As I began to upload this week’s piece, I realised that it was article number 54 – which means that this website marked its first anniversary earlier in May without my realising it. When I started the Taj Mahal Foxtrot site, I thought it would allow me to highlight recordings mentioned in the book and to feature tidbits that hadn’t managed to find their way into the manuscript. As it turns out, the website has taken a life of its own.
The site launched on May 21, 2011, with this piece about the African-American drummer Oliver Tines who played with Louis Armstrong in Europe before dying of tuberculosis in Satara in 1938. Since then, it has explored why Mina Kava’s Bombay Meri Hai is popular in Sri Lanka, followed Usha Uthup through her early nightclub years and pored through a book of jazz record art by Manek Davar.
People from around the world have sent me their stories and the stories of their families: Robert Evangelista told me about his father’s Filipino band in Jamalpur in the 1930s; from Italy, Ricardo Fantin sent material about his grandfather, John Abriani, who performed in India in the early 1930s; Patricia Kaden from Cremona told me about how Mena Silas wrote a waltz for her mother (and about how her grandfather shot the film Sabu the Elephant Boy); Penina Partsch described her grandmother’s journey from Calcutta to Hawaii; Maxine Steller from Australia has been sending me treasures every day.
Just when I thought I’d run out of material, the generous Marco Pacci appeared from Italy with an offer to let me feature the records he’s collected over the years. As a result, thanks to so many of you, this website still has a few more months of stories to tell and music to showcase.
Last week, I reproduced a charming note written by Maxine Steller, a Bombay native who now lives in Australia. This week, it’s time for her husband, 87-year-old Fred Steller, to take the stage, in a long note transcribed by Maxine:
Frederick Joseph Steller was born on the 2nd December 1925. His parents were Charles Joseph Steller, who was German, and Maria Annika (Annie) Falcao de Carvalho, of Portuguese descent. Charles’ parents had come from Berlin to India with a theatrical company. Otto Herman Steller (born 1863) was a Professor of Music and his wife Ernestine, nee Hauke, (born1867) was a talented violinist from Halla. When the concert party disbanded in Bombay, they decided to stay on. Otto became the bandmaster of The Bombay Volunteer Rifles and died of meningitis in 1895 at the age of 32 years.
Garney Nyss was a man of varied talents. He played first division cricket in Bengal for many years. The hockey legend Dhyan Chand was so in awe of his prowess with the stick, he once exclaimed, “What kind of player are you, Nyss? Have you dropped from heaven?” He was such an insightful ornithologist, Salim Ali wanted to co-author a book with him. He was an excellent photographer, and his book Memories is a well-observed record of the India of the 1940s. But between representing his state in hockey for 18 years and making documentary films on Himalayan birds and Mother Teresa, Nyss and his band, the Aloha Boys, made approximately 60 sides of Hawaiian music for HMV in the 1940s.
Bridget Moe and Penina Partsch
Today, Bridget Moe turns 85 in Houston, Texas. Her granddaughter, Penina Partsch, who is pictured alongside her, has spent the last few days waking up early to start cooking, making decorations and editing a slide show about her Nani’s life. And what an eventful life it’s been. Bridget Moe, born Bridget Althea Ensell to an Anglo-Indian family in Calcutta, is the last living link in an unlikely cultural loop that connects India to the South Pacific islands, a connection that has enriched Indian music immensely.