How to run a jazz club? The minds behind the city's first dedicated jazz venue let us in on their plans
Kolkata’s first and only jazz club is a landmark on many counts, but it’s also a brick-and-mortar manifestation of how the listening culture in the city has picked itself up. Skinny Mo’s Jazz Club, situated in a revamped art deco building - the unlikeliest architecture you can expect on a South Kolkata bylane this quaint - is more than just an ode to the city’s history with jazz (which in itself is quite staggering).
But it’s anchored by a very workable plan aimed at an enriching inter-cultural musical exchange. Owned by jazz enthusiast Munir Mohanty and curated by Nishit Arora, the 85-cover club has a snappy, no-nonsense set-up, and just the right mid-century inspired detailing.
We dropped in on the night of Skinny Mo’s first commercial gig (featuring Amyt Datta, drummer Jivraj Singh and saxophonist Maarten Visser), a potentially milestone performance; on the door hung an unmissable ‘we are houseful tonight!!,’ sign which can’t really upset you if you’re rooting for the scene. We also found Munir and Nishit at the ground floor bistro to catch us up on their plan of action:
Tell us who conceptualised Skinny Mo's
Munir: I have always been into jazz, and this is an idea that's been lying with me for around 35 years now. It's not an easy proposition, but things started coming together. I met Nishit some time ago. So, we kept meeting up at many of his events like Jamsteady and others, and I told him about how I wanted to open a jazz club and things took off.
We got the building last year, and after a year of renovations we got it up and ready; we have a glocal bistro on the ground floor (OmO Calcutta), a multi-designer boutique (Mono) on the first floor, and Skinny Mo's is on the second floor. It’s essentially a venue where we plan to have live music 3 to 4 days a week.
This building is quite old too…
Munir: Yes, it dates back to 1916, I think...
How long have you two known each other?
Nishit: It's been 2 or 3 years now. We had several casual meetings to discuss this venture, then there was a process of looking for a place.
Do you think it's a sustainable model, here and now?
Nishit: For sure. I think anything different takes some time to work. But again, jazz is not new. How you present it is important, and I've been doing it for a while and we have a music scene that's really coming up well. And I do think there is a growing trend of people coming back to live jazz. Like today, it's a good sign that we are fully sold out.
Can you tell us about the kind of line-up you want to feature?
Munir: We are open to all kinds of performers, actually. In Kolkata, for instance, there are certain groups of people who play jazz, who are good but there aren’t many. If you're going to have a jazz club which intends to play live music 3-4 times a week, you need more musicians. For example, we have no horn players in the city, also no trumpet or saxophone players. We'll have to bring them in from Mumbai and Delhi.
Luckily, given Kolkata’s geography, whether we bring in people from Mumbai, or Kuala Lumpur or Delhi, it will cost us almost the same. That opens up a lot of opportunities for us to bring in saxophonists from places like Bangkok, which is an international city and has a lot of travelling performers from let's say Europe and America. Their local music scene is a lot more intense.
We actually spent quite a lot of time in jazz clubs in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, talking to musicians about this. And we have realised that we have a gamut of avenues for artistes to come, jam, maybe bring other musicians.