Odd Ones Out

Two venues in the city tell the audience to shut up and listen to the tunes.

Written by Somya Lakhani | Updated: September 17, 2016 3:26 pm
Arjun Sagar Gupta, The Piano Man Jazz Club, Frank Sinatra, Clark Terry, news, art and culture, latest news, India news, national news, Arjun Sagar Gupta at The Piano Man Jazz Club. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

The Piano Man Jazz Club
A few days ago, when Arjun Sagar Gupta met the PR representative of his venue, The Piano Man Jazz Club (TPMJC), he was informed that some regulars are miffed with him. After all, Gupta sometimes interrupts conversations of his guests and tells them to listen to the artistes playing, instead of socialising. “Some call us rude, some say it’s not a concert venue. But it is. It’s not a pub with background music, it’s a jazz club,” says Gupta, who set up TPMJC exactly a year ago.

In the last 365 days, 320 performances have taken place here, some by up and coming artistes, some by veterans, and every night before shutting the place Gupta too takes over the piano. A chandelier made of trumpets, wooden flooring, brick walls with names of jazz legends such as Frank Sinatra and Clark Terry embossed on them, welcome the patrons to the Capital’s current favourite venue. Gupta starts his day at 11 am, and micromanages his way to 1 am — from cribbing about a spot of dust in one area to the way the toilet paper roll is loaded in the bathroom, from sorting WiFi troubles to figuring out the size of the waffle in a sandwich.

In his bid to get artistes the due they deserve, he has even built a green room, complete with leather sofas, books and photos of jazz stars — an aspect most venues in the city happily skip. “It’s important, they deserve it, and look at the goodwill it earns,” says Gupta. That he expects his patrons to shut up and listen to the music also means he has to curate a calendar that excites them enough. And for those who want to eat and talk, there’s Dirty Apron, his restaurant, and a bakery right above TPMJC, connected by a lift.

When he first conceptualised TPMJC, many discouraged him, as having live music programming on all seven days at a venue was a gamble. “It didn’t even work for Bluefrog, so obviously everyone called me a fool when I spoke about this. It has worked, because I set up a viable, self-sustaining investment model. We have no sponsors or investors,” says Gupta, who studied engineering, ran a company, and gave that up in 2010 to start Cake Away bakery in Gurgaon. He then went on to run Piano Man, a jazz cafe in Basant Lok market, and Garden Cafe in Palam Vihar.

Gupta spends his Tuesday afternoons at the Delhi School of Music, learning the piano, a 15-year-old tradition, and every week he also writes a newsletter for his patrons. “I like to build experiences, even if that means that for a performance only 15 people show up. It’s about building a culture, one where artistes respect the audience and vice versa,” he says.

(TPMJC celebrates its first birthday on September 18 with gigs and film screenings)

Arjun Sagar Gupta, The Piano Man Jazz Club, Frank Sinatra, Clark Terry, news, art and culture, latest news, India news, national news, OddBird puts a lot of emphasis on the performance.

A few Fridays ago, braving the chaos and traffic on the roads late evening, close to 90 people gathered at a venue in Chhattarpur to watch indie folk band Run! It’s the Kid perform. Circuit regulars, the band has played at several venues in the city but this gig was different. Here the audience was seated quietly on allotted seats in the theatre, swaying to their ballads; an audience that didn’t feel the need to socialise or catch up. This is the charm of the city’s new performance space, OddBird.

Founded by Shambhavi Singh and Akhil Wable, OddBird finally hatched on July 22, and has since then curated dance acts, plays, storytelling evenings and gigs. “We do not promote it as a hangout place, it’s a more wholesome experience. The theatre space in OddBird is meant for an intimate gathering of people wanting to genuinely watch a performance. It’s an alternative to Stein auditorium or Mandi House, not Hauz Khas Village,” says Singh, 33.

With fairy lights, bare walls, high ceilings and an industrial design that makes the space look bigger, OddBird is slowly becoming a part of the cultural calendar of Delhi. “In the day time, we want it to be utilised as a rehearsal or work space for artistes. We are in the process of setting up a cafe as of now,” says Singh.

Intended for a mature audience, Singh hopes that with time they will be able to curate more events every week. “There is a lot of emphasis on the performance here, but for those who want to take a break in the middle of an act or want to catch up with someone, there is space behind the curtain — the full cafe. It’s our way of telling people to respect artistes,” says Singh.

(The next act at OddBird is on September 18, as 70-minute-long play I Love You, Let’s Have Sex will be staged at 4 pm and 8 pm. Tickets range between Rs 250-400, and will be available at the venue)