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Swinging in Bombay, 1948

Henry Green, Frank Fernand and Hal Green at the Bombay Swing Club debut concert

Henry Green, Frank Fernand and Hal Green at the Bombay Swing Club debut concert

BSW 1959 BrochureOne day in the late 1940s, musicians Hal and Henry Green asked Bombay businessman JJ Davar if he’d lend them his extensive collection of swing discs so that they could start a jazz record listening club.  After tossing the idea around for a while, they decided that it would be a better idea to set up an organisation to perform live music instead. Trumpet player Frank Fernand joined the conversations and, on November 28, 1948, the Bombay Swing Club gave its inaugural concert at the Cama Hall.

Though I mentioned the Club in Taj Mahal Foxtrot, I only recently obtained details about the organisation’s origins, thanks to material  mailed to me from Australia by the amazing Maxine Steller.  She not only sent me a copy of an autographed programme of that concert, she also had a clip from the Sunday Standard that had been written on the BSC’s first anniversary. The article describes in some detail the trouble that Bombay Swing Club’s debut concert ran into: the worst cyclone the city had witnessed in decades.

“Electricity having failed, Eddy Jones, Clarence Bean and Henry Green worked feverishly at night with candles (bought at Rs ¼ a piece) sawing, cutting, hammering, painting to get the music stands and stage props together on time,” the article said.
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Bollyjazz on a Summer’s Day

This Geeta Dutt tune from the 1956 film Bhai Bhai featured music composed by Madan Mohan. It was his first hit. The film ran for 24 weeks. It would have gone on to a silver jubilee run, but a dispute between the director and the producer scotched that hope.

I’m fairly certain that the Goan trumpet player Chic Chocolate was his assistant, even though he isn’t mentioned in the credits. That would explain why the melodic inspiration for the tune, and a direct quotation that starts from 1.51, are from this classic Portuguese fado, Coimbra, performed here by the diva Amalia Rodrigues as April in Portugal. It’s a tune that Chic Chocolate would most likely have heard in his home state, which was still a Portuguese colony when Bhai Bhai was made (and would remain one for five more years).

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Chic Chocolate’s Too Much in Love

  Long after he’d made a series of successful wartime recordings, the trumpet player Chic Chocolate became a regular at the Taj Mahal Hotel in downtown Bombay. One season, he joined forces with Chris Perry, the genius who was in the process of reinventing Konkani pop music.

Written by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon,this tune was featured in the film Song of the Open Road and earned an Academy Award nomination for best original song in 1945.

This track is from the Marco Pacci collection. The vocalist is Charles Sheppard.

Too Much in Love by CHIC & HIS MUSIC MAKERS by Taj Mahal Foxtrot

India Was a Revelation

“I’m a ‘dance’ band drummer, always was, and always will be.” That’s what 87-year-old Roy Holliday declares on his Facebook page, and the way he’s playing the drums in that clip, it’s clear that he intends to keep beating the skins for a long time to come. Holliday lives in the UK and stumbled upon the Foxtrot website because he was trying to locate Indian jazz musicians he met in the hill station of Mussoorie in the summer of 1947, months before Partition. He’d come to India earlier that year as a member of the Royal Air Force.

He’s been kind enough to let me reproduce a section from his as-yet-unpublished memoir:

“India was a revelation, from the moment we landed the air was filled with exotic sights, sounds and smells. Our first two days in Bombay were spent aboard the ship as the transit camp at Worli was not ready to receive us. We were however allowed ashore to do some sight-seeing and I even managed to escape the heat in an air-conditioned cinema. But we were not prepared for the poverty and the sight of thousands of people sleeping in the streets.

There were many other cultural changes for us and at our transit camp we became acquainted with the old colonial system which was still in operation at that time. We were allocated to billets each containing 16 beds, with two Indian servants or ‘bearers’ to clean our shoes and press our uniforms. The days here were spent in idleness, after a morning parade and breakfast we scanned the notice board to see if the daily orders contained details of our postings, and if your name did not appear, the day was yours to spend as you pleased. Many of us passed the day at Breach Candy, a swimming pool with a bar and waiters to bring ice-cold drinks to your reclining chair at the poolside.
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Chic Chocolate’s Here It Is Monday

More Chic Chocolate from the Marco Pacci collection. The vocalist is Charles Sheppard. This tune first appeared in the film Song of the Open Road, made in 1944.

