With origins deep within Southern Black music communities of the early 20th century, rooted in European music and traditional African rhythms, jazz is a genre of music as dynamic as it is multifaceted. Music, particularly in the classical sphere, has always been an elitist tradition in the Western world. Jazz was the counterbalance, a call for freedom.
For Jahnvi Madan, a daughter of Indian immigrants born and raised in Bellevue, that call was found through band in school through a series of personal and musical discoveries.
With the help of inspiring leadership while participating in Seattle JazzED in high school, Madan auditioned for several music schools before being accepted at the New England Conservatory (NEC) of Music in Boston.
“I liked the sound of clarinet… I remember going to an assembly and hearing all the fifth graders, and it was just my favorite instrument,” Madan said. “Then, I got to middle school and I would hear the jazz band play, and I just thought it was so interesting, the idea of getting to improvise and make up what you’re playing — it felt so new and exciting.”
Madan will debut an original composition for this year’s Earshot Jazz Festival. Still untitled, the piece reflects her upbringing as an Indian American musician, along with her experiences in musical education and the performing arts.
“My whole journey with music has been very inseparable from my journey with my own identity,” Madan said. “A lot of college is kind of trying to reframe that relationship in a positive way because, growing up, I often felt very alienated in artistic spaces. It almost felt like they were always overwhelmingly white spaces.”
The piece, recently finished but still developing within Madan, will be played alongside some of Madan’s other compositions, exploring themes of cultural barriers, love, and loss.
“The overarching themes of those pieces are different things that I’ve navigated as a first generation Indian American,” Madan said. “The interesting thing is, I’ve finished [the Earshot composition] musically, but I’m still understanding what it is to me.”
Composing is a recent development for Madan, she only began doing it at NEC, but found that it allowed her to both express herself and play a larger role in the music she performs.
“Once I started [composing], I realized that improvising, which is such a big part of the jazz tradition, is really just like composing on the spot,” Madan said.
While this piece takes a more abstract route to addressing her identity, Madan hopes to bridge the gap between classical Indian music and Western jazz more audibly in her future work, recognizing how much the two styles share in common.
“When I thought about the terminology used to describe different sorts of things that show up in Indian classical music… I realized all these things are happening in jazz, too,” Madan said. “They’re just being described differently. And there are just cultural barriers that make people who listen to one not find the other.”
In music, it can be difficult to find a diverse cohort of collaborators. Madan feels there is much room for growth in ensuring everyone, regardless of race, background, or gender, has a place in the musical sphere.
“With different styles of music, when you don’t know what’s going on and you’ve never been brought along because nobody has cared to bring you along to understand it, you’re just cut off from it, even if you could have actually resonated with it and loved it,” Madan said. “I think that [jazz] can speak to everyone, and it’s inherently so inclusive and expressive.”
Going forward, Madan will begin her final year at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Madan is performing her original composition at Town Hall Forum Oct. 21, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here — the performance will also be live-streamed.