Before the African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford arrived in Bombay in 1935, he was a legend at the Canidrome Ballroom in Shanghai, a city whose nightlife, as evident from the clip above, was vibrant and had a famously notorious reputation across the world.
Shanghai was a thriving jazz centre, providing work for scores of bands from the US, Europe and across Asia. “Shanghai flames with millions of flashing jewels at midnight,” boasted the All About Shanghai guidebook, from which this ad is reproduced. “Joy, gin and jazz. There’s nothing puritanical about Shanghai.”
This recording is from the Marco Pacci collection. Weatherford plays piano and sings on this track. For more Weatherford recordings, click here.
In 1939, as Britain entered World War II, it established ENSA – the Entertainment National Service Association – to keep the troops in good spirits. Singers like Vera Lynn and actors like Laurence Olivier toured Europe to perform for field units. In August 1942, three months after the Japanese had driven the British out of Burma, Calcutta was filled with Allied soldiers who had fled South East Asia and were attempting to regroup. That month, members of Calcutta’s British community decided to form BESA – the Bengal Entertainment Services Association. more…
As millions of Brazilians take to the streets to demand schools instead of stadiums, here are two musical reminders of that country’s intriguing links with India. The first is a clip of the adventurous Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti and his sideman, Nana Vasconcelos, attempting to find common ground with Indian musicians when they visited Bombay for the Jazz Yatra in 1984.
This piece from NPR is about a samba school from the northern city of Salvador do Bahaia that has long fascinated me: Filhos de Gandhy, or Sons of Gandhi. One of their most prominent members, the pop star Gilberto Gil, performed at Azad Maidan in Mumbai in 2004, as part of the World Social Forum. more…
Henry Green, Frank Fernand and Hal Green at the Bombay Swing Club debut concert
One day in the late 1940s, musicians Hal and Henry Green asked Bombay businessman JJ Davar if he’d lend them his extensive collection of swing discs so that they could start a jazz record listening club. After tossing the idea around for a while, they decided that it would be a better idea to set up an organisation to perform live music instead. Trumpet player Frank Fernand joined the conversations and, on November 28, 1948, the Bombay Swing Club gave its inaugural concert at the Cama Hall.
Though I mentioned the Club in Taj Mahal Foxtrot, I only recently obtained details about the organisation’s origins, thanks to material mailed to me from Australia by the amazing Maxine Steller. She not only sent me a copy of an autographed programme of that concert, she also had a clip from the Sunday Standard that had been written on the BSC’s first anniversary. The article describes in some detail the trouble that Bombay Swing Club’s debut concert ran into: the worst cyclone the city had witnessed in decades.
“Electricity having failed, Eddy Jones, Clarence Bean and Henry Green worked feverishly at night with candles (bought at Rs ¼ a piece) sawing, cutting, hammering, painting to get the music stands and stage props together on time,” the article said. more…
A recent report about Stanley Kubrick’s unmade film about the persecution jazz musicians faced in Nazi Germany reminded me of the man in white in the photo above, Creighton Thompson, who sang TajMahal Foxtrot, the tune from which this website and my book take their name. As regular readers of this site know, the tune was a perfect example of Bombay’s multiculturalism of the 1930s: it had been composed by a Bombay Jewish man named Mena Silas and recorded by a band led by the African-American trumpet player Crickett Smith. Chicago-born Creighton Thompson came to Bombay from Europe, where he had been performing since 1920. But early in the 1930s, he and other African-American performers were forced out of Germany as Nazi policies forbade non-Aryans from appearing on the radio and from theatres. more…
Terrence Davin (far left, at the drums) aged 15 or 16, with Rego and his Rhumba Boys in Rawalpindi. The picture was taken in the courtyard of an Anglo-Indian home where they played for a wedding reception.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been exchanging mail with Terrence Davin, a retired pastor from British Columbia, in Canada, who spent his youth making music in north India. He tracked me down after I appeared on a radio programme in Australia. Here, this Easter weekend, is his wonderfully detailed story:
I was a musician in India for a while. I was born in 1928 in a small town named Kundian in the North Western Province of then British India. My father, an Irishman, worked on the North Western Railway and was stationed there for a while, my mother was an Anglo-Indian. We eventually moved to Rawalpindi where I attended the Station School for my early education and then the (co-ed) Presentation Convent for standards 5 & 6. I finally ended up with a private tutor and passed the matriculation exam.
