Tag-Archive for » Burma jazz «

Gymkhana Jive

Like many colonial towns, pre-war Rangoon had its share of clubs at which the upper classes sought diversion. The Pegu was the town’s most prestigious establishment, but the Rangoon Gymkhana Club,  on Halpin Road, built in 1877, also had its share of A-Listers.

William Gordon Burn-Murdoch, a painter and explore who visited Burma in the early 1920s, seemed rather amused by the balls at the Gymkhana Club. “I danced with ladies in ladies in Gainsborough hats, their feathers tickling my eye, in pork pie hats and Watteaus, and picture hats like sparrows’ nests,” he wrote in his book From Edinburgh to India and Burmah, published in 1924. “There were dumpy little ladies and tall stately Junos ie compared with Eastern women. It was so funny to see men in men in suits of blue serge, tweeds or tussore silk, whirling around with ladies in muslins of every lovely colour…It is hot now, they say, but look at the fun they have, especially the ladies.”

I haven’t been able to find much information about the bands that played at the Rangoon Gymkhana Club, except for this small snippet in Reuben Solomon’s story about his early life. “Gigs in Rangoon included playing with Wally Fagin’s band at the Rangoon Gymkhana Club and wherever a live band was needed,” he wrote. ” In spite of my tender years, I managed to get quite a lot of work. ”

These recordings by the Rangoon Gymkhana Club Orchestra feature Fagin as leader and orchestra, but the labels don’t give much information about anything else. It isn’t clear when they were recorded and though they’re stamped “Made in India”, it isn’t apparent in which city these sides were cut.

They’re from the Marco Pacci collection.

Melancholy baby by RANGOON GYMKHANA CLUB by tajmahalfoxtrot1

Trade winds by RANGOON GYMKHANA CLUB by tajmahalfoxtrot1

Category: Audio, India jazz, Jazz  Tags:

Rangoon Rhapsody

The glamorous woman in this photo turned 90 a few weeks ago. Peggy Gilbert now lives in Canada but like Reuben Solomon and his family, who I wrote about recently (here and here), she spent her formative years in Burma. In fact, she actually sang with Solomon’s band, the Jive Boys, for a little while in Rangoon.

This photograph of her was taken before a Red Cross Benefit in Rangoon, in 1940 or 1941. It was sent to me by Susan McPhedran, who left me this message recently: “Greetings from Canada. My mother-in-law, Peggy Gilbert, sang with the Jive Boys in Rangoon before the war. Not only could she sing and was very pretty, she said that she could keep up with them – an important skill for a jazz singer.  She was asked to tour with the band, but her aunt refused to let her go as it was not the thing to do for a respectable young lady.”

McPhedran said her family was in the process of creating a DVD for Peggy Gilbert’s 90th birthday party. “My husband was thrilled to find your site as we do not have any recordings of her or the Jive Boys. (He does remember hearing her on the radio after the war when he was very young),” she wrote.

Reuben Solomon’s Hot Jam (Part 1)

Constantly by REUBEN SOLOMON AND HIS JIVE BOY by Taj Mahal Foxtrot

A few months ago, I wrote this piece about Reuben Solomon and his Jive Boys, the band headed by a Baghdadi Jewish clarinet player from Burma who trekked to Calcutta during the Second World War and recorded prolifically in India. Two guitarists from the Rangoon outfit, Cedric West and Solomon’s cousin, Ike Issacs, went on to significant jazz careers in the UK and beyond.

A few weeks ago, thanks to Lana Whitney, the Rudy Cotton fan who left a message on this site, I’ve been in touch with Solomon’s wife, Charmaine Solomon – a best-selling cookbook writer who is credited with teaching Australians how to make Asian food. She’s authored 31 cookbooks, among them the very influential The Complete Asian Cookbook, which sold more than a million copies and has been translated in five languages. She also sells a range of spice blends and marinades – the intriguing Reuben Solomon’s Roasted Chilli Jam, among them.

Reuben Solomon was born in 1921 and died three years ago in Australia. But a few years before his passing, he told his wife the story of his life. Over the last week, she’s patiently transcribed it for me. Here’s Reuben Solomon’s amazing story, in his own words:

“I remember the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.  Shortly after that we returned to Rangoon as, with Dad’s deteriorating health and circumstances, they could not afford boarding school fees.  We no longer lived in the elegant three-storey house in Godwin Road, but in a much more modest home in Keighley Street.  I finished my schooling in Diocesan Boys School in Rangoon. That was the year I started learning clarinet – and old, battered, metal instrument (ex-Army issue) which was, to say the least, not easy to learn on. But once I had blown my first note, I was hooked.  This sound became more important to me than anything else.  I would practice for hours each day, until sometimes my lips would bleed.

At that time we would get together with nephew Ike Isaacs and brother Saul and a few professional musicians and try to emulate the sounds of the Hot Club of France, sans violin.  We had a group called the Jive Boys, comprising my nephew Ike Isaacs, my brother Saul and Cedric West on guitars, Paul Ferraz on bass and myself on clarinet and sax.  We used to broadcast on All India Radio in Rangoon, as in those days Burma, India and Ceylon were considered one entity – India.  I finished school in 1937 with a pass which meant I could attend University.  I did one year of a science degree, but decided it was more to my liking to play music. I remember Ike saying that I was supposed to be studying science but the call of B-flat was too strong. My first job was deputising for a musician in a night club, starting at 10pm and playing until morning – the sun was up when I left.  How to stay awake at lectures after such a night?


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