International Jazz Day is celebrated on April 30 across the world. New Orleans is considered the cradle of jazz music, and its roots may be traced back to African spiritual and traditional music. This genre has spread across the world through the years. This International Jazz Day, we spoke to two Jazz musicians with distinct styles and influences who are doing their part in reviving the Jazz music scene in Mumbai, India.
Saxophonist Rhys Sebastian and Trumpeter James Miranda are members of a one-of-a-kind band called Bombay Brass. Billed as ‘India’s First Modern Baaraat & Independent Brass Band,’ they provide an entertaining musical feast with a mix of Bollywood music while performing with their brass instruments.
Along with their original compositions, any first-time attendees at their performances will witness a blend of music that gets the entire room twisting and turning to their beats. And yes, this group does take their storytelling through jazz music thoughtfully, by also providing a marching band entrance at their shows.
We connected with the two to learn more about their passion and fondness for jazz music, their influences, and the place jazz music holds in the Indian music community.
Influences and Music
Every artist, musician, writer, or creative person has that one moment that kindles their enthusiasm and motivates them to improve their craft. For Rhys, it was listening to jazz singer-songwriter Michael Franks, soft rock-jazz band Steely Dan, and jazz and swing group – the Manhattan Transfer. He enjoyed their harmonies and arrangements as a child, and swing music added to the excitement.
“I remember hearing Michael Franks and Steely Dan while I was still in school and I thought to myself, ‘Wow! This sounds so effortless, hip, and suave – all at the same time.”
As he performs with several artists and musicians across different genres of music, including soul, funk, rhythm & blues, Rhys told us, “I got to keep an open mind and be ready to deliver in a short amount of time. The ability to stay focused is where half the job is done, in my humble opinion. The rest of the time, you build on experience and rely on your technique to take you to the finish line.”
James’s Godfather, a violinist, encouraged him to learn to play a musical instrument in his childhood. Better late than never, after attending one of Rhys’s performances in 2014, he went out the next day and purchased a trumpet, which he has been diligently practicing and playing ever since. After his long hours in the hotel kitchen, this served as a way for him to unwind. His influences include trumpet players such as Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis and Arturo Sandoval.
Premiering their first show in 2019, the band performed only covers and one original. Since then, they have recorded and performed originals at multiple venues, including the Bacardi NH7 Weekender music festival. Their first original ‘Quegdevelim Sunset’ premiered on Mira Nair’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ on Netflix. Written and recorded in under a day, this was a turning point for the band and got the ball rolling in their harmonious musical exploits.
Speaking of this unique ensemble and praising his bandmates, Rhys expresses, “one of the good things about this band, among many, is everyone is so supremely seasoned and ready to deliver.”
Returning the compliment is trumpeter James who says, “I think this was purely Rhys’s baby here. He had a superb vision to showcase some of the city’s best horn players and musicians in one setup… Not to mention a great arranger and producer.”
Outside of Music
James Miranda’s performances are not limited on stage as he is also a trained chef who runs ‘Jazzy Jim’s Cookhouse’. As a chef, along with his team of three, he works on a strictly pre-order basis to balance his time between performances, practice, and the kitchen. He has previously worked in a 5-star property in Mumbai, India. His cooking endeavors have been featured by many, including food and travel blogger Kalyan Karmakar and most recently featured in the Hindustan Times’ ‘Traditional Easter foods that you need to know about’ by Abigail Banerji. During his free time, you can find James playing with his German Shepherd – Satchmo.
Along with the saxophone, Rhys is skilled in the piano, bass guitar, xylophone, melodica, and trumpet. When not on stage, he is working at his studio or hitting the football pitch with his mates, and yes, he is a cat person.
Jazz Music in India
With the recent re-emergence of music festivals, the opening of venues, and the continued rise of house, electronic, hip-hop, and rap or gully rap genres of music in India, jazz music has always occupied a place with audiences and music enthusiast in the country.
“It’s quite like a rabbit hole of various alphabets of a language that can be used in any style of music, on any stage, at any given time and you wouldn’t even realize it. And it’s for that reason I feel like there’s so much more to explore and be optimistic about”
When asked how they view jazz music in India today, Rhys commented by saying, “There are two ways to look at this. On one hand when you look at it as a genre, it probably doesn’t look promising because of the lack of venues to showcase its artistry. But on the other hand, which is how I perceive it, it’s quite like a rabbit hole of various alphabets of a language that can be used in any style of music, on any stage, at any given time and you wouldn’t even realize it. And it’s for that reason I feel like there’s so much more to explore and be optimistic about.”
“I’d say the audience is growing by leaps and bounds and people want to learn more about it now also with social media being such a powerful tool to showcase…”
James is optimistic about the genre in India by acknowledging that the “audience is growing by leaps and bounds.” He adds that Indian Jazz has the capacity to truly blend in with the rest of the world in the foreseeable future, with its own distinct flavors and twists.
Their Take On International Jazz Day
Rhys mentions, “International Jazz Day brings a lot of musicians together to celebrate improvisation, innovation and influence the way we move forward as a community. Probably not just here in India, but the world over.” Being a prominent Saxophonist, he has a string of performances lined up during the Jazz Day weekend.
James notes, “It’s definitely one of the most looked forward to days in my calendar. We get to meet our other like-minded musician friends who push us to our limits. It’s just one awesome celebration of great music and community.”
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.