I started playing drums at an early age. One of my English school friends had a mini-set and I got a chance to practice on it and we would play along with the records, old 78s in those days. Then we formed a three piece band to amuse ourselves and entertain his parents. I played harmonica, he the drums and my brother converted and old metal bath tub into a bass. We were about 11 or 12 years old at that time and still in school.
I made some progress with the drums I guess because when the drummer for Rhondo’s band (they played for the Telegraph Club) was ill, Mr. Rhondo asked me to stand in. I used to go to their dances and sit close to the drummer, a Filipino, and watch him play and occasionally he would let me play for a piece or two. He was somewhat old-fashioned but very regimented! I guess that’s how Rhondo knew I could play even though I was just a teenager, still in school. I began to be called to stand in quite often and what I earned for those one night gigs helped to pay my private tutor.
Preparing to moderate a conversation earlier this week with the writer-musician Amit Chaudhuri about his new book on Calcutta, I revisited his This Is Not Fusion album — and remembered that he had also recorded a tune called All India Radio. The source material for Amit’s melody was the All India Radio theme song, composed, as this article noted last fortnight, by a Jewish refugee named Walter Kaufmann.
The music on the This Is Not Fusion album, as Amit explained in his liner notes, aims to move “towards a musical and conceptual meeting point, a space in which not only musicians encounter each other but in which musical lineages intersect and renovate themselves and become altered by this contact”. more…
The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s world tour in 1958 was an unqualified success. As the pianist recalls in this video, fans in the Eastern Block sometimes put themselves at great personal risk to attend the concerts. Brubeck’s Indian admirers had it much easier, of course, and more than 50 years later, many remember the performances fondly. That, of course, was the entire point of the massive US State Department initiative to use jazz to win hearts and minds during the Cold War.
The quartet, who were in India from March 31 to April 13, 1958, kicked off their tour in Rajkot and performed in Bombay, Delhi, Hyderabad, Madras and Calcutta. They had been playing in Western Europe in February and March that year, after which US State Department paid for them to visit eight other countries, besides India. They returned home on May 11, after a gig in Baghdad.
There are many more photos and material about Brubeck’s India adventures at the excellent digital collections of the University of the Pacific here. They include this photo of the Quartet being felicitated by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Long after he’d made a series of successful wartime recordings, the trumpet player Chic Chocolate became a regular at the Taj Mahal Hotel in downtown Bombay. One season, he joined forces with Chris Perry, the genius who was in the process of reinventing Konkani pop music.
Written by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon,this tune was featured in the film Song of the Open Road and earned an Academy Award nomination for best original song in 1945.
“I’m a ‘dance’ band drummer, always was, and always will be.” That’s what 87-year-old Roy Holliday declares on his Facebook page, and the way he’s playing the drums in that clip, it’s clear that he intends to keep beating the skins for a long time to come. Holliday lives in the UK and stumbled upon the Foxtrot website because he was trying to locate Indian jazz musicians he met in the hill station of Mussoorie in the summer of 1947, months before Partition. He’d come to India earlier that year as a member of the Royal Air Force.
He’s been kind enough to let me reproduce a section from his as-yet-unpublished memoir:
“India was a revelation, from the moment we landed the air was filled with exotic sights, sounds and smells. Our first two days in Bombay were spent aboard the ship as the transit camp at Worli was not ready to receive us. We were however allowed ashore to do some sight-seeing and I even managed to escape the heat in an air-conditioned cinema. But we were not prepared for the poverty and the sight of thousands of people sleeping in the streets.
There were many other cultural changes for us and at our transit camp we became acquainted with the old colonial system which was still in operation at that time. We were allocated to billets each containing 16 beds, with two Indian servants or ‘bearers’ to clean our shoes and press our uniforms. The days here were spent in idleness, after a morning parade and breakfast we scanned the notice board to see if the daily orders contained details of our postings, and if your name did not appear, the day was yours to spend as you pleased. Many of us passed the day at Breach Candy, a swimming pool with a bar and waiters to bring ice-cold drinks to your reclining chair at the poolside. more…