He’s only in his twenties but pianist Sharik Hasan is already being called one of the most promising Indian jazz musicians to have emerged in recent years. Hasan is based in Paris, where he studied at the Bill Evans Piano Academy. He spoke to Kingshuk Niyogy about life in France and about the music scene back home.
What drew you to jazz?
I started playing classical piano at age five, but by the time I was 16, I had tired of the rat race of examinations in which one only prepared for the repertoire of the Royal or Trinity schools of music. The following year, I went to Oberlin College in the US, where I had my first real exposure to jazz and this was when things began to change. There were a couple of highly memorable concerts which triggered a kind of musical awakening. Though I was majoring in Mathematics and English literature, by the time I was in my fourth year, I was spending more time in the conservatory of music than the library. Finally, while passing through Paris on holiday before heading back to India, I happened to audition at a couple of music schools and got in. That is where I have been since last year.
What’s living in Paris like?
I have had access to some of the greatest musicians there; people I would only listen to on CDs before. Getting the opportunity to play with and learn from some of my idols has been thrilling. For example, the famous pianist Dave Kikoski suddenly invited me on stage to take his place at the piano while he took out an alto sax (his secondary instrument). I shared the stage with Rick Margitza (who played with Miles Davis) on tenor sax, Leon Parker on drums and Darryl Hall on bass. Quite unnerving for me at the time!
What is your approach to jazz? Are you a traditionalist or do you lean more towards fusion?
I don’t have a straightforward answer to this rather complex question. To me, jazz encompasses so much that it transcends genre or style or a period in time. It is more of an approach, a process, a phenomenon…improvising is a large component for me. However, a very important subset of this term “jazz” is all the music that has come out of America, starting over a hundred years ago. To play this music, one has to know where it came from; to try and assimilate the vocabulary of this language as it has evolved. Only then can one take it forward. So, I am both a traditionalist and a modernist. The word “fusion” brings in all sorts of connotations. If you consider it as a genre, some of it is cool, but not always my cup of tea. But if we take jazz as a living, musical language, then it, like any language, is constantly “fusing” with things around it and evolving.
Jazz is still considered a niche market in India. Can this attitude be reversed?
I don’t think jazz will ever be anything but a niche market in India. In fact, it is considered a niche market almost everywhere in the world. In some ways though, I feel there has been a growing demand for it in certain cities in India. Maybe it just happens to be fashionable and growing in popularity as a result of other developments in India. Perhaps over time people will become more aware and appreciative of the music, though it will probably take several years. We need more venues and gigs as it is best heard live.
Any really memorable moments yet?
There was a freshman jazz piano major at Oberlin and he was playing on the piano in my dormitory; something that sounded incredibly new and dynamic to me. When I asked him what the piece was, he replied that he had just made it up. That blew my mind. Subsequently, we arrived at an arrangement where I paid him $7 an hour for my first jazz lessons. One other time, I sneaked into a Dave Brubeck concert at Oberlin. Tickets were sold out and there were guards all around, so my friend and I jumped into a vent and tumbled right into Mr Brubeck’s Green Room. It was empty, so we pretended we were sound engineers and walked into the hall and got great seats. Needless to say, the concert was ever so sweet.
By Kingshuk Niyogy on November 11 2011 4.30am