Tag-Archive for » Walter Kaufmann «

A Nazi Refugee in Bombay


Taj Mahal Foxtrot by naresh.fernandes

A recent report about Stanley Kubrick’s unmade film about the persecution jazz musicians faced in Nazi Germany reminded me of the man in white in the photo above, Creighton Thompson, who sang Taj Mahal Foxtrot, the tune from which this website and my book take their name. As regular readers of this site know, the tune was a perfect example of Bombay’s multiculturalism of the 1930s:  it had been composed by a Bombay Jewish man named Mena Silas and recorded by a band led by the African-American trumpet player Crickett Smith. Chicago-born Creighton Thompson came to Bombay from Europe, where he had been performing since 1920. But early in the 1930s, he and other African-American performers were forced out of Germany as Nazi policies forbade non-Aryans from appearing on the radio and from theatres.

Still in the AIR

All India Radio Signature Tune by tajmahalfoxtrot1


Preparing to moderate a conversation earlier this week with the writer-musician Amit Chaudhuri about his new book on Calcutta, I revisited his This Is Not Fusion album — and remembered that he had also recorded a tune called All India Radio.  The source material for Amit’s melody was the All India Radio theme song, composed, as this article noted last fortnight, by a Jewish refugee named Walter Kaufmann.

The music on the This Is Not Fusion album, as Amit explained in his liner notes, aims to move “towards a musical and conceptual meeting point, a space in which not only musicians encounter each other but in which musical lineages intersect and renovate themselves and become altered by this contact”.

Up in the AIR

All India Radio Signature Tune by tajmahalfoxtrot1

All India Radio’s caller tune has been heard by hundreds of millions of people since it was composed in 1936. Somewhat improbably, the tune, based on raga Shivaranjini, was composed by the Czech man in the middle of the trio pictured above:  Walter Kaufmann. He was the director of music at AIR and was one of the many Jewish refugees who found a haven in India from the Nazis. The violinist on the recording is thought to be Mehli Mehta, who is also in the image above.

Kaufmann had arrived in India in February 1934 and ended up staying for 14 years. Within a few months of landing in Bombay, Kaufmann founded the Bombay Chamber Music Society, which performed every Thursday at the Willingdon Gymkhana. At the performance pictured here, Kaufmann is at the piano, Edigio Verga is on cello and Mehta – the father of Zubin Mehta – is playing the violin. By May 1937, the Society had given 136 performances of works by old masters and modern composers. “Membership of the Society is open to all music lovers,” The Times of India reported. Full membership cost Rs 15 a month, but students, working women and missionaries could attend all concerts for only Rs 5 a month.


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