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Jazzmandu: The many emotions that go into making music

Jazzmandu: The many emotions that go into making music

Jazzmandu, an annual jazz festival that unites musicians from Nepal and around the globe, saw the participation of American accordionist Adrian Crookston for the second time. He performed the Forró, a northeast Brazilian musical genre, at the week-long event at different schools and Jazzmandu venues in Kathmandu. He says he aims to spread compassion and happiness through music and Jazzmandu 2023 was the perfect opportunity to do that in Nepal.

“It’s all about musicians expressing themselves and sharing different cultures’ music,” he says, adding he feels lucky to be able to share the stage with world-class musicians. “I’m grateful to be a part of this special cultural exchange.”

Crookston’s love for music began at an early age when he sang in a choir. During his teenage years, he learned to play the guitar. Back then, he lived in Italy, near a music store, from where he later got his first accordion. Since then, he has dedicated 14 years to playing and mastering the instrument.

Throughout his musical journey, he dedicated the majority of his time to Forró, which he describes as ‘funky and lively’. Growing up in the US, Adrian Crookston, 32, was influenced by the blues, rock, and even jazz, and being determined to explore music, he subtly incorporated them into his style. 

To truly honor the music while preserving the authentic techniques of Forró, he made it a point to learn from various Brazilian accordionists and also referred to various online resources. He says he remembers the exact moment that made him want to pursue music. It was back in 2011 when he was playing for a bunch of people and seeing their faces light up made him realize there was nothing else he wanted to do but make music. 

Crookston has taken the stage alongside numerous Forró groups such as Palouse Forró, Gente Boa Trio, Forró pé de Gringo, North Polka Experience, and others in various places, including the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia. But performing at the Jazzmandu festival beats them all, he says. The audience, he adds, has a deep connection with the music, and it makes performing a truly enjoyable experience. 

According to Crookston, jazz has transcended borders. He says, “Its unique quality lies in becoming a universal language rather than just a genre.” He emphasizes that jazz seamlessly integrates with diverse cultural traditions, despite its origins in the southeastern United States. “It’s a beast and a delicate flower and everything in between,” he says. It’s challenging to be able to fully comprehend jazz but trying to do so can be a beautiful endeavor. 

Even though he doesn’t specialize in jazz, Crookston focuses on improvisation during his jazz shows, emphasizing the need for the instrument to become one’s voice. He says dedicated practice is essential for natural and emotive sound. When reflecting on playing the accordion, he takes on a more philosophical perspective, viewing music as a means of expressing one’s emotions.

In music, he believes that time, money and energy are all finite that determine the level of success. Despite this, his passion for art has always overshadowed his desire for financial gain. His main goal has been to provide enjoyment to people and this, in turn, brings him a sense of fulfillment. “Interacting with the crowd, that moment when my accordion harmonizes with the energy of the audience is a feeling I can’t put into words,” he says.

Music is how he expresses his emotions, whether it’s teenage angst, heartbreak, or emotional connections. Forró, linked to a region that people had to evacuate because of drought and hunger, is perfect for him. He gets to explore the various emotions connected to the incident and channel them through his music.

The best part of being a musician, according to him, is the freedom to pick an instrument and play it in a way that reflects the emotions of the artist. He says he has over 100 Forró tunes in his head and he can play anything depending on his mood. 

Crookston, like many musicians, experiences a deep connection with his instrument. He says keeping the accordion close to his heart and feeling its vibration right make playing music an intimate experience. It’s no surprise that when he starts playing the accordion, the audience can’t help but be drawn toward the dance floor, swaying to the beats.

As a musician, he hopes that music enthusiasts will embrace each moment wholeheartedly, make music with compassion, and allow their emotions to radiate through their music. Above all, he wants everyone to recognize that music is an art form, not just a commercial pursuit.