Archive for » April, 2012 «

Little Flowers

Bollywood music directors have often been accused of plagiarising melodies from other traditions. Though some have had the temerity to pass off note-for-note copies as their own work, many others have used material gathered from a variety of sources as a springboard for their imaginations, transforming these base elements into something completely unique.

As a case in point, here’s Ay Dil Ab Kahin Le Jaa, from the 1963 film Bluff Master. The music was composed by Kalyanji Anandji and the tune is sung by Hemant Kumar.  Below, the Sidney Bechet classic that inspired it, performed by Angelique Kidjo.

Burmese Nights

In 1941, as World War Two raged, the Japanese advance on India’s borders had an unforeseen effect on the country’s jazz scene. Among the hundreds of thousands of people who trekked out of Burma for India ahead of the Japanese vanguard were several Burmese jazz musicians. The most prominent were members of one of Rangoon’s hottest bands, the Jive Boys, which featured Reuben Solomon on clarinet, Paul Feraz on bass, and three guitarists: Ike Issacs, Reuben’s brother Solly and Cedric West. They arrived in Calcutta in March 1942 and were immediately offered positions in the city’s most prominent bands. (See Amitav Ghosh’s note on the great trek here.)

The Ghost of the Grand

Earlier this week, I met up with Veronica Balsara,  who I really wish I’d interviewed for the book. She has a sharp memory for quirky detail and vivid way of telling stories that kept me enraptured for an entire morning. Balsara is the daughter of Sybil Hutson, who, along with her siblings Merlyn and Ailsa, performed as the Hutson Sisters during the war years. As Balsara recalled the career of the Hutson Sisters, she also told me about her own life as a dancer at the Calcutta’s Grand Hotel. A couple of hours into our conversation, she dropped in a detail I’d never heard before: the hotel is said to be haunted by the ghost of the great African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford, who died in 1945.

Balsara had first-hand knowledge of this. Late one night, as she was returning her room after a performance, she said, she saw an apparition of Weatherford, wearing a brown suit, looking sadly out of the balcony. At first, she thought that one of the West Indian cricket players staying in the Grand at the time had strayed into the staff quarters. But Balsara soon heard other staff members telling of strange knocks on their doors in the middle of the night and of magical piano music the distance.

Blues by the Arabian Sea

[This piece appears as an op-ed in The Hindu today. To accompany it, here are two tracks by Teddy Weatherford from the Marco Pacci archive. They feature George Banks on trumpet.]

Earlier this year, a stage in suburban Mumbai played host to a jazz-fusion concert headlining Niladri Kumar, a fifth-generation sitar player. The depth of Kumar’s association with Hindustani classical music was satisfying, but it wasn’t as surprising as the long family connection one of his sidemen had with jazz. Gino Banks, the drummer at the performance, is a third-generation Indian jazz musician — a rather astonishing fact considering that the musical form was born in the faraway port city of New Orleans merely four generations ago.

Many fans know Gino as the son of the keyboard player Louiz Banks, the most prominent personality on the Indo-jazz fusion scene, but only a few realise that the Banks’ links with Western popular music stretch back to the 1940s, when Gino Banks’ grandfather, George, was recruited to perform alongside a visiting African-American pianist named Teddy Weatherford.

Though jazz has now become a niche interest in the subcontinent, Gino Banks and other third-generation Indian jazz musicians continue to perform fairly regularly, living proof that our country is heir to a tradition that it can claim as its own with much passion as the citizens of France or Japan, two other nations that took to jazz early.

Click here to read the complete piece.

I Take to You by TEDDY WEATHERFORD AND HIS BAND by Taj Mahal Foxtrot

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You by TEDDY WEATHERFORD AND HIS BAND by Taj Mahal Foxtrot

Pune’s Dixieland-loving Dasturji

Ahead of my trip to Pune for an event at six this evening at the CMYK bookstore at Koregaon Park (do come if you’re free), I suddenly recalled Sardar Dastur Hormazdiar, a Parsi high priest who is a footnote in Taj Mahal Foxtrot. The Pune cleric finds a place in jazz history because of an act of kindness – or fandom? – he displayed in 1958, when he took some hours off to show a visiting American trumpet player around his city. Max Kaminsky was a sideman to Dixieland trombonist Jack Teagarden and, years later, when he wrote his memoirs, he remembered Sardar Dastur Hormazdiar fondly.

“Everywhere we went in India, the people were unfailingly kind and gravious to us, and the jazz fans were passionately devoted,” Kaminsky noted in My Life in Jazz. “But it was in Poona…that I met one of the most impressive and unusual fans I ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was the high priest of the Parsis, and after the concert he asked to be presented to me.”

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