This week’s archival track: the excellent saxophonist Braz Gonsalves and his group playing an original, noirish composition called Impulse. It was recorded in 1972. The generous Kingshuk Niyogi found it in a second-hand store in Delhi and gave it to me. Many thanks, Niyogiji. Bonus: a Mario sketch of Braz in full flow at a Jazz Yatra in the 1980s.
[An excerpt from Taj Mahal Foxtrot, which appears as the cover story in Mint/Lounge today.]
As a teenager in the Goan village of Curchorem, Franklin Fernandes spent long hours practising the trumpet with only one goal in mind: he wanted to “play like a negro”. It wasn’t an ambition his teacher, Maestro Diego Rodrigues, would have understood. Like all teachers in Goa’s parochial schools, Rodrigues coached his charges in musical theory and instructed them in the art of playing hymns and Western classical music. Fernandes was a precocious talent. His mastery of the violin was recognised early but the young man, to his teacher’s dismay, soon developed a fascination for the clear, ringing sounds of the trumpet. It wasn’t long before Fernandes became a regular member of the village marching band, playing at parish feasts, weddings and—in New Orleans style—at funerals too. However, unlike the New Orleans bands famed for their improvised flights of fancy, Fernandes’ village orchestra was, he recalled, a “paper band—they played what was written”.
Soon, even this was to become trickier as new instructions began to appear on the music scores: glissando, mute, attack. It was all very baffling. “But when we heard the records, we knew how to play the notes,” Fernandes said. The thick shellac records that set him off on his journey of discovery bore the names of Ellington, Armstrong and Cab Calloway, and Fernandes grew addicted to hot music. Jazz, he said, gave him “freedom of expression”. He still looked at the sheet music, of course, but he knew that it could take him only so far. “Like Indian music, jazz can’t be written,” he said. “You have to feel it. There are 12 bars, but each musician plays it differently. You play as you feel—morning you play different, evening you play different.”
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In the 1950s, Korla Pandit was the most prominent Indian in the US. Five days a week, Musical Adventures with Korla Pandit was beamed to millions of homes across America. Pandit would never speak, deigning only to gaze into the camera with his mystical eyes. Over the decade, he cut 14 records, winning fans for a unique sound he described as “exotic and mystic, moody hypnotic music as gentle as drifting as lotus blossoms, as savage as jungle drums”.
One day in 2007, as the historian Ramachandra Guha and I were making our way to a coffee shop in Colaba, we encountered Micky Correa outside his building on the Causeway. It was most serendipitous. The legendary musician had been the subject of the first conversation I’d had with Guha four years before, when I accosted him at a lecture at Mumbai’s Press Club.
I had just finished reading A Corner of a Foreign Field, Guha’s social history of Indian cricket, and had been gobsmacked by the breadth of his vision and the depth of his research. My admiration reached boiling point when Guha described the celebrations that followed Vijay Hazare’s triple century in the finals of the Pentangular Tournament of 1943. At a reception organized by the Catholic Gymkhana to honour their co-religionist, Guha noted that “three hundred couples took to the floor, swaying to music by Micky Correa’s band…”.