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As in music, so in life

On generosity2-rr-pic-2It was in early 2000. And I was in London for an extended period of work as Creative Director on Nokia. As all my friends know, in every city that I visit I drop in at live music venues and try to meet, and if I’m lucky enough, jam with local musicians.

So on my last Sat evening in London, I was hanging loose and wondering what to do. A quick look at Timeout magazine, told me that there was a jazz band playing at the live music club ‘Jazz after Dark’. Now, I always carry my concert flute with me wherever I go, but that night not being sure of the set up, I left it back in the hotel room.

So there I was eagerly waiting for the band to start. I ordered a JD & Coke, took a deep sip, relaxed and looked around me. JAD was a cosy little club with tables close to each other and a stage at one end of the room.jazz-after-dark

I was sitting around with a bunch of people I’d never met in my life, but by the smiles and the good vibes flowing I sensed they were genuine music lovers who had come to listen to the band rather than engage in inane conversation.

Around 9.30 pm the band came on to an enthusiastic round of applause. The line up included a drummer, a bass player, an acoustic guitar player and a sax player, who was the leader. Their music was not straight-ahead jazz but an interesting mix of Jazz and Blues with a Carribean lilt, a cool blend of reggae and funk.

As my JD & Coke washed down along with the other drinks around the the table, the evening became energetic and the band was beginning to fly. At this point something happened that made my heart beat that much faster. The sax player (who I later figured was Carribean) whipped out a concert flute and began playing. And man, was he good! I totally tripped on his playing.

Soon after, the band took a small break.

Plucking up courage I walked across to the band table and began chatting with the sax player. I introduced myself as a flute player from Mumbai and before I could say anything more, he looked at me with a big smile lighting up his face and said: “Maaaan, you look like a flute player, you talk like a flute player. Would you like to come up and jam with us in the next set?”

I was stunned. Here was this musician, inviting another musician whom he didn’t know from Adam to share the stage with him and his band. Talk about blind faith.

Sure enough, mid-way through the second set, he announced ” Ladies and Gentlemen, we have with us tonight a fantastic flute player all the way from India…Rajeev, would you join us on stage maan?” The folks at my table looked at me with new eyes and thumped me on the back with encouraging whoops as I rose to join the band.

Since I wasn’t sure what tunes the band and I had in common, none of us had a clue what we were going to play. So I just said I was going to do something modal on the E minor scale and we’d see what came of it.

Needless to say we connected from the first note that I played. We started slow, built up the dynamic and soon were gliding, cruising and then soaring higher and higher in a jam that sounded amazingly musically coherent for an unrehearsed, impromptu act.

We got a standing ovation that night and for the rest of the evening I didn’t have to buy any more JDs. Every now and then someone in the audience would insist on buying me a drink or three.

Later, when I went around to profusely thank the band, the sax player hugged me and said: “You know what bro? That’s the sweetest mah flute ever sounded!”

Those were the sweetest, most generous words I’d ever heard. And it taught me an important life lesson. It is not enough to be a good musician; you can use music to elevate the nature of human relationships.

Wherever you are, keep blowing that horn, bro. Am sure you’re spreading the goodness whenever you play.


As in music, so in life.

The power of positivity.

The year was 1986. And our band Colossus in Bangalore had built a pretty good reputation for itself in the Jazz-Rock space.

But never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate what was to happen next.

To our absolute delight we were invited by the organising committee of the first ever Jazz Yatra in Bangalore, to open the festival as it was the tradition to kick off with a local band.

Needless to say we had millions of butterflies fluttering and dancing merrily in our stomachs as the day dawned bright and clear.

Performing on the same stage as us were some giants of Jazz such as the famous pianist Kenny Baron and we were pinching ourselves to make sure we weren’t in a dream. The sound check went off without a hitch and and we were nervously waiting for the curtains to go up.

Suddenly we heard a commotion backstage. An Australian Jazz band, whose delayed flight kept them from being present at the sound check, were complaining in typical Aussie manner with a few cuss words being thrown around.

Curious to see what their problem was we gathered around and discovered what their grouse was. The piano was tuned a semi-tone or half note lower from concert pitch. The rest of the band were refusing to play as their material was fairly complex and transposing on the fly to compensate for a differently tuned piano was a virtual impossibility.

It was at this moment when things hung perilously in the balance, that a remarkable thing happened. The leader of the band, who was also the pianist, stepped up and said in a quiet voice: “Easy lads. Let’s not lose our sense of humour. I’ll transpose as we play”.

I was stunned. This was true leadership. Calmness in adversity. And later while watching them play a magical concert I realised that one’s approach to life defines how well one participates in it.

Through the years as a creative director in advertising and as a musician performing in India and abroad, whenever I’m faced with an impossible situation and everybody around is losing their cool, these words always play in my ear:

“Easy lads. Let’s not lose our sense of humour”.

This blog is about my musical experiences over the years and the different life lessons I’ve gleaned from them.