The Vile Parle Wonderboys

Over the course of my research, I’ve occasionally encountered names of performers in programme brochures and on record labels that have, frustratingly, remained little more than just that: names. None of the other musicians I have interviewed have been able to give me more than sketchy details about these performers, I haven’t been able to track down their families and there’s little about them in the news clips I’ve found. Among these tantalising phantoms are the Theodore brothers: Joe, Harry, George and Bertie aka Lups, who led one of the first Indian swing bands to play a stint at the Taj in the late 1930s.

I first heard about the brothers from the trumpet player Frank Fernand, who made his debut with an outfit led by Joe Theodore around 1937. The saxophonist Mickey Correa, who fronted his own band at the Taj from 1939 to 1961, told me that he’d also played in the Theodore band. Several years later, Correa would find himself hiring his former bandleader’s younger brother Lups, as is clear from the announcements on a scratchy tape I heard of the saxophonist’s farewell concert at the Taj, an invaluable piece of jazz history that Susheel Kurien, director of Finding Carlton, restored for his fabulous documentary-in-progress.

On a trip to Delhi a few years ago, I picked up two more scraps of information. Percy Dias, the nonagenarian drummer who lives in East of Kailash, told me that the Theodore brothers were from Vile Parle, in northern Bombay and that an early edition of their family band was called the Merry Warblers. The pianist Mohsin Menezes recalled that the Theodores were a burly bunch who loved a good brawl. During the war years, the Theodores played frequently for Allied troops stationed in Bombay and when the dancers got unruly, as was often the case, the Theodores would leap off the stage to  bash in a few heads and quieten things down.

In the early 1940s, Joe Theodore’s band cut at least ten sides, under several, slightly different names: the Taj Mahal Hotel Dance Orchestra, Theodore’s Taj Hotel Dance Band, Theodore’s New Music, Theodore’s Sweet Music and Theodore and his Dance Orchestra. Joe Theodore also played the bass on several sides cut by another duo about whom I know very little – Mellow and Rich, consisting of a guitar player named Geo Mello and a vocalist named Joe Rich, who performed Hawaiian tunes.

The only newspaper article I’ve been able to find about Joe Theodore was tucked away in Mickey Correa’s album. It dated back to approximately 1938 and, illustrated by the photo on top of this article, described a two-hour session of “snappy dance music” organised by the manager of Majestic Hotel  “that old haunt of Bombay’s pleasure seekers” – (now the MLAs Hostel) on Colaba Causeway. It isn’t clear in which newspaper the article had appeared.

The article said that Theodore and His Boys “need no recommendation” to Bombay dance fans. It was especially enthusiastic about the crooner, Bert Nissim. “He has the moan and the curl, the sob and all that it takes to put crooning right home in the hearts of such as love it,” the writer declared. “For a lad who started out to be an electrical engineer and made a passing good one, he is the bee’s knees as a crooner.” Mickey Correa also drew attention, being praised as “a saxophonist of merit and definite attraction”.

There’s very little in my research material, however, about the other Theodores – Harry, George and Bertie. They’re all in that newspaper photo, but I don’t know who is whom. Even though I can’t identify them, I was fortunate to find a record that allowed me to figure out what they sounded like. Here’s the Taj Mahal Hotel Dance Orchestra, led by Joe Theodore, performing Chattanooga Choo Choo in 1942.

Chatanoogachoochoo by naresh.fernandes


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8 Responses
  1. The Taj had another hotel (Probably Gateway) now where the Intercontinental is located. I remember my parents taking us for lunch there and Chic Chocolates Playing with his Jazz Band .One of my earliest memories of listening to some great jazz.

    • Naresh says:

      You’re quite right: it was called Green’s and was located where the new Taj now stands (thoughl, since it’s now about 40 year old, perhaps not so new anymore).

  2. Nate Rabe says:

    Dear Naresh,
    What a site. Can’t wait for your book. I’m american born and raised in India. totally in love with this subject and music generally. Are you aware of the work of Prof Brad Shope from Texas A&M?
    When is your book out by the way?

    Great stuff thanks so much.

  3. Steven Smith says:

    Very interesting.

    I’m George Theodore’s grand son. I never met my grand father but I heard all about his band from my mother.

  4. Steven Smith says:

    My mother told me that the band disbanded in the 1940s and that my grand father, George, went to work in the oild industry in the Middle East. He bought a flat with his wife Vera Theodore in Mistry Chambers, Colaba. They had two children Marlene, my mother, and Glenn. George Theodore died in 1974.

  5. Ashok Row Kavi says:

    The hotel near the old Taj was called Greens and it had the best fried fish and cream cause this side of Suez. I remember the young cross dancer Allan Gill dancing there and fell in love with him not knowing he was actually a boy……we became great friends later on and he became my gay mother.
    Allan Gill died in 2006 from complications rising from HIV. I still remember those days though.

  6. Sidharth says:

    Alan was a phenomenal talent, say those who saw him. Ashok introduced me to him and he used to regale us with stories about his drag act in Venice and other places. His name came up when I interviewed some cabernet artistes from Calcutta; they had hilarious anecdotes about how his act used to confuse customers who got excited when they saw him as a woman and then pissed off when he took off most of his clothes.

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