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“Jazz is a Conversation,” Says an Indian Musician from New Orleans

A young Indian-American jazz musician shares her experience of living in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.

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Art and Culture
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When I first started my journey in music, the complexities that involved performing jazz petrified me. Though I was born in New Orleans, the unique and distinctive cultural gem of America which nurtured the early development of jazz, my family sheltered me and forbid me from playing or learning music.

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A young Indian-American jazz musician shares her experience of living in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.
Bianca with musicians at Jackson Square (a historic park in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana).
(Photo Courtesy: Bianca Love)

They had chalked out a certain academic path for me before I ever had a say in it; to enforce it, they moved me to India in 2011 to keep me away from the musical culture and liberalism that proliferated and thrived in New Orleans. I was, however, determined.

Seven years later, I had played over at 300 shows and multiple festivals across India, and Jamaica, and after having moved back to New Orleans last year, I made my Jazzfest 2018 debut.

Though I was terrified as a ‘newborn’ artiste and hindered by a multitude of disadvantageous circumstances, I was relentless in my determination to learn and express myself through the kind of music I related to the most — jazz.

Moving back to New Orleans in 2017 changed my perspective on what it takes to become an artiste. Here, some of the world's best artistes live and work with each other, and a laid back attitude easily bleeds through within this community.

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A young Indian-American jazz musician shares her experience of living in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.
Bianca (centre) with Christien Bold (L) and and Nicholas Payton (R).
(Photo Courtesy: Bianca Love)
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I gradually came under the mentorship of pianist and Tulane University professor Jesse Mcbride and became a part of his Jazz ensemble ‘The Next Generation’, which is the foundation for many young musicians, to have tunes by local greats such as Ellis Marsalis (from a book called ‘The Silverbook’) passed down to them.

I was never marginalised as an Indian in this loving community. Instead, I was encouraged to be proud of my heritage and show people that I could rise up as a shining star among Indian Americans.

My first year back in New Orleans has hit me with a tidal wave of new music and also a sort of reprise of sounds I had grown up around that I had missed for the six years I had lived away from the city.

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A young Indian-American jazz musician shares her experience of living in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.
Bianca (R) with legendary trumpeter Christian Scott
(Photo Courtesy: Bianca Love)
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Frenchmen Street is where a lot of the local artistes work everyday. It is a stretch of about 15 venues around a few blocks, and every venue has a different local band playing every night. As I grew to be a part of the community, I began to meet more and more familiar faces on the street as I joined the family of musicians who create magic for the crowds.

The best part about the city is the age-old tradition of letting fellow musicians sit in and be a part of each other's music at live shows. I found another home at Prime Example Jazz Club; it's a premiere venue located in the heart of the historic 7th Ward, which features nothing but the most authentic New Orleans jazz every night. It's dimly lit with intimate indoor seating, where legends such as Harold Battiste have passed down jazz through the generations. I've gotten to share the stage with the most mind blowing artistes such as Nicholas Payton (Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist), Christien Bold, Courtney Bryan, and Mario Abney through playing shows here with ‘The Next Generation’.

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A young Indian-American jazz musician shares her experience of living in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.
Bianca (centre) with Nick Benoit (L) and Jesse McBride (R).
(Photo Courtesy: Bianca Love)
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As you walk down the French Quarter into Jackson Square, a multitude of brass bands circle the block with skillful and soulful tunes implemented by upto a dozen or more trombonists, trumpeters, and tuba players. As you walk into Royal Street, each street corner has a different group of musicians or soloists set up to play their heart out for the crowd. The aptitude and artistry of these street musicians are unparalleled.

When I compare the joyous, passionate and uplifting musical traditions in New Orleans to the Indian jazz community, I believe that India has potential to also become a hub for creative pride, excellence, and spirit. However, I do think that it has a lot to learn from the Crescent City as well — perhaps in terms of acceptance and spirituality. Overall, I think every jazz musician should make a pilgrimage here at least once in their lives.

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A young Indian-American jazz musician shares her experience of living in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.
Bianca with The Kala Bazaar Swing Society (a heavy swingin’, hard hittin’ jazz quartet) in New Orleans, Louisiana.
(Photo Courtesy: Bianca Love)
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(The writer is a singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist of Indian-origin, currently based in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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