The 17th Edition of Jazzmandu, popularly known as the Biggest Jazz Party in the Himalaya, yet again brought some class acts from the west to Kathmandu in October.
An idea that germinated when three jazz enthusiasts sat down to invite a few jazz musicians to Kathmandu for a Shivaratri concert turned into a festival when more and more acts began to show an interest. More enthusiasts joined the team and it soon looked like it was growing on its own. Jazzmandu was the brainchild of Navin Chettri of Cadenza, Chhedup Bomzan, owner of Jazz Upstairs and Susan Sellars, with a jazz connection from Australia. They founded Upstairs Ideas which is responsible for organizing the festival year after year.

Cadenza had found the perfect venue for playing jazz in an upstairs room called Jazz Upstair, a jazz bar opened by Chhedup in 1998, where the crowds were so big and the place not quite so big that usually there was standing room only. With no investment in the interior, the place had its own rustic charm suited for jazz music. The music and the ambience were so good that even ambassadors began to frequent the place along with expats. The Shivaratri concert had been suggested by a jazz afficianado, Suman Sachdev. When Jazzmandu was still in its planning stages, the late Vidhya Shrestha, a jazz singer and a friend of Sachdev, also became actively involved. Suman was instrumental in getting free flights and rooms in hotels for the visiting musicians. He was of course, an hotelier and owner of Gokarna Forest Golf Resort back then. That explains why Gokarna is still one of the major venues where all the musicians take part.

That’s how it all began and the first festival was held in 2002 when only a handful of Nepalis were interested in jazz. Thus the audience was largely made up of foreigners. From the first edition of Jazzmandu, they were successful in bringing some impressive acts like the Australian jazz and swing musician Don Burrows, UK singer Natalie Williams, and Australian Jazz/Funk outfit Afro Dizzi Act who loved Nepal so much that they came again and spent some time in the country. The Australian connection was obviously Susan whose father was the Festival Director of the Palmer Spring Festival where Cadenza had been previously invited to play. Playing as a trio they met up with Afro Dizzi Act at the festival. 

Jazzmandu grew in stature over the years and managed to bring world renowned musicians like the world famous percussionist Trilok Gurtu and the American jazz drummer Ari Hoenig. One of the jazz greats to come for Jazzmandu was the Japanese saxophone playing legend Sadao Watanabe who wowed the audiences. The renowned jazz pianist from India, Louiz Banks also performed an amazing set at the Hyatt in 2004. In the 1960s his band had done a stint at Hotel Soaltee as the house band.

Jazzmandu 2019 kicked off on 17th Oct and the finale was held at Hotel Yak & Yeti on the 23rd, where most of the bands played their last gig before heading home. The 17th saw workshops for students and the first performances commenced from the 18th in various venues around the valley. The artistes list included: Faby Medina from France, Paul Tynan and Jake Hanion from Canada, R S&T from Germany, Paulouse Forro and Adrian Crookston from the US, Cadenza Collective, Jooni and Blue Fret from Nepal and Tropic Green from Singapore. The musicians were spread out across the city in eateries like House of Music, Manny’s Eatery & Tapas Bar, Jazz Upstairs and Moksh. 

The big event as always was the Jazz Bazaar on the 19th that took place at Gokarna Forest Resort where all the acts were present with additional acts like the Nepali Classical ensemble that paid tribute to our late tabla maestro Rabin Lal Shrestha. Two acts stole the show: Faby Medina, the French jazz singer whose superb vocal abilities in English and French worked up the crowd. Then Paulose Forro from the U.S. had the audience on their feet with his excellent accordion playing and lively Latin songs. Cadenza Collective as usual impressed with their improvisations on local beats like the Tamang selo while Navin on vocal took Nepali folk to another level.

The 20th brought Latin Jazz to Dhokaima Café and on the 22nd the music moved to Kantipur Temple House where top Nepali classical musicians jammed with Cadenza Collective’s jazz music. On the same day Jazzmandu’s master classes were held at Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory for students and jazz enthusiasts to interact with the visiting musicians sharing their experience and stories whereby the students learnt techniques and got tips on various musical instruments and vocals.

The finale at Yak & Yeti was largely a repeat of the Gokarna show except for a few changes and the inclusion of Blue Fret with Suman Thapa as frontman. The highlight was the final jam when all the artistes took the stage and let fly. It’s always a euphoric moment seeing them interact and add their own personal flair. Hearing about twenty-five musicians from around the world who’ve never played together before, sound like one ensemble, taking turns to lead, is truly magical. And that’s how Jazzmandu always ends!
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A budding jazz afficianado 
I have been trying to tune my ears to Jazz over the past few years, as I did not have an initial liking for the form. Thankfully, Navin and Samir Chettri of Cadenza Collective are two amazing musicians with whom I have had the chance to collaborate with on various projects over the years. They led me to Jazzmandu and since the last three years I have become an absolute fan.
This year my experience touched a new high with the previously-unknown-to-me Brazilian Forró music form that traces its origins to the north eastern part of Brazil, that got audiences off their chairs and dancing to his accordion, Triangle, guitar and drums. The music was upbeat and full of joy that left quite an impression on me and all those who witnessed it. – Niladri S. Parial.