Archive for » November, 2011 «

Bombay in Swing Time

[This is a slightly edited version of the Preface to Taj Mahal Foxtrot. It appears in the latest issue of Time Out Mumbai.]

Taj Mahal Foxtrot, a tale that unfolds across five continents, began mundanely enough with a stroll down the street to interview a musician who lived around the corner from my home in Bandra. It was 2002 and the objective of my mission, I must confess, wasn’t entirely noble. I was seeking to excavate gossip about a scandalous affair that had titillated the world of migrant Goan musicians in Mumbai in the 1960s. Being inherently lazy, I had decided to bring my inquiries as close to home as possible and made an appointment with the musician-father of my college friends Larissa and Max Fernand. I didn’t know much about the man, except that he’d played in jazz bands and in the Hindi film studios. He seemed as good a starting point as any other.

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Swingin’ Rhythms from Italy

 Another week, another set of photos from the relative of a pioneering jazz musician in India and another round of frustration at not having any information to share. Recently, I received mail from the grandson of John Abriani, an Italian musician who performed in Calcutta between 1932 and 1934. But precious little has come up about Abriani in my research.
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Category: Audio, Jazz  Tags:

Line Kings

As I wait for Taj Mahal Foxtrot to roll off the presses, I’ve been trying to tame the mountain of research material that has grown steadily by the side of my computer over the past few years. I’ve amassed all sorts of arcania. I have music in three formats (CDs, LPs and 78s). I have newsletters issued by a short-lived association of Indians performing western music in the 1940s, the menu of the offerings at the Taj on Independence Day, 1947, and dozens of clips from The Chicago Defender. I have a guidebook to Shanghai from 1935, a monograph on Gandhi’s influence on the US Civil Rights Movement and almost everything written by that feisty commentator DF Karaka. As I got to the bottom of the pile, I found two treasures I’d forgotten about: Jazz Album Covers: The Rare and the Beautiful and David Stone Martin: Jazz Graphics. Both of them were written by Manek Daver, a businessman who spent much of his life in Japan. Though Taj Mahal Foxtrot is the first book about Indian jazz, Daver is the first Indian to have written books related to jazz.

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Battleground Bombay: Hot Jazz and the Cold War

Pakhawaj player Narayan Koli explains a technicality to the Dave Brubeck quartet and others.

One evening in 1958, the pianist Dave Brubeck and his quartet gathered in the home of a jazz-loving industrialist on Mumbai’s Malabar Hill to chat with a group of Indian musicians led by the sitar maestro Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan. Then they picked up their instruments and put their new knowledge to work. The jam session with Khan, the American pianist said later, changed the way he approached his art. “His influence made me play in a different way,” Brubeck told Jazz Journal International. “Although Hindu scales, melodies and harmonies are different, we understood each other…The folk origins of music aren’t far apart anywhere in the world.”

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