About Sunny Jain
An innovative percussionist and master of the double-sided Indian drum the dhol, Sunny Jain combines his Punjabi roots with his love of post-bop jazz, fusion, psychedelic rock, and funk. Following his initial emergence in New York in the early 2000s, Jain earned critical acclaim as the leader of the genre-bending brass and drum outfit Red Baraat. He has also worked as a sideman with artists like Norah Jones, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Donny McCaslin, and more. He brings all of his varied influences to bear leading his Sunny Jain Collective on solo albums like 2004's Mango Festival, 2010's Taboo, and 2020's Wild Wild East. Along with performing, Jain has published several percussion manuals and regularly leads workshops and master classes on drumming and Indian rhythmic concepts.
Jain was born in 1975 in Rochester, New York to Punjabi immigrant parents. Growing up, he listened to a vibrantly cross-pollinated blend of music, including his mother's cassette tapes of devotional bhajans (his family were followers of the Indian Jain religion), his father's reel-to-reel recordings of Indian classical and Bollywood soundtracks, and Top 40 albums by Rush, Ice-T, and Led Zeppelin. He began taking drum lessons and around age 12 was introduced to jazz, including the music of drummers like Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, and John Coltrane bandmate Elvin Jones. After high school, he further honed his skills, earning a B.M. in Jazz Performance from Rutgers University and an M.A. in Music Business from New York University. It was while in college that he delved deeper into Indian music, becoming a master of the dhol, a double-sided drum from North India. Along with jazz and Indian traditions, he also embraced such varied sounds as electronic drum'n'bass, fusion-rock, and Brazilian and West African rhythms.
As a vital presence on the New York scene, Jain has worked with a bevy of luminaries from various genres, including Dewey Redman, Kenny Barron, Seamus Blake, David Byrne, Cucu Diamantes, Peter Gabriel, Norah Jones, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Donny McCaslin, and many others. He is a two-time recipient of the Arts International Award and in 2002 was designated a Jazz Ambassador by the U.S. Department of State and The Kennedy Center. The same year, he made his solo debut on As Is, mixing jazz and Indian rhythms alongside his band with guitarist Rez Abbasi, tenor saxophonist Steve Welsh, and bassist Gary Wang. The same group was on board for 2004's hypnotic Mango Festival. In 2010, he joined pianist Marc Cary and guitarist Nir Felder for Taboo.
Since 2008, Jain has led Red Baraat, a nine-member brass and percussion ensemble that mixes traditional Bhangra rhythms with hip-hop, jazz, funk, and rock. The group has issued a number of dynamically realized productions, including 2009's Chaal Baby, 2013's Shruggy Ji, and 2017's Bhangri Pirates. Jain is also a member of the South Asian rock band Junoon, with whom he has toured and recorded. In 2020, he released the expansive Wild Wild East on Smithsonian Folkways. Produced by Jain and Joel Hamilton, the album found the drummer drawing upon his love of Bollywood and Spaghetti Western soundtracks, psychedelic rock, Indian classical music, and post-bop jazz. ~ Matt Collar