VAIL — If you heard Red Baraat coming down the street, you might mistake it for a 100-piece marching band. The high-energy, pavement-rattling, bouncing strains of the Brooklyn-based group’s sound comes from one tuba, one trombone, two trumpets, a clarinet, a drum set, a number of hand-held jangly percussion instruments and a dhol. This last instrument is a two-sided handheld drum, played with plenty of bobbing and dancing by bandleader Sunny Jain.
‘I FELL IN LOVE WITH JAZZ’
“When I started playing drums, I started on symphonic. I fell in love with jazz around 18 or 19, and I wanted to learn a new kind of percussion,” said Jain, who grew up in upstate New York in a house incessantly filled with music from Jain’s parents’ native India. “One year I was in India. I was buying a set and I saw the big bongo dhol sitting there. As soon as I brought it home — at 1 a.m. in my Harlem apartment — I started banging on it.”
Much to his neighbors’ chagrin, a profound connection was made.
“As soon as the instrument was strapped on, I could feel the reverberation right into my gut. I felt like this instrument was a part of me. It felt like an extra appendage,” Jain said. “The sound of the instrument, the movement it involved, it brought out a different spirit in me. I was taken by it.”
‘Deliver the music’
As he rapidly excelled at playing his new instrument, the dhol player set out to put a band together, aiming to meld the Indian brass band tradition with the sounds of Bollywood and go-go music. He sought band members with various musical backgrounds who were passionate and possessed a fair measure of party-starting sensibilities.
“I started calling the various guys I’d known through the New York music scene, not just jazz players,” Jain said. “The foundation is Indian brass, but one guy comes from ska and rock, another guy comes from a poetry background. There’s a little bit of everything. Our prime goal is to deliver the music and bring our passion into it.”
The passion is multiplying. Since forming in 2008, Red Baraat has thundered across the world and like an eight-piece Pied Piper, drawn a massive crowd of followers into its wake. The band has been exclusively invited to play a variety of huge music festivals, from the Montreal and New Orleans jazz festivals to the Bonnaroo rock music festival. They were even hand-picked to perform in the middle of London in 2012 to close out the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“The trajectory we’ve been on has been fast. It’s been really special,” Jain said. “The fact that we can cross circles — appeal to older fans of classic jazz but also enter the jam band scene and do rock festivals, performing art centers, clubs — it’s cool. We did the Del McCoury bluegrass festival in Maryland and everyone was like, ‘Woah, what’s this?’ We were able to stick out tremendously. Every aspect of it has been beautiful. Every time we play we’re passionate; we’re in the moment. In terms of what we do relating to the audience, it’s to make sure we’re passionate about what we’re doing onstage, delivering joyous music that includes everyone. It’s a party regardless of whether there’s 10 people or a thousand people out there.”