vinayakram — Uma Shankar, Uma Mahesh and Selva Ganesh. “We hope it will be an evening to remember,” says Roychaudhury, who along with Skinny Alley guitarist Amyt Dutta, is planning three-four workshops with Helborg and Lawn, in conjunction with the Calcutta School of Music.

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