Rising Star: Ani Chakravarthy

June 17, 2024

Tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves’ 27-chorus solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival is etched in jazz history. It energized the Newport audience and rejuvenated Ellington’s band.

So, the prospect of recreating that moment at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 2024 Essentially Ellington competition had to be daunting to 18-year-old Newark Academy tenor saxophonist Ani Chakravarthy. But he took it all in stride.

“It was one of the tougher solos to learn,” he said. “Paul Gonsalves lit it up. I first just went through all the recordings, chorus by chorus, trying to transcribe the whole thing. I didn’t get through all 27 choruses, but it helped me get the ideas in my head for when I was going to do the solos myself.
“After I got the underlying language,” he continued, “I tried to listen to other musicians. Mr. Tolentino (Newark Academy Jazz Director Julius Tolentino) told me that I ought to think about having a tone that resembles Paul Gonsalves but that I could still put in some lines from other people. So, I tried to learn some Lester Young sounding lines. I also listened to a lot of Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt.”

As has been previously reported on njjs.org, Newark Academy won this year’s Essentially Ellington, with its performances of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” along with “Golden Cress” and “Boy Meets Horn”. And, Chakravarthy was recognized as an Outstanding Tenor Saxophone.

The Montclair resident joined the Newark Academy jazz band in sixth grade. Music, he said, “is very important in Indian culture. So, I’ve been dealing with music since kindergarten or first grade. I started with piano. I did classical. I liked classical, but I thought it was a little bit constraining at times. I was only doing what other people had written. There wasn’t any place I could put my personality into it.”

Tolentino described Chakravarthy as “one of our homegrown Newark Academy musicians. He’s been taking lessons with me since middle school and has been inspired by several of our past soloists. Now, he’s inspired the future soloists, of which we have several ready to take on that role for years to come. He has a solid grasp of the language and style of the tenor saxophone lineage.”

In addition to the Newark Academy band, Chakravarthy attended the Jazz House Kids Summer Workshop, calling the program “one of the greater workshops to help you become a better musician. They really help you with every aspect of your playing — your soloing ability, playing in a big band. That’s a big factor in how I’ve grown.” He credits tenor saxophonist Mike Lee with “teaching me technique. His method for teaching technique has been very important.”

In the fall, Chakravarthy will be joining his NA classmate, drummer Ben Schwartz, at Columbia University (See interview with Schwartz in the June issue of Jersey Jazz). Columbia’s location in New York City was an important part of Chakravarthy’s decision to go there. “I’ve always really loved the city and its migrant culture,” he said. “I want to keep music as an important part of my education, but I’m not necessarily majoring in it. New York City has the perfect atmosphere for what I’m searching for. There’s an opportunity to play within Columbia with the very talented jazz ensemble, but there’s also an opportunity for me to go and see all these classic places such as Smalls and play at these awesome jazz locations. It will help me grow as a musician and as a listener, too.” His favorite current saxophonists are Kamasi Washington and Joshua Redman. Their music, he said, “is very unique. I just like the vibe of it.”

This summer, he is working at Tolentino’s workshop. “I worked there last year and was a student before that,” he said. “Mr. T. has helped me grow so much as a musician and as a person.”-SANFORD JOSEPHSON




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