It rarely happens that a music workshop gets sold out within a month, but July saw the city music-enthusiasts enthralled by a rare opportunity to learn and interact at the two day workshop with Jazz guitar maestro, Amyt Datta. About 40 professional and aspiring guitarists, bassists and percussionists headed towards TopCat CCU for two days, i.e, from 13th to 14th July, to get lessons from the Jazz guitarist himself.
TopCat ‘s ‘Mentor Series: Amyt Datta’ is one of a kind experience that was bestowed upon Kolkata for the second time. There is no doubt that musicians were swooning and pumped up to see the legendary human in flesh. The nervous excitement was pretty evident as Datta entered the room. The participants were briefed about the workshop at 10 o’clock in the morning. The focus of the workshop was to build the participant’s musicality and give them a chance to understand the intricacies of playing with a band, stage etiquette, song writing, as well as writing and producing music live on stage. Moreover, the students who were present were going to perform the very next day, showcasing what they learnt from the Guitar Guru.
Day one of the workshop began with the Maestro huddling up the participants and telling them, “Forget everything you know. This is a fresh start. We’re all even.” With those wise words, the participants were all ready to go forth into 24 hours of intense learning. Participants were divided into groups to go up on stage and face the most difficult phase of the workshop- Sound Check. Hours went by correcting the pitch while getting a clean tone on the guitar. Who knew that one could tune drums too? Participants sat through learning the process of sound mixing and ‘EQ-ing’ the instruments, cancelling out the humming sustain or the feedbacks. Students got a glimpse of the intricate technicalities of how manually the sound engineer was changing the frequencies, treble, bass and mid of all the instruments to significantly balance out every sound resonating from every single instrument. “The frequency has to be changed according to the dimensions of the room”, Datta remarked once teams were familiar and done with the process. “Sometimes Sound Check can take up hours, but the results are fruitful”. With this, the first half of the day concluded.
No sooner did the participants feel hungry than lunch from ‘Momo I Am’(the Food Partner) had arrived. The luncheon was another session filled with a different kind of fun and frolic where the maestro opened up about his life while participants heard every word up close. Followed by this, the second half of the workshop commenced- Songwriting. Datta explained why certain sounds don’t go well together but how dissonance is the means through which many complex sounds can be produced. He explained the basics of Jazz Theory, playing beautiful melodies on his Sherwood Green Fender Stratocaster. Participants were randomly picked to play and improvise while he vamped chords. He emphasizes on learning yourself through practice. “John Coltrane never had internet. There’s no hotline to him also” were the words that lead to a brief leak of laughter from the participants. The Q&A round began where everyone got an opportunity to ask questions. “Drop all your defenses. If you don’t know something, if you made a mistake today while playing with me, learn to clarify it. There’s no shame in learning”, Datta remarked as few participants were hesitant to ask questions. By the end of the day, participants felt fulfilled and enriched as all of them imbibed crystal clear concepts from the grass-root level. The sheer humbleness of a person with universal influence upon world music was another lesson everyone learnt. He signed off by 10 in the night, leaving the participants hanging and craving for more to learn. “It’s approximately eleven hours till Day 2 of our workshop begins. Can’t wait!” said Mousumi Datta, a playback singer and Bassist.
Day two of the workshop was a smooth start as everyone arrived and had already set up the sound on their own, implementing everything they learnt the previous day. This made Datta very happy and with an air of satisfaction, he went ahead discussing about technicalities like why the pick up lines on an electric guitar are slanted, or, how not to overdo fancy pedal sound effects like the ‘overdrive’ or ‘distortion’. Many questions were raised at this point related to guitar amps and pedals. He went into deeper details with this topic. There were many nodding heads as he played solos using various sound effects from his gears. Everyone sighed and reacted in unison every time he hit the sweet spot bending notes. “We are getting to watch him play. This is everything I wanted”, said Tanaya Saha, a vocalist and guitarist.
Datta now delved into the psychological aspect- communication between band members while they play live on stage. “You must maintain eye contact frequently with your members while playing. Creating a code language like blinking your eyes twice or tapping your foot can be a signal to end any song together that goes all crazy and chaotic with drumrolls and guitar shredding. That is how you’ll leave your audience amazed.” Participants went up in pairs, to work it out live on stage. By the end of their playing, they were pretty well coordinated, taking turns in improvising while the other strummed chords, and vice versa. It was beautiful to see the interaction develop and get stronger before our eyes. The workshop then officially came to an end by six in the evening, which left the participants with the finale round- The performance.
Based on dexterity and skills portrayed by participants, Datta selected members to form bands. I was fortunate enough to have been selected. Approximately, eight songs other than music theory were analyzed through the two days of the workshop. The participants had two hours to discuss and set up their sound. After a careful discussion with band members, the night began. This part of the workshop was open to all. Family members and friends of participants came to see them perform live on stage. “It is a proud moment to see these kids perform my songs” said Datta with a smile as his students performed his globally acclaimed songs like ‘Dance Acoustica’ , ‘Remembrance’, etc., which are very complex and difficult songs to play live on such a short notice. Everyone cheered as a funky rendition of the famous Beatles song ‘Come Together’ was being jazzed up by the performers on stage. The energy was oozing out of every note played by the guitarists who were in a face off.
The night came to a halt with Datta finally performing on stage and there was no stopping to the amount of energy emanating from the true ‘live guitar god’. “This workshop was an idea about which Amyt Da had approached me last year. I was adamant to do it even if only 5 people come. Look at the number of people who turned up. This proves that Kolkata’s music scene is very much alive. The youngsters are taking up the responsibility and they will keep up to it”, said Nishit Arora, director and founder of SmokeInc. The night ended with a round of applause to all the participants and organizer for making the workshop a grand success, handing over memorabilia to them and assured more such sessions in the future.