Introducing Louiz Banks: The Jazz Legend of India

Inclined towards donning a baseball cap, adorning his rounded countenance with his distinctive dark goggles, along with his hallmark goatee and long curly locks, Louiz Banks, the legendary Indian jazz musician and composer is renowned as the "Godfather of Indian Jazz", for his immense contribution to the genre over the past five decades. Hailing from a family of six generations of musicians, Banks inherited his love for music from a young age and has myriad contributions to his name in the field of Indian music, unrestricted to jazz. 

Mumbai-based pianist Louiz Banks. 

Photo Courtesy: RollingStoneIndia (originally sourced from Louiz Banks’s personal archives)

Born to Indian Gorkha parents in Calcutta, Dambar Bahadur Budapriti was later renamed Louiz in honour of the legendary American trumpeter Louis Daniel Armstrong. Banks began his musical journey at the early age of four, learning classical music from his father, Pushkar Bahadur Budaprithi, an accomplished jazz pianist and trumpet player, who had been given the name George Banks by American jazz musician Teddy Weatherford.  However, it was his encounter with the jazz genre that proved to be a defining moment in his career. Both knowingly and inadvertently, Louiz would absorb the earthiness of his mother's Nepalese folk songs and his father's jazz skills. Banks was drawn to the rhythmic and improvisational nature of jazz music, which allowed him to express himself in a way that he could not with classical music. His unique style of fusing traditional Indian music with jazz has revolutionized the Indian music industry and made him one of the most celebrated artists. 

When I think of Louiz, the image that appears in my mind is that of a gentle, legendary giant of, not just the music world, but also art at large. A performer of unparalleled genius, a composer par excellence, a top-shelf educator, a painter of some reckoning and a larger-than-life father figure, he is a source of inspiration to a horde of aspiring young musicians of all genres of music. [1]

 - Zakir Hussain

(from left) Young Louiz with mother Saraswati Devi, father George Banks, siblings Ganga, Peter, and Jamuna

At the age of five, Louiz moved with his family to the picturesque hills of Darjeeling, leaving the city behind. In the mountains, Louiz spent his formative years cultivating his musical sensibilities under the watchful gaze of Daddy Banks. In Louiz's pencil sketches, the visions of Darjeeling found a steadfast home. Louis' entrance and initial forays into the jazz's oceanic realm were uninformed and impulsive.

Louiz’s journey into the world of public performances started as a thirteen-year-old when he first stepped into the premises of the Gymkhana Club with his father. George Banks was the bandmaster there, Louiz his protege. The band was tasked to perform the cha-cha-cha, foxtrot, waltz, samba, mambo, rumba, and tango among other dance numbers. While the traditional jazz that was played within the disciplined premises of the Gymkhana Club polished his musical sensibilities, the catchy riffs of rock and jazz thriving in the liberated domains of the youngsters rendered his soul with unbridled joy. Young Louis was heavily influenced by Oscar Peterson’s music, his fascination acted as a pivotal force in shaping his dreams, giving rise to the band the Louiz Banks Quartet. To cater to the zeitgeist, the quartet performed on various platforms leading to Louiz soon becoming a local youth icon. Louiz Banks Quartet was the first professional outfit he was associated with. He would go on to be a part of several others such as The Lobos, Five Friars, the Matrixx Trio, Ganga Shakti, and Guitar Synergy among others.

 Darjeeling Days, Louiz Banks on guitar, (third from left) with father George Banks on piano (extreme right)

But by the time Banks finished his Bachelor of Arts in Education, his father George had returned to Nepal. Banks began spending less time on music and began working as a teacher in Darjeeling. Banks would travel to Kathmandu to see his father during the winter. One evening, while Banks was performing with his father's band at The Park Restaurant of Kathmandu, the German manager of Kathmandu's Soaltee Hotel was patronised by Nepal’s aristocracy and upper class, happened to walk in and offered Banks a position as the leader of his talented in-house band. The pianist accepted and left his position as a teacher in Darjeeling. 

"That both Dad and I were now pursuing music in a country for which my grandfather, Bakhat Bahadur Budapirti, had composed the national anthem Shreeman Gambhira Nepali (the official anthem from 1962-2006) made it special." [2]

After spending three years there, Banks accepted a lucrative opportunity to relocate to the Hindustan Hotel in Calcutta and head another band. From Kathmandu, Louiz relocated to Calcutta, which was at the time also known as the Mecca of music performance and recording. The jazz pianist gained a lot of recognition from visitors. Cabaret acts used to come to Kathmandu, and one singer, Laurie Pereira, said, “You're excellent, but there are ten other pianists in Calcutta much better than you.” This inspired the jazz aficionado to travel to Calcutta. After returning to India in the late 1960s, Banks spent a few years performing and residing there while making a name for himself. Prior to moving back to Kolkata to direct the house band at Calcutta’s Grand Hotel and the Blue Fox Restaurant, a popular nightclub famous for its patronage of live Western music, he undertook a brief stint performing at the Oberoi in New Delhi. 

