Archive for the Category »Bombay «

Saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins in Powai


“I had no idea there were so many ashrams around Bombay!” More than four decades after he and his friend Jehangir Dalal got into a car and drove to more than a dozen religious retreats, Nirajan Jhaveri still remembered the day in 1968 vividly. The two men were among Bombay’s most obsessive jazz fans. As students at St Xavier’s College in the 1950s, they’d published India’s first jazz magazine, Blue Rhythm.  They were so crazy about the music that they were quite willing to drive for hours to chase down the rumour that a famous American jazz musician was studying yoga somewhere in the Bombay region.

After several unsuccessful halts, the two men eventually found themselves in Powai, at the mission run by Swami Chinmayananda. That’s how they came to find the legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who had taken a second break from his sky-high career to study yoga.  To hear Rollins tell it, he’d come upon the ashram quite by accident.

“I had been interested in metaphysical organisations and things like Buddhism, yoga and Sufism,” he said to one interviewer. “I felt like I needed to get more into self-improvement and the greater purposes and meaning of life. I had been investigating yoga since the ’50s, so I had been primed to make this voyage. It wasn’t something I did as a whim. I had separated from my wife for a while, and the time was right to make that move.”

Having read quite a bit about yoga and various yoga masters and teachers, Rollins says that he took his horn, a bag or two and booked a flight to Bombay. “On the last leg of the flight, I was talking to some Indian people and one fella knew something about ashrams.,” he recalled. “He suggested this particular place to me just outside of Bombay and this swami, Chinmayamananda.”

This is how he described a typical day at the ashram: “There were yoga students there from Europe and elsewhere and we had our meals and everything. When the swami came there were lectures. We studied the literature texts from the Vedanta. We studied the Upanishads and Yoga Sutras and all of these writings from antiquity. We weren’t doing hatha yoga so much — hatha yoga is the positions. We were mainly studying the texts, and when we didn’t have sessions, we’d endlessly discuss things among ourselves.”

Though he did perform a concert for the other students at the ashram, no one else in Bombay was privileged enough to hear the maestro play his horn. But he took trips to town with his new friends and, a decade later, they persuaded him to perform at the inaugural edition of the Jazz Yatra series of concerts in 1978.

Here’s an interview in which Rollins talks about his time in Bombay.

Fifty years after his trip to India, 83-year-old Rollins continues to practice yoga. Early in May, he released Vol 3 of his album series Road Shows, which includes a track titled Patanjali, named after the sage who is thought to have compiled the Yoga Sutras.

Meanwhile, here’s a collection of photos from his 1968, obtained from the album of Jehangir Dalal.




L Shankar shouts the blues

(This is the second part of the BBC documentary Bombay and Jazz. I wrote about the first part last fortnight here.)

Quite improbably, the maestro mispronounces his own name. “Hi,” he calls in an accent that emerges from the interstice between Mylapore and Miami. “I’m Shank-er.”

Jazz, that expression of iconoclastic individualism, is a lifelong quest for your own voice. Jazzmen are obsessed with finding a distinctive way to parse a phrase, with creating a characteristic way to sail just over the beat or under it, with blowing out notes in a tone that’s so unique the music proclaims: Behold, it is I.

Improvisational musician L. Shankar found the song of his soul early. The son of violinist V. Lakshminarayana Iyer, Shankar was a child prodigy. He started vocal lessons at two, began violin at five and gave his first concert at seven. In 1975, aged 25, he co-founded Shakti with British guitar player John McLaughlin and tabla legend Zakir Hussain. Even if its three albums didn’t quite set the global charts afire, Shakti was a raging critical success. Shankar’s compositions were hailed for their maturity, for their assurance, for how effortlessly they projected his very own voice.

Unfortunately, he’s been stuttering in the Babel tower ever since.