Here’s what the New York Times said about the film: “A beautiful child (14-year-old Jane Powell in her feature film debut) star tires of life in the spotlight and so disguises herself and sneaks off to join a Civilian Conservation Corps camp to work with normal kids. It doesn’t take her long to discover that being “normal” isn’t easy as it looks. When a crop is in danger of being ruined because there are not enough people to harvest it, the girl employs some of her famous colleagues to lend a hand. Cameo appearances include W.C. Fields, Charley McCarthy and Edgar Bergen and the dancing Condos Brothers.”

Here It Is Monday by CHIC & HIS MUSIC MAKERS by Taj Mahal Foxtrot

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Chic Chocolate’s I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night


I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night was part of the soundtrack of the 1943 film Higher and Higher. It was recorded in Calcutta two years later by Chic Chocolate and his Music Makers and featured the band’s regular vocalist, Charles Sheppard.

This track is from the Marco Pacci collection.

I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night by CHIC & HIS MUSIC MAKERS by Taj Mahal Foxtrot

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Chic Chocolate’s Brooklyn Bombshell

In 1940s, as the US marched to war, Hollywood pulled up its socks, put on its makeup and got behind the troops. It churned out scores of movies aimed at keeping morale high. Among the feel-good films of the time was Stage Door Canteen, which celebrated a recreational centre for recruits of that name in New York. The film was studded with cameos by such figures as Katherine Hepburn, Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller and even the Anglo-Indian actress Merle Oberon.
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Chic Chocolate in Aakhri Khat

There are many reasons to watch Chetan Anand’s 1966 film Aakhri Khat, especially if you’re a Bombay nostalgist. The film uses a hand-held camera to follow at 15-month-old toddler lost in the city, dozing where he will and eating what he can.
For reasons that aren’t clear to me, large parts of the film are shot in Mahim, with sweeping vistas of the beach when it was still a vibrant fishing village. There are also shots of the old St Michael’s Church – which was built in 1534. The present structure came up in 1973, six years after the Aakhri Khat was shot.
From the jazz buff’s point of view, the film is noteworthy because the tune Rut Jawan Jawan, performed by Bhupinder, features the trumpet player Chic Chocolate squeezing off bluesy blasts onstage. He died shortly after this film was completed.

Long Gone Blues

[An excerpt from Taj Mahal Foxtrot, which appears as the cover story in Mint/Lounge today.]

As a teenager in the Goan village of Curchorem, Franklin Fernandes spent long hours practising the trumpet with only one goal in mind: he wanted to “play like a negro”. It wasn’t an ambition his teacher, Maestro Diego Rodrigues, would have understood. Like all teachers in Goa’s parochial schools, Rodrigues coached his charges in musical theory and instructed them in the art of playing hymns and Western classical music. Fernandes was a precocious talent. His mastery of the violin was recognised early but the young man, to his teacher’s dismay, soon developed a fascination for the clear, ringing sounds of the trumpet. It wasn’t long before Fernandes became a regular member of the village marching band, playing at parish feasts, weddings and—in New Orleans style—at funerals too. However, unlike the New Orleans bands famed for their improvised flights of fancy, Fernandes’ village orchestra was, he recalled, a “paper band—they played what was written”.

Soon, even this was to become trickier as new instructions began to appear on the music scores: glissando, mute, attack. It was all very baffling. “But when we heard the records, we knew how to play the notes,” Fernandes said. The thick shellac records that set him off on his journey of discovery bore the names of Ellington, Armstrong and Cab Calloway, and Fernandes grew addicted to hot music. Jazz, he said, gave him “freedom of expression”. He still looked at the sheet music, of course, but he knew that it could take him only so far. “Like Indian music, jazz can’t be written,” he said. “You have to feel it. There are 12 bars, but each musician plays it differently. You play as you feel—morning you play different, evening you play different.”

[Complete  version here.]

 

The Man Who Was Untired of Repetitions


The bandleader Mickey Correa, the last link to an incredibly rich part of Bombay’s musical history, passed away today at the age of 98. This picture was probably shot around 1939, when Correa was hired to lead an orchestra at the Taj in Bombay. He stayed there until 1961. Over the decades, his band was a nursery for fresh  talent. The musicians who emerged from his ensemble included the pianist Lucilla Pacheco, the saxophonists Johnny Baptist, Norman Mobsby and George Pacheco, and the trumpet players Chic Chocolate and Frank Fernand.

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