With the passing of the reedman Joe Pereira this morning, Bombay’s jazz age has truly come to an end. Jazzy Joe, as he was known fondly to three generations of Indian fans, was the last of the musicians from the swing era. He was 86.
Pereira started performing in 1941, aged only 14, in a band in Lahore’s Stiffle’s Hotel fronted by his cousin, the legendary Sebastian D’Souza. After spending much of his career in Lahore, Delhi and Calcutta, Pereira returned to Bombay in the 1980s and helped train a bunch of enthusiastic hornmen (and hornwomen) who performed occasionally as the Jazz Junkeys.
Visiting Pereira at his home in Victory Blocks, right behind Bandra police station, was always enlightening. Until a couple of years ago when his health began to fail, Pereira could be counted on to recall slightly risqué stories about his encounters with cabaret dancers and to tell, in mock horror, about his shyness at their routine state of dishabille, even off stage. He would tell about his musical journeys through India and his trips to Europe, his eyes lighting up with memories of musicians he’d jammed with and places he’d seen.
After Partition, Pereria played with the Johnny Baptist band in Bombay and Rudy Cotton in Delhi, before joining an outfit in Calcutta headed by the Russian violinist Walter Yeshin. In 1957, he began to head his own band at the Blue Fox on Park Street.
Back in Bombay, many still remember his turn conducting the Foottappers Band at the 1984 Jazz Yatra, leading the group through his composition Flight of the Raga, based on Yaman. Like so many of his contemporaries, he also played in the film studios, and was an assistant to the composers Shankar-Jaikishen.
Pereira’s funeral will be held tomorrow, Saturday June 15, at 4pm at St Peter’s Church in Bandra. My condolences to his daughter Pamela, son Christopher and the rest of the Pereira family. As Jazzy Joe heads up to the Great Bandstand in the Sky, you can download some of his music here.