Before the African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford arrived in Bombay in 1935, he was a legend at the Canidrome Ballroom in Shanghai, a city whose nightlife, as evident from the clip above, was vibrant and had a famously notorious reputation across the world.
Shanghai was a thriving jazz centre, providing work for scores of bands from the US, Europe and across Asia. “Shanghai flames with millions of flashing jewels at midnight,” boasted the All About Shanghai guidebook, from which this ad is reproduced. “Joy, gin and jazz. There’s nothing puritanical about Shanghai.”
This recording is from the Marco Pacci collection. Weatherford plays piano and sings on this track. For more Weatherford recordings, click here.
This cheery Christmas tune was recorded in sunny Calcutta in September 1942, only weeks after it had been released in the US as part of a set of songs from the film Holiday Inn. That version, sung by Bing Crosby, has since sold more than 50 million copies and is thought to be the highest-selling single of all time.
This version by Teddy Weatherford’s All Star Swing Band includes the African-American saxophonist Roy Butler, who lived in India for more than a decade. He’d made his way to India in the early 1930s, after performing in Europe and South America with an array of outfits. more…
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”.
This photo, featuring Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn shaking hands with the great tenor saxophone player Rudy Cotton in Delhi in 1963, was sent to me recently by Percy Khatow, the Indian musician’s son. As regular readers of this site know, Rudy Cotton was born Cawas Khatau and descended from a long line of producers of Parsi drama. I had the pleasure of speaking to Percy Khatow briefly when I visited the UK last fortnight. Though he has a condition that makes it difficult for him to conduct long conversations, Percy called to ask if I’d received the photos and brochures he’d taken the trouble to email me. more...
Trevor Mac, the drummer on this track by Teddy Weatherford and his Band, was born Trevor MacCabe to an Irish father and a Portuguese mother. He began his career in 1924 as a drummer with a stage show in the UK called Mr Tower of London, but seems to have moved to Bombay by 1929, where he played at Cornaglia’s restaurant in the Fort.
He soon adopted the name Trevor Mac and his first band was called Mac and His Melody Makers. He would later take his musicians on the road to Burma and other parts of South East Asia, where they would perform as Trevor Mac and His Ambassadors.
The 1930s found Trevor Mac in Bangkok, where he married a Thai girl. But he continued to spend holidays in Bombay, and would perform occasionally with the Anglo-Indian bandleader Ken Mac.
This photo of mid-1930s Bombay was taken in the home of the Hutson Sisters, whom I wrote about here. It was sent to me by the wonderful Maxine Steller, a cousin to the Hutsons. She’s the little girl in the front row. Here’s what she says about the photo:
“When you see how small I was, you will realise why I don’t have many memories of those days. My Dad [Bill Taylor of the Bombay Police] is behind Sybil [Hutson], and Merlyn [Hutson] is under Sybil holding a witch (it must have been a Halloween party). Next to Merlyn is my Mum , then Mrs Hutson. Below them is my brother Desmond, myself and my brother Cedric. Young Billy Cooper is sitting next to Cedric. Billy’s mother is sitting above him.
Look at the clock, they had been telling ghost stories and frightening the life out of me.
The fourth gentleman in the row where Dad is standing (you can only see his glasses) is Mr Mollenoux, who was Thomas Edison’s apprentice when he invented the electric light. He came to our school, Christ Church High at Byculla and told us the story in a science class.
Bill Cooper Snr is up near the clock holding on to the window and [the African-American pianist] Teddy Weatherford is just below him.
Around that time, Mr Cooper made Dad a lamp shaped like a Bombay police sepoy standing under a light. His face is a coconut. Unfortunately, it is too large to post (about two feet high).”
To accompany the image, here are two Teddy Weatherford tunes from the Marco Pacci collection. The vocalist is Bob Lee, a US Air Force recruit who found himself in India during the war.
Darktown Strutter’s Ball is a tune with a long history: it was composed in 1917 by a Canadian named Shelton Brooks and the same year was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band – the outfit that, in February 1917, had become the first jazz band ever to cut a record. (Emile Christian, the bass player who joined the ODJB after its initial flush of success, would find himself performing in Bombay in 1935.)
This version of the tune, recorded in Calcutta in 1942, features Teddy Weatherford on piano and vocals, with Tony Gonsalves on bass and Trevor McCabe on drums.
The previous year, the saxophonist Hal Green and his band played an event in Bombay Central named after the song. It would perhaps shock some contemporary employees of the Bombay police force to realise that ladies have been getting into parties free for six decades now without aspersions being cast on their characters, as the second-last line of the handbill demonstrates.
The Hutson Sisters, Bombay’s answer to the Andrews Sisters, first appear in my archival material in November 1937, when they were featured on a late-night All India Radio programme. The hypercritical reviewer for The Times of India wasn’t exactly bowled over by their harmonies. Though they performed “some quite good jazz”, the reviewer had some reservations. He concluded, “I hope that the Hutson Sisters Variety Troupe…will in time reach the goal they are aiming at.” more...
Earlier this week, I met up with Veronica Balsara, who I really wish I’d interviewed for the book. She has a sharp memory for quirky detail and vivid way of telling stories that kept me enraptured for an entire morning. Balsara is the daughter of Sybil Hutson, who, along with her siblings Merlyn and Ailsa, performed as the Hutson Sisters during the war years. As Balsara recalled the career of the Hutson Sisters, she also told me about her own life as a dancer at the Calcutta’s Grand Hotel. A couple of hours into our conversation, she dropped in a detail I’d never heard before: the hotel is said to be haunted by the ghost of the great African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford, who died in 1945.
Balsara had first-hand knowledge of this. Late one night, as she was returning her room after a performance, she said, she saw an apparition of Weatherford, wearing a brown suit, looking sadly out of the balcony. At first, she thought that one of the West Indian cricket players staying in the Grand at the time had strayed into the staff quarters. But Balsara soon heard other staff members telling of strange knocks on their doors in the middle of the night and of magical piano music the distance. more...
[This piece appears as an op-ed in The Hindu today. To accompany it, here are two tracks by Teddy Weatherford from the Marco Pacci archive. They feature George Banks on trumpet.]
Earlier this year, a stage in suburban Mumbai played host to a jazz-fusion concert headlining Niladri Kumar, a fifth-generation sitar player. The depth of Kumar’s association with Hindustani classical music was satisfying, but it wasn’t as surprising as the long family connection one of his sidemen had with jazz. Gino Banks, the drummer at the performance, is a third-generation Indian jazz musician — a rather astonishing fact considering that the musical form was born in the faraway port city of New Orleans merely four generations ago.
Many fans know Gino as the son of the keyboard player Louiz Banks, the most prominent personality on the Indo-jazz fusion scene, but only a few realise that the Banks’ links with Western popular music stretch back to the 1940s, when Gino Banks’ grandfather, George, was recruited to perform alongside a visiting African-American pianist named Teddy Weatherford.
Though jazz has now become a niche interest in the subcontinent, Gino Banks and other third-generation Indian jazz musicians continue to perform fairly regularly, living proof that our country is heir to a tradition that it can claim as its own with much passion as the citizens of France or Japan, two other nations that took to jazz early.