Calcutta Days, Calcutta Grand Hotel, 1974.

(L-R): Carlton Kitto on guitar, John Edmonds on drums, Iggy D’douza on saxophone, Bosco Monsoratte on trumpet, Peter Saldana on bass, and Louiz Banks on Keyboards.

Louiz was quite capable of playing puritanical jazz, but then the commoners were not learned enough to appreciate and enjoy it. They wanted to dance to familiar tunes and that is why Louiz brought jazz improvisation to those tunes and lent a different texture. That’s why people, on the one hand, could identify the tune and also could listen to something new. [1]

 - Nondon Bagchi

Louiz’s tenure at the Blue Fox, located on Park Street with its free-willed and unrestrained jazz and the Louiz Banks Brotherhood comprising saxophonist Braz Gonsalves, vocalist Pam Crain and guitarist Carlton Kitto among others would open many doors for him to the world of R D Burman and advertisement jingles among the rest.  Louiz would play with several other greats along with R D Burman such as Laxmikant-Pyarelal with whom he would team up to play music pieces in the biggest chartbusters of all time such as Om Shanti Om from Karz (1980). The Burman era experienced a  decline after Saagar which led to Louiz joining the Bappi Lahiri camp that produced many chartbusters. He has also composed music for numerous films, including the acclaimed Bollywood film, Dil Chahta Hai. Louis worked alongside on various films such as An August Requiem (1982), and New Delhi Times (1986)  as a music director and composer, including independent films such as Oass (2012), Aasman Se Gira (1992), A Moment of Pause (2013), etc. He also composed the background scores with the second generation of music directors such as Anu Malik in Auzaar (1997) and Duplicate (1998), Ram Laxman - Police Public (1990) and 100 Days (1991), Anand- Milind in Sunflower (1992) and God and Gun (1995), Nadeem Shravan in Barsaat (2005) and the Tiger theme with Sunil Kaushik in the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Hum.

Louiz Banks with members of the band, friends, and family at Blue Fox in Calcutta in the ‘70s.

It was the group, the best group I’ve even had, Louiz Banks Brotherhood. [1]

 - Carlton Kitto

During his Film City days, Louiz Banks was quite intrigued by the limitless possibilities of Indian Classical music. In the 1980s, Banks formed his first international band, the Jazz Yatra Sestet, which became the first one-of-its-kind jazz band in India. He explored the infinite domain of Indian ragas while writing compositions for Sangam. Jazz Yatra Sestet was the first Indian fusion band to have toured in eight European countries. The band was known only as Jazz Yatra Sestet when it toured overseas. Only after the album City Life was recorded, was the name Sangam given to the band. Subsequently, the album Citylife (1983) by Sangam was voted the record of the month and earned critical acclaim by bagging the German Critics Poll Award. The album was described as a fine meeting of minds coming from diverse musical backgrounds to create a sound that fuses modern musical ideas with the traditional. The periodic meeting points of two main influences, namely Western jazz and Indian Carnatic music happened in almost all of Sangam’s compositions. The song City Life has gradually attained cult status over time. The electric blend of pure jazz and Carnatic rhythm with Rama Mani’s vocal with Carnatic percussion instruments.

At Film Centre with R D Burman

The songs of the album bore testimony to the supreme craftsmanship of Louiz in fusing two different ethea and making it a symbiotic whole. The album came out as Sangam’s City Life. The band performed at various venues across the country and helped popularize jazz music in India. The Jazz Yatra Sestet disbanded soon after. Banks went on to form several other jazz bands, such as the Louiz Banks Matrix and Louiz Banks Brotherhood, which have gained significant recognition and acclaim over the years. One of the most significant contributions of Banks to the Indian music industry is his unique blend of jazz music with Indian classical music. Banks was one of the pioneers of this fusion genre, which has come to be known as Indo-jazz. He seamlessly integrated Indian classical music elements such as the sitar, tabla, and sarod with jazz music, creating a unique and distinct sound that has become synonymous with his music. Banks has collaborated with several renowned musicians both in India and abroad, such as Ravi Shankar, George Duke, and Chick Corea. Banks' collaboration with Shankar resulted in the album, "Raga Jazz Style," which has become a classic in the fusion genre.

               The Jazz Yatra Sextet               

In the late eighties, he formed a fusion band called SILK alongside bassist Karl Peters from Sangam, drummer Anandan Sivamani,  vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and mridangam exponent Sridhar Parthasarathy. The group went on to play in festivals in Singapore and the U.S. Another career highlight was in the early 1980s when he was invited by legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie to join him on stage in Washington because his regular pianist couldn’t make it. The jazz aces would go on to perform with many international sensations like Jaco Pastorius. With the Matrixx Trio, he was joined by drummer Gino Banks and bassist Sheldon D’Silva. One of the trio’s memorable shows was with American guitarist Mike Stern at the Tata Theatre in 2010. 

