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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.

Freedom’s Song

The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s world tour in 1958 was an unqualified success. As the pianist recalls in this video, fans in the Eastern Block sometimes put themselves at great personal risk to attend the concerts. Brubeck’s Indian admirers had it much easier, of course, and more than 50 years later, many remember the performances fondly. That, of course, was the entire point of the massive US State Department initiative to use jazz to win hearts and minds during the Cold War.

The quartet, who were in India from March 31 to April 13, 1958, kicked off their tour in Rajkot and performed in Bombay, Delhi, Hyderabad, Madras and Calcutta. They had been playing in Western Europe in February and March that year, after which US State Department paid for them to visit eight other countries, besides India. They returned home on May 11, after a gig in Baghdad.

There are many more photos and material about Brubeck’s India adventures at the excellent digital collections of the University of the Pacific here. They include this photo of the Quartet being felicitated by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

(Thanks to Somini Sengupta for finding this charming piece of animation.)

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.

Live at the Taj, 1953

What Is This Thing Called Love, Part 1, by British Modern Jazz by tajmahalfoxtrot1

“The rostrum was surrounded with people who were content to stand and watch and that semi-circle kept on increasing by the minute till a stage was reached when people had to stand on chairs to see the bandsmen. The crowd liked the music and they communicated their appreciation by yelling their heads off which in turn exhorted the musicians no end…The consensus of opinion had it that Bombay had not heard better music in many moon.”

The excitement that Coover Guzdar described at the Ballroom of the Taj Mahal Hotel in downtown Bombay on the evening of August 4, 1953, is very audible on the two-part recording of What Is This Thing Called Love above and below. Between trumpet phrases and piano licks, you can hear 500 Bombay fans cheering, clapping and generally being appreciative of the band that had been styled the Swingin’ Britons.

The group had been cobbled together by the editorial board of Blue Rhythm, a magazine that had made its appearance a year earlier. Its editors – Guzdar, Niranjan Jhaveri and Jehangir Dalal – were determined not only to give Bombay the opportunity to read about the music they loved, they also organised concerts to allow the city learn about the latest directions in which jazz was headed.


The French Connection

Not much is know about Georges Leonardi, the trombone player on this track by Teddy Weatherford and his Band titled I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With You, except that he was French.

He seems to have come to Bombay in 1933 with the Jos Ghisleri band to perform at the Taj Mahal Hotel and stayed on after Ghisleri returned to Paris. That year, The Times of India described him as a “first-prize winner of the Conservatoire de Paris”.

In his excellent memoir Trumpet Story, Bill Coleman, who came to Bombay as part of Leon Abbey’s band in the mid-1930s, described Leonardi as a “straight man” who could play what was written, but couldn’t improvise. Coleman adds that Leonardi also played the violin, “which was nice for some of the acts we accompanied”.


Amru Sani’s Hot Sauce

Amru Sani with the Mickey Correa band at Green's Hotel, Bombay, 1948-'49

Was Amru Sani the first Indian to make it in the exalted world of American show biz?  In the 1950s, Sani had a brief streak of fame in the US, appearing in a Broadway revue and cutting a bunch of popular records. In 1953, when Sani was booked for an assignment in Hollywood nightclub called Ciro’s, the New Journal and Guide described her as “India’s Lena Horne”. It was clear that she’d made quite an impression her audience. “The Hollywood nightclub male habitués responded to this Indian love call – Bombay, India, that is – in such large numbers that Amru is assured of success on her American tour,” the paper gushed. It added her name meant “goddess of love”.

 A few months earlier, Variety magazine was all praise for her stint at Statler’s Embassy Room in Washington. “She has a regal bearing and generally carries herself almost ramrod stiff with her arms at her sides and slightly bent backwards. Occasionally, she lifts her hands in clawlike motions for emphasis,” Variety wrote. “She is a sultry stylist, holding herself somewhat aloof from her audience and with a theatrical sophistication which should do well in class rooms like this. Voice is husky, often sinking to a low softness, sometimes rising to a shout.”


