Dambar Bahadur Budhapriti aka Louiz Banks is a jazz musician who has dabbled with film music and fusion music to be known as ‘The Godfather of Jazz’. The Mumbai-based artiste has now formed a new band, Ganga Shakti. He says, “This is a band after my own heart. We experiment with Jazz, Carnatic, Hindustani and Rock; and the band features artistes like Sharmistha Chatterjee, Finix Ramdas, Mohini Dey and my son, Gino Banks. We are looking forward to the release of our first album. We’ve finished recording some tracks already.”
Beginning his training at the age of four, Louiz immediately took to the piano. “My music is in my genes. My father was a piano artiste and I inherited music from him,” says Louiz. “I think I was almost eight by the time I really got interested in the piano. And since then, there’s been no looking back. All the free time I had, went into learning and playing the instrument,” he explains. His introduction to the world of professional music also came very early. “I was 13 when I performed for the first time with my father’s band at a club. This kind of learning you don’t get from books. It was all hands-on, and there are no rewinds,” says Banks. His father was a disciplinarian in the kind of rigorous training that was imparted to Banks. “You had to perform, and there were no two ways to it. Now I feel really blessed when I think about all the training he gave me,” Banks adds.
Once during his piano practice sessions, Banks happened to hear a jazz record by Oscar Petersen and that was the beginning of a love story that lives to date. Banks formed his own jazz band and played at various clubs in Darjeeling and later on in Calcutta, where they quickly earned a name for themselves. As luck would have it, Bollywood came knocking on his doors quite soon. It was none other than noted composer, musician and singer R D Burman who stole him away from his band in Calcutta and took him into the glitzy recording studios of Mumbai. “He was my mentor and my guru. He spotted me performing at a club in Calcutta and immediately wanted me to accompany him to Mumbai to play the piano pieces for the movie, Mukti. I agreed. But after we finished recording, he asked if I’d like to join the band and I declined as I had to get back to my band in Calcutta,” said Banks. “But I was back within a year and a half. And since then, I’ve played the keys for almost every movie he composed music for.” By the early 1980s, Banks finally started composing for movies. Making a marked departure from Bollywood movies, his first film was Victor Banerjee’s directorial debut An August Requiem.
He composed music for several independent films subsequently, stating greater freedom as one of the reasons for picking to work with these films. “My favourite is an upcoming project for the movie, Oass (dewdrop). Oass is inspired by a true story of a little girl and talks about girl-child trafficking in India. It’s quite a fantastic movie and I really treasure the experience of writing music for this movie,” remarks Banks.
What sets him apart from most western musicians is his interest in experimenting with fusion music with mainly Carnatic influences.
“I formed a band called Sangam where I teamed up with the classical vocalist Ramamani. We toured Europe quite extensively back then, and unfortunately the band had to break up because we were living in separate locations,” says Banks. Banks’ most notable Jazz fusion band was Silk, with Banks on the keys, Sivamani on the drums, Shankar Mahadevan on the vocals and Karl Peters on the bass guitar.