Don Cherry and his Bombay gumbo

On New Year’s Day in 1992, a few hundred Bombay fans gathered in the very new Priyadarshani Park on Nepean Sea Road to listen to an eclectic bunch of musicians play a concert that was being recorded for of a BBC documentary. It would later be titled Bombay and Jazz.

The film was directed by the bearded HO Nazareth, a boy from Dadar who had gone on to make his mark in England. In his youth, he’d published a book titled Lobo, with poems like ‘Bombay Gymkhana Grounds’ (“the women wear chandeliers for earrings”) and ‘Warden Road’ (“At Bhulabhai Institute/acquaintances discussed/canvasses, busts/ and brothels in which/they exercised their lust.”)

011I was just starting my career at The Times of India and, the day before the event, was assigned to interview the director, whose friends variously referred to him as either “Naz” or “HoHo” because of his initials. I arrived in the lobby of the SeaRock Hotel in Bandra, where the crew was staying, and waited for him in the reception area. No one there was dressed the way I imagined a film director would be. I called up to his room, but there was no reply.  I would later learn Hubert Nazareth was actually the scruffy chap in the kurta and chappals I’d seen leaning against the wall.  But that discovery would only come the next day. Filled with panic that I wouldn’t have a story to take back, I asked the operator to call the room of any musician who was still in. The first one I found was the beret-wearing maverick, Don Cherry.


Teddy Weatherford’s Cabin in the Sky

This recording by Teddy Weatherford and his band features three trumpet players. One of them is George Banks, father of the pianist Louis Banks. The other two hornmen, both Anglo-Indians, studied at St Mary’s School in Byculla: Bill McDermott (pictured above) and Pat Blake (who would later sit in with the Duke Ellington band when it toured India in 1962).

Thanks to Maxine Steller for this photo. This track is from the Marco Pacci collection. Kitty Walker is the vocalist.

Cabin in the Sky was the title song of a movie of the same name directed by Vincent Minelli. The plot was a variation on the story of Faust. It was a landmark film because it featured a cast that was entirely African-American. Perhaps the most popular tune from the film is the gently swinging Taking a Chance on Love.

Cabin in the Sky by Teddy Weatherford by Taj Mahal Foxtrot

‘She Sold a Million Records’

Mexican magic by KEN MAC by tajmahalfoxtrot1

temp2A few weeks ago, Christine Holmes left a note on my site that added more details to this article:

“Beryl Templeman was my mother-in-law. She died at age 62. Usually at private parties she sang for Aly Khan, Maharajah of of Cooch Behar and Nizam Hyderbad while in the East. The actor Jack Hawkins urged her to join ENSA. By then, she had already made over 100 records for HMV and had her own radio show with All India Radio.

“She was awarded the Burma Star by the Duke of Edinburgh. She also worked for the American Forces Radio Network in Germany.

“Returning from India she performed at the London Palladium with Ted Heath, toured with Roy Fox and appeared regularly with Jack Jackson at the famous Churchill’s Club in London and at that time was sharing a flat with her friend, Pearl Carr.

JJ Rodriguez, RIP

38 Tango Demo 1

For more than 50 years, Joao Joaquim Rodriguez and his school, Cours de Danse, have been teaching Bombay to step out in style. Long before the Latin dance revival, Rodriguez, was showing eager aspirants how to do the cha cha, the mambo, the jive and every other style you can think of, working from a wooden-floored studio in Colaba’s Sethna House.
The excellent dance writer Suhani Singh just messaged to say Rodriguez waltzed off to the Great Ballroom in the Sky this morning. Here’s a piece she wrote about him in Time Out a few years ago. Click here.
To accompany him on his final journey, here’s the Rangoon Gymkhana Club Orchestra performing Melancholy Baby.
Melancholy Baby by naresh fernandes

Category: Bombay

Singing for the Pope, 1964


Eucharistic Congress recordings by tajmahalfoxtrot1

At 5.15 pm on December 2, 1964, Bombay poured into the streets to greet a famous visitor: Pope Paul VI. “Pilgrim of peace gets tumultuous welcome: 15-deep cheering crowds pack streets,” said the Times of India’s headline. Both Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Vice President Zakir Hussain were on the tarmac at Santa Cruz airport as the Pope stepped out of the plane, joining his hands to say “Namaste”.  As his open Ford convertible made its way south, passing through streets decorated with archways and bunting, more than a million people of lined his route.

