In avant garde style | Daily News

In avant garde style

Dr Nalin with Rasmar’s brother Ezmal Lye.
Dr Nalin with Rasmar’s brother Ezmal Lye.

A saxophonist with an avant garde style Dr Nalin Jayatunge’s playing was spontaneous and he never followed a conventional style. His solos were relentless expeditions which displayed his own thought process. And now we will miss him and his free jazz and improvised music. But the conclusion does not mean that he did not appreciate modern, bebop, swing and Latin sounds. They were high on his list of music appreciation. His memories and expressions on his alto sax of time honoured melodies, moods and grooves were amazing and it was sheer delightful education to have an in depth conversation with him on the careers of international musicians and music compositions. Mingus, Monk, Miles were magic names to get Nalin talking, so did the compositions “Milestones”, “Manteca”, “Take Five”, “Night in Tunisia”, “I’m in a Dancing Mood” or “Round Midnight” to name a few.

Unless he was laid up with ill health, Dr Nalin was a familiar figure at all the jazz sessions organised by JU or at concerts featuring international musicians. I will miss his discussions with me on the prowess of jazz greats in between sets at the JU sessions and also his views of my selections which I featured on my weekly jazz programmes on SLBC. He had a penchant to be different. Like at the time he boldly stepped on stage with the others and payed two saxes together, emulating Roland Kirk who performed once thus. His dry sense of humour was one of his attractions.

A doctor by profession he never failed to ask musicians and friends who were present at the jazz sessions and who were in need of medical care to give free medical advice to them.

As a musician he once said that a good improvisation does not require the musician to play fast and complicated. Subtlety, consistence and personality are all that it takes. If the music played is good and its played with an amount of vitality and creativity then you can be sure that the audience will respond to it. To tell you more about a comrade here is saxophonist Rodney van Heer with his piece.

I first came to know Dr Nalin as we fondly called him when he was a regular music afficionado at the Blue Leopard Night Club at the G.O.H. I as the saxophonist of the amazing guitarist Gazzali Amit’s Quintet. The other members were Valentine Manickawasagar who played acoustic bass, Jimmy Manuel was the pianist, Geoffrey Labrooy (now in Australia) played drums and Antoinette Labrooy was the Quintet’s vocalist. Without exaggeration he was crazy about jazz and Gazzali Amit had a wide repertoire which Dr Nalin soaked in with happy appreciation. The alto saxophone was Dr Nalin’s first love although he played the tenor and the soprano saxes. He had an extensive library of jazz LP’s and CD’s and we were lucky to drop in and enjoy the music whenever he invited us, which was often.

His taste in jazz was modern and avant garde. The mention of the names of Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis made his eyes light up and he’d go into explanations of their music which he felt every musician should know. He was regular at all the jazz sessions of JU and freelanced with saxophonist Malcolm de Zilwa and his band. He was self taught and he was good at it. He never liked to be an accompanist but taught young and aspiring saxophonists, sharing his knowledge with no remuneration.

Percussionist Rasmar Lye now domiciled in Dubai describes his early years with Dr Nalin.

Dr Nalin was a close friend of the Lye brothers Ezmal, Shiraz, Rasmar, & Dylan and their cousin Lahan Samsoodeen. He used to hang out with his saxophone at their residence in Borupana, Ratmalana almost every weekend for a jam session.

Ezmal played bass and Dylan played lead guitar. He was influenced very much by John Coltrane. His favourite song was Little Queeni (by the Bill Blacks Combo).Two Sri Lankan saxophonists who influenced him were Royston Watts (now in Canada) and the late Ivan Jayaratne.

He used to frequently scoot out of home to join his friends for a jam session. His saxophone was kept very visible in his room and used to scoot out to join his friends for a jam session giving the impression to his parents that he was going for a group study session. The alto saxophone would be dismantled and stored in the cubby of his Vespa scooter.

In his early days as a Medical student, he played the alto saxophone for a group called the Silhouettes led by his cousin Ernest Corea with Dylan on lead guitar, Ezmal Lye on bass and the Late Nihal Corea (drummer turned pianist) on drums.

Nalin started on the Alto Sax and then switched on to Tenor. His love for music was so great that he kept delaying sitting for the final exams to pass out as a Doctor. It was his sister who was also a Medical student who pushed him to do the exam saying, if not she too was not going sit for the final exams.

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