Although celebrated on the 30th of July due to the recent earthquake in Nepal, 30th April marks Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory’s contribution to the local jazz music scene and the importance of ‘International Jazz Day’ for the institute and the nation.
A year after the UNESCO General Conference declared 30th April as an ‘International Jazz Day’ (IJD) and five years from the opening of the institute, Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC) celebrates the day with due respect to the genre. The continuation of the celebrations on the same occasion this year,as a third sequel at KJC’s premises, is a reminder of the music school’s endeavors throughout the years to introduce this revolutionary music culture in Nepal with an academic approach.
“I still vividly recall our first celebration of the day at KJC,” says Rajat Rai, the music school’s academic coordinator who has worked with the conservatory for the past several years. He is also the guitarist of the band ‘Cadenza’-a music group that is dubbed as one of the pioneers of Jazz music in Nepal and the active members in the organizing committee of the annual ‘Jazzmandu’ festival. According to him, April 30th of 2012 was a day at the institute when all the teachers (including Rai) and students got together to jam with each other and their founding director, founding member of the famous local rock act 1974 AD: Nirakar Yakthumba, to mark the first ever celebration of IJD at KJC.
Although the event was to be held on the 30th, it happened to be on the fifth day of the major earthquake that had struck the Nepal. In the meantime, the venue that the event was about to be organized was in ruins. Patan, with all its remaining monuments and ambience, was still standing in devastation. Now after a period of three months, the IJD celebrations took place inside the premises of KJC like it did in the past years.
“We had previously organized a gig at the same location in Patan Durbar Square with some musicians from Willamette University (US) beforehand. Hence, we were confident of the proper management of the event for the day. But I guess we were all unfortunate,” says Rai. As the void that the earthquake had left in everyone’s life was slowly being filled up, the board and faculty members of KJC met with their students to finalize another date for the IJD celebrations. They had initially planned to do this in May but had to later on postpone the date as the second major quake made everyone in Nepal rethink their immediate plans. Even UNESCO-the official international organizer of this event suggested the same to the members of KJC.
In a formal letter by the international bureau that Rajat shared with me, it was stated that the main event for this year was to be held in Japan. It also spoke about the importance of Jazz music as “so much more than music: it is a lifestyle and a tool for dialogue, even social change.” The letter had addressed the importance of the genre in the struggle for civil rights in the history of the United States and marked the day as a symbol of freedom, tolerance and human dignity.
To make IJD celebrations in Nepal, UNESCO and Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (both being the initiators of the event in Nepal) arranged the versatile jazz musician Billy Buss’s tour to KJC. Buss had come second in the recent competitions held at Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and had graduated from Berkley College of Music. “Although the event was held a bit later than the official date, it was a very special day for us— being able to play alongside Billy was more than what we had previously expected,” adds Rai. Buss also conducted a weeklong workshop at KJC where the teachers and students of the institute got to learn many essential things from the veteran himself. He also shared the description of the event at KJC to be more than what the bureau members had expected prior to the concert. “We had not expected such a massive turnover of the audience; the venue was literally packed with jazz enthusiasts!” The lineup for the day was KJC Faculty, Hari Maharjan, KJC Army Jazz Orchestra, Doxy, Sociology, Indira and the Dime Girls and Ziglag.
Truly, the marking of this day on the event calendar of KJC is a revolutionary step for Nepal itself. “Examples of our students as such would be the new band members of 1974 AD-students from our institute; singer Rohit John Chhetri; Prajwal Mukhiya; Mahesh Tandukar: now a teacher at KJC and a band member of the famous band Joint Family International as well as trained academicians such as Rishav Acharya, who is now studying music in New Orleans,” says Rajat.
I was personally dumbstruck a week before when I attended a solo piano performance by sixteen-year-old Gyasu Bajracharya- a student of KJC at The Russian Culture Centre of Kathmandu. He had performed twelve masterpieces of the world’s most famous piano composers flawlessly in front of an audience that consisted of well-known figures of Nepal’s music scene. This is also a proof in itself that the institute has now the potential to hone musicians as dexterous professionals in Western music even at the comfort of their own home country.