The Boy Who Got Away

It was taking too long for me. He refers to the volatile rapper as his mentor. “Indian classical music, much like jazz, is complex and intense,” says Bhasker, who trained in jazz piano and arranging at the Berklee School of Music. “It was a tough time. I finally met them and Nate Ruess (the lead singer) sang We are young. I thought that sounded like a great song and told them that we should get into the studio and record the next day,” says Bhasker. But jazz didn’t peter out even after he arrived in New York on the day of 9/11. Side projects to win an extra buck — at a rehabilitation hospital as a music therapist and later in a wedding band — further enabled his search for his voice. Yet, his inclusion in the list of music doyens at the recently concluded MTV India Music Summit in Jaipur drew blanks. As for Bhasker’s compulsion for jazz, it didn’t last long and verged a genuine understanding of himself and the music he wanted to create. 2017-11-07T00:00:35+00:00″>
Published:November 7, 2017 12:00 am

Jeff Bhasker (right); with Prasoon Joshi (centre) and Jasbir Jassi

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Prasoon Joshi: Don’t use censor board for controversiesEx-CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani: Films still being cut, but no noise nowWe want to make things better: Prasoon Joshi after first CBFC meetingAway from the spotlight that beams so brightly on pop icons like Beyonce, JayZ, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift and Eminem, is the man behind some of their most popular tracks — Jeff Bhasker. “As I played the songs, I realised that what was just a vehicle to improvise for me, was to my audience a song that had meaning — body and soul. It led to his first collaboration as a writer and producer with Kanye West on the album 808 & Heartbreak (2008). With five Grammys and 15 nominations for the coveted gramophone, Bhasker, today, is among the leading songwriters, musicians and record producers in the US. “I grew out of jazz. Studying jazz seemed like an exciting step for me then,” says Bhasker, a second-generation American, whose grandparents came to the US from Punjab. I was soon obsessed with jazz harmonies and jazz in general. I think this expression of blackness is against that and it will continue,” explains Bhasker. I don’t want to sell myself too short but I had a teacher in college who told me that I would have to absorb entire traditions of music which included all the classical masters, the jazz piano legends, transcribe it, learn it, analyse it and then I’d be able to develop my own style. “My mother knew a few pieces that had a jazz influence that she would play on the piano. FUN also threw open unexplored avenues for him. Granted that he is a little braggadocio but I think if he were white, he would not be criticised in the same way. His father, a doctor, was the mayor of Kansas city for 24 years and as a result Bhasker grew up “being very American”. But the great thing about New York is that people there have a great way of making things happen. Hopefully, with artists in India too,” he says. “I have never been a fame seeker. Yes, you have to imitate to learn but you also have to find yourself,” explains Bhasker. “I find that there is an underlying racial tone in the way he is portrayed in America. So, at some point, I decided that I’m going to use what I’ve got to express myself and make my music. I’m now looking to nurture more talent. And that’s when life truly began to change its tunes. It was more equal exchange. For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App His friendship with singer Jasbir Jassi and a collaboration with him in 2010 introduced him to Punjabi folk. “I turned them down, like five times, till they found someone to put in a word for them. I eventually moved to LA and a lot of that toughening up in New York came handy,” says Bhasker. I don’t make much of a push to be out there. They are constantly doing something, hustling. With them, you’re just a small piece contributing to something much larger. And that’s when I truly began to understand the power of a song and the combination of lyrics and melody. But with FUN, they were looking towards me for guidance. In the last decade, Bhasker has clinched five Grammy awards — Run this town (2009), All of the lights (2012), We are young (2013), Uptown funk (2016) and Record Producer of the Year (2016). Bhasker, at several points in the interview, said that it is essential for one’s stars to align. Of this, We are young was a song that he produced with the novice band, FUN, that pursued him for a long time just to get a meeting. People were worried and unwilling to help. It was his mother, who during his growing up years in Sorocco in New Mexico, helped him develop an ear for jazz. It’s a fact of life in America that a black man who is confident and speaks his mind, will be torn apart,” says Bhasker, adding, “racism is a big part of our country and is coming to the forefront again with the election of Trump. People in the industry know me and for me, that is enough,” says the 43-year-old musician of German and Indian origin who was seen waltzing through the three-day festival, stationing himself, intermittently, at the performances of his confreres, and later discussing his life and music with composer and producer Ram Sampath. I wasn’t as good as those around me at Berklee. Where I grew up, there wasn’t that much going on. “Kanye, Beyonce, JayZ — they’re huge stars. It also pushed me to focus on that, which made these songs work instead of focussing on the form, so that it would sound like the song and not some jazzy interpretation of it,” says Bhasker.