Maxine Steller’s Bombay

  Over the past couple of months, I’ve been blessed with a delightful new email pal from Australia. Her name is Maxine Steller and she’s a sprightly 82 years old. She’s obviously a computer wizard because she is able to scan and attach images – and what treasures she’s sent me!

Before she emigrated to Australia in 1950, she’d sung at several events around Bombay and has shared with me a wealth of photographs, commendation letters and programme notes (one from the war years lists her as “Maxine, The Boys’ Favourite”). There’s also a contract for a show on All India Radio in 1947, which includes a clause stating that the station director retains the authority to reject the performance if “the artist is not sober enough”. I wonder what 17-year-old Maxine’s mother made of that.

Two years before that, aged 15, she had been invited to sing with a band called the Broadway Boys, which had at its core members of the Steller family. Several years later, in 1951, Maxine married the band leader, Fred. Here’s her story, as she wrote it for her grandchildren.


Both my grandfathers joined the Army in England and were sent out to India. Robert Taylor was based at a cantonment in Bangalore.  Ernest Morris was in the Wellington Barracks, Poona, then joined the Poona police force, eventually transferring to Bombay.

My father, Bill Taylor, was born in Bangalore in 1902 and ran away to join the army when WWI broke out.  He was shipped to Mesopotamia and he would tell us stories of life in the cavalry taking care of the horses and eating the dead ones, as these young soldiers were starving.  After the war, when the ship docked in Bombay he joined the Bombay police force and married my mother Vera. Her father had been a Superintendent in the Bombay Police, dying at an early age. Bill and Vera had two sons and decided to try again for a daughter.

   I was born in the Motlibhai Hospital in Bombay, India on the 23rd October 1930 and baptised Maxine Iona Taylor at St.Anne’s Catholic Church, Mazagaon.  The heroine of the book my mother Vera (nee Morris) was reading at the time was named Maxine and although a friend suggested she call me Gloria instead, as Maxine conjured up French prostitutes, she stuck to her guns then threw in Iona as my saint’s name to tone it down.  Mum was of Scottish stock from her mother’s side, attended the Scots Kirk, Colaba, Bombay when a child, and the Isle of Iona is where the Scots believe Christ will appear when he comes back to this earth.  My Father Bill was a Catholic.

About a fortnight before I was born, my father and mother returned in a gharry (horse driven carriage) from a night out at the cinema and as they were crossing the road to the quarters behind the police station, they were both shot at as reprisal for someone being arrested.  The perpetrators were told to find and shoot a European officer and my parents happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Mum was shot in the thigh and Dad in his hand.  The men were arrested and there was a court case.   They apologised to my mother as they said they had no idea they were shooting at a memsahib.  Fortunately, there were no serious repercussions where I was concerned.  This story was never told to me until about 1946 when it was mentioned in a newspaper article when my father was made a deputy commissioner of police.

Dizzy Sal and Haasan’s Dream

Last Friday, Taj Mahal Foxtrot was launched in Bangalore by Maria Saldanha Vinda, sister of the maverick pianist Edward “Dizzy Sal” Saldanha. That’s a photo of the Saldanha family band in 1955, with Maria, the vocalist, in that gorgeous gown. Dizzy is in the beret.

Dizzy Sal, as readers of the book know, received a scholarship to study at the Berklee School of Music in the late 1950s. His classmates included the vibraphonist Gary McFarland, the trumpet player Paul Kelly and the Rhodesian composer Michael Gibbs.

As part of its programme, the college ran Berklee Records, a project that served as a training exercise both for its student musicians and for the sound engineers on its rolls. Each year, it issued new records as part of a series called Jazz in the Classroom. Volume V, issued in 1961, features Sal and his classmates playing new arrangements of tunes composed by the saxophonist Benny Golson.

Sal features on this tune, Haasan’s Dream, alongside Dan Nolan (trumpet), Ted Casher (tenor), Mike Gibbs (trombone), Peter Spassov (drums), Pearson Beckwith (bass) and Bill Fitch (conga). The band was conducted by Berklee instructor Herb Pomeroy, who taught arranging, improvisation and jazz history.

Haasan’s Dream by naresh fernandes

Jazz Meri Jaan

Radhika Bordia’s lovely piece about Taj Mahal Foxtrot.

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