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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 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.
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