I knew Louiz from Calcutta. Whenever I would go there, I would visit Blue Box. When I started making films, Louiz was one of  the few music directors around. Years later there were quite a few, but I would always go to him whenever I needed any jazz  tune. Louiz was a genius - a musician par excellence. [1]

- Prahlad Kakkar

In the 1970s and 80s, Indian advertising became a beloved aspect of Indian popular culture. The introduction of Doordarshan transformed the field of Indian commercials by allowing an influx of them which also marked the entry of Louiz into the ad world. Not long after Louiz came to be known as The Jingle King. A versatile genius, Louiz's foray into ad films brought out that so far untapped genius of his music made evident by the radical transformation in style from its free-flowing musical compositions and unrestrained nature to the genre of minute-long jingles. The signature Louiz was heard in quite a large number of ads that have retained their original tune over the years, even if they changed hands. An insatiable desire to explore undiscovered and uncharted territory defines his career.

 On a morning in 1986, the composer Louis Banks was called to make a jingle for the cold drink, Gold Spot. His instructions were simple: make it lively, happy, and memorable. Mr. Banks got the brief. More than 30 years later, the production company Potli Baba Mediahouse made a spec film for the drink, and the jingle has stayed the same. 

Louiz made another path-breaking ad film with Prahlad where his music withstood the passage of time. It was for Britannia which had the popular jingle with the signature Louiz tune at the end, ‘ting ting di ting’ used by brands to nurture a special feel by using a musical signature.  Louiz’s craftsmanship as a music director had given the tune the potential to live longer than most tunes. The little ditty of Britannia has lived on for decades. 

Louiz’s Advertising Days (L-R) Louiz Banks, Kailash Surendranath and Piyush Pandey

You can’t think of such amazing swiftness with which Louiz used to compose those immortal jingles. The Nirma Bath Soap jingle … is ageless. I made so many films of the same product in later years, but the agency guys would fall back on the Louiz version.

- Kailash Surendranath

The iconic ‘Spread The Light of Freedom’ was the first of the trilogy of patriotic films by Doordarshan who planned to spread the message of national integration through them, while honouring various sporting personalities and inculcating a sporting spirit among the populace. Louis Banks' powerful style of music was one of the highlights. People compared it to a military organ. It ushered in a fresh musical fad. Under Kailash Surendranath's direction, the westernised song changed directions and reached its climax with a segment of the national anthem. The Doordarshan executives flatly rejected the team's proposal when they presented it to them, stating that the national anthem was holy and that any experiment on it would unavoidably spark controversy. Louis reworked it without the "Jaya He" portion as a result. After hearing both versions, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi chose the one that incorporated a section of the national anthem. Louiz was given the Best National Integration Film Music Award from the Advertising Club of Bombay for Spread the Light of Freedom (1998). 

A year later Mile Sur (1988), a song that was broadcast on Doordarshan immediately following the Prime Minister's Independence Day speech from the Red Fort in 1988 eventually became the anthem for national integration and the making of the film marked an epoch-making event of Indian advertisement. Louiz would weave it together by composing music interludes and the song ending with the big chorus buildup and then the final ending with the national anthem. 

... We needed the big sound, the patriotic sound, and most importantly, we needed to put them all together. All shots had separate pieces of music but binding all the tracks together having little pieces in between with keyboards and all then building it to a crescendo, bringing chorus at the end…. and finally weaving it with the national anthem - that reflected the sheer genius of Louiz Banks.

- Kailash Surendranathan

The third film of the trilogy Desh Raag would feature a similar ending with Louiz’s signature ‘Jaya He’. These films were shown at regular intervals on primetime television shots. The rousing music of Louiz carried the spirit of the nation and it hovered in the mind of every Indian giving rise to a new trend. 

Banks also helped make live jazz popular in Bombay nightclubs in the 1970s. His work on the album Miles from India and John Mclaughlin’s Floating Point earned him a nomination for the 2008 Grammy Awards in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category. In addition to his musical career, Banks has been an advocate for music education in India. Banks has also been a mentor and inspiration to several young musicians in India, many of whom have gone on to become successful musicians themselves. Banks' contribution to the Indian music industry has not gone unnoticed. He has received several awards and accolades, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.


[1] Ghatak, Ashis. Louiz Banks: A Symphony of Love. Rupa, 2021. 

[2] Britto, David. “The Life and Career of Louiz Banks: Godfather of Indian Jazz.” Rolling Stone India, 11 Feb. 2019, 

[3] “Veteran Jazz Singer Louiz Banks Retraces the Journey of Becoming 'the Jingle King of India'-Art-and-Culture News, Firstpost.” Firstpost, Firstpost, 2 May 2022, 

[4] YouTube, 29 Apr. 2015,

[5] YouTube, 6 May 2015,

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