Fado Bombaim

One night on a recent trip to Lisbon, I heard a flute playing somewhere near the flat in which I was staying. I followed my ears and was delighted to find myself at a performance by Rao Kyao, whom I had seen in Bombay in the early 1990s.

Rao_Kyao_2Rao, who plays the saxophone and the flute, has been a frequent visitor to India — and to Bombay. The first time he came to India was in 1980, to perform at the Jazz Yatra. He became so entranced by the sound of the bansuri that he became a student of Raghunath Seth and spent a lot of time in Bombay over the next decade.

He used his lessons to enhance the sonic textures of fado, the emotion-drenched song-form beloved in Lisbon, adding the bansuri to the standard ensemble of Portuguese and Spanish guitar. He has also attempted to foreground fado’s Eastern influences, especially its Arab and Indian traces. This tune, with the vocalist Deolinda Bernardo, is called Canta-se o Fado.

About a decade before this track, though, Rao Kyao recorded this tribute to the city that decisively changed his musical direction — Bombaim.

Here, meanwhile, is a diary I wrote for Outlook about my trip.


Iraq and Roll: Bollywood’s Jewish Sounds

A version of this piece first appeared in Time Out Mumbai.

The dulcet ring of the oud is impossible to miss on the soundtrack of Yahudi, Bimal Roy’s unlikely Bollywood historical made in 1958 about the persecution of Jews in ancient Rome. The background score, composed by Shankar and Jaikishan, has a vaguely Middle Eastern feel to it and as the plot twists and turns, it often falls to the versatile Arabian stringed instrument to signal the swirling emotions. As massacres are ordered, betrayals ensue and Dilip Kumar falls in love with Meena Kumari, the oud sobs, sighs and sings to enhance the mood on screen. It could easily have descended into kitsch. Perhaps the reason it didn’t was the fact that the man plucking the strings, Isaac David, was well acquainted with Middle Eastern music. David was Jewish himself and in the early years of the last century, he had polished his art by playing with an ensemble in Mumbai that recorded four discs of Iraqi Jewish tunes for the Hebrew Record label.

shirhodu-front-bSome of those tunes can be heard on a collection called Shir Hodu: Jewish Song from Bombay of the ’30s, which offers a fascinating reminder of the city’s cosmopolitan heritage. The 15 archival tracks on the album have been painstakingly put together by Sara Manasseh, a Bombay-born Iraqi Jewish ethnomusicologist who now lives in London. During the 1930s, Bombay was “a musical kaleidoscope”, Manasseh says in her liner notes, and the pieces included music and Jewish prayer chants in Hebrew.


Goering Had Two (But Very Small)


V Day in Bandra, 1945

untitledEver so often, the still of the Bandra night is broken by a raucous party somewhere in the distance bursting into song. A guitar jangles, someone sits down at the piano and a boisterous chorus repeats an item of World War II propaganda regarding the anatomical inadequacies of the Nazi high command.

“Hitler, he has only one ball,” insist the lyrics, sung to the tune of Colonel Bogey’s March. “Goering has two, but very small. Himmler had something similar, and Goebbels has no balls at all (pa pa pa pa pa pum…)” [A version from the film John Rabe here.]

Last weekend, as I listened to a group of my neighbours celebrate a birthday, I realised that several Bandra favourites date back to the World Wars. It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, for instance, is a tune from the Great War that expressed the homesickness of Irish troops from that town in central Ireland. Sentimental Journey, released in 1945, became a homecoming anthem for returning soldiers.

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