Buddhism teaching

Louiz Banks, the godfather of Indian jazz, teaches children again

From a Kolkata nightclub to the world stage, Louiz Banks is a pioneer of jazz in India. Now, at 81, he can’t wait to return to an old role

From a Kolkata nightclub to the world stage, Louiz Banks is a pioneer of jazz in India. Now, at 81, he can’t wait to return to an old role

The godfather of Indian jazz has fond memories of teaching. Having spent more than half a century as a musician – performing in smoky Kolkata pubs and glittering international stages, composing with the best in Bollywood and the most creative in Indian advertising – Louiz Banks has plenty to watch back, at the age of 81. His gaze is forward, however, his most recent move brings to mind simpler memories of ‘good old Darjeeling’.

“My earliest memory of teaching music is to a group of students from good old Darjeeling,” says the iconic Mumbai-based composer. He recalls: “After graduating from St Joseph’s College, I decided to pursue BT: Bachelor of Teaching. With a BA BT under my belt, I did precisely three years of teaching music theory and practice. I have vague memories of this phase of my life, but I had a great time. I met some of these boys after many years; they still remember very fondly those days with me as a teacher.

These memories belong to Banks’ early career avatar, a man with a lifetime of accomplishments, awards and prolific compositions still awaiting him. Today, his repertoire is wide: he co-created, with the likes of Pt Bhimsen Joshi, iconic tracks like “Freedom Run” and “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara”, songs synonymous with the first emotions of a 40 year old youngster. old India still finds its marks, songs that are still covered today. He composed over 1,000 advertising jingles, including the classic Dairy Milk ‘ asli swad zindagi ka’ adjust. He lent his talent to many tunes by RD Burman, who invited him to Bollywood after hearing his jazz performance at the Blue Fox Restaurant in Kolkata in the late 1960s.

Equally emblematic, he played, popularized and experimented with jazz in myriad forms: singing jazzy variations of popular songs in Kolkata nightclubs, incorporating scales and classical Indian instruments into his own music , performing with Pt Ravi Shankar’s jazz suite Jazzmine. ; create multiple ensembles and groups to advance this musical playfulness with enthusiasts from across the country. If jazz was synonymous with Mumbai nightclubs in the golden years of the 70s, Louiz Banks has it to thank.

The lower age limit for his new music class is six years old

The lower age limit for his new music class is six | Photo credit: special arrangement

Across borders

Now Banks has returned to teaching. This time, her medium of instruction is the Internet, and her students are not bound by age or class structure. Thinking back to his previous teaching experience, he finds “No comparison at all. This course is my baby, something I designed and developed after many years of playing and studying music in different styles, with Artium Academy.

The academy is basically an online learning platform, based in Mumbai, which offers courses taught by certified trainers and maestros including Shubha Mudgal, KS Chitra and Sonu Nigam. Here, Louiz Banks’ course focuses on the piano, giving students the opportunity to learn through one-on-one hour-long sessions with him online. “This is my course totally, designed and developed from scratch…from learning musical notation (which is mandatory) and developing the physical aspect of finger dexterity, to studying the harmony and its relationship to the melodic construction and stimulation of each student’s creativity as they begin to write their own music and songs,” he says.

The focus is on a student’s progression from the basics of music to becoming full-fledged composers. This, naturally, turns the conversation to Banks’ own musical upbringing, provided primarily by his father George Banks, a man who was lured away from his hilly Gurkha home in Nepal, down the mountain slopes to the plains of the Bengal, pulled only by the music tug.

He named his son Louis after musician Louis Armstrong. “My first inspiration was my father. He was my music god, and he made sure I had a good grounding in the basics of learning music by reading music notation, regularly practicing my scales and arpeggios, and understanding theory musical. God bless him…eternally grateful for his tutoring and for giving me a head start towards a career in music,” Banks says.

Louis Banks on stage

Louis Banks on stage | Photo credit: special arrangement

But learning from a teacher is one thing, and learning on stage is another. Banks clarifies: “First of all, it’s a totally different ball game. Even if you’re prepared with your repertoire after days of rehearsals, you need nerves of steel and super confidence in front of an audience that can be very critical…or very grateful. You have to take it in your stride and give your best.

The following is a list of lessons learned from decades of live performance: “Do your homework, gauge your audience’s reaction to your performance and your choice of material…make changes to your repertoire and approach and put your best trumps forward. It’s not easy and you learn gradually after each performance, even after establishing yourself as a great musician or singer.

But no matter how prepared and fast a musician is, the nerves – says Banks – are only natural.

“It’s a good sign if you’re nervous before the first number…your best will come out if you’re sure of your abilities and your repertoire. When the first number goes well and the audience responds with applause and cheers, you’re on your way to a great performance. It was my own experience.

His final piece of advice to performers harkens back to the first, “I’ve also learned that you have to be open to altering your chosen repertoire if you need to.”

So is this the first lesson he will teach? Or will the fun and playfulness of jazz be his focus? Turns out it’s the latter.

“I’ve always believed that learning music should be fun. This attitude works because the student builds a solid foundation and learns all the basics without stress…Stress is counterproductive,” he states flatly.

Indian musician Mohini Dey

Indian musician Mohini Dey | Photo credit: special arrangement

The next generation

Banks is optimistic about the current crop of jazz and western musicians in the country, including Sheldon DSilva, Rhythm Shaw, Mohini Dey, Rahul Wadhwani, Rhys Dsouza, Vasundhara, Isheeta Chakravarty, Thomson Andrews and many more.

Better days ahead

That said, Banks is only optimistic about the current crop of jazz and Western musicians in the country.

He finds that they “have a serious intention of giving the best of themselves in a performance… beware, they practice a lot! The tribe of good musicians willing to work hard is growing day by day. If given the right opportunities, they will make their mark on the world stage.

His own son, Gino Banks, has been performing and touring nonstop since the shutdowns ended. Fresh from Jazz Weekender in New Delhi, Gino is as optimistic about the Indian scene as his father, if not more. He states, “There are a lot of young jazz artists these days, more than when I started.”

Gino repeats: “There are a lot of promoters who want to do Jazz concerts. There is an audience for the shows. Venue owners and performing arts centers need to organize events for this music to thrive… to help India become a concert touring country again for the best in the world to come and play.

Gino and Louis banks

Gino and Louis Banks | Photo credit: special arrangement

His father repeats it, regardless of genre or platform: “Good music is good music. It will always be appreciated! There is no bad music, only poorly played music. In my case, some of my best musical creations have not been widely appreciated, because they do not fall into the category of popular musical culture. But that doesn’t stop me from following my true path and first creating music that meets my criteria for good music.

And with one last emphatic advice, Louiz Banks signs: “Be original and make your voice heard!