Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Context

Within two decades of jazz taking shape in the melting-pot city of New Orleans, it found a home thousands of miles away in a city that also prided itself of mixing up cultures and serving them up with a new twist: Bombay. The city first heard jazz on phonograph records but by the mid-1930s, a string of American bands was playing in Bombay. They included outfits led by Leon Abbey, a dapper violinist from Minnesota, cornet player Crickett Smith and the pianist Teddy Weatherford. Smith and Weatherford soon inducted Indians into their bands, leaving the city a syncopated legacy that still lives on.

In 1949, a Bombay Swing Club brochure listed more than 60 jazz bands, starting from the Alexandra Band led by C de Noronha to the Zoroastrian Symphonyans. The list includes outfits headed by such legends as trumpet players Chic Chocolate and Frank Fernand, saxophonists Micky Correa and Hecky Kingdom and pianists Lucila Pacheco and Mike Machado. Many of the city's jazz musicians played a vital part in creating Hindi film music. These musicians formed the bulk of the orchestras that played the music, and some – like Chic Chocolate, Fernand and the violinist Anthony Gonsalves – worked as arrangers, or assistant music directors as they're listed in the credits.

Typically, the producer would organise a 'sitting' at which the composer (most often a Hindu), the lyricist (usually an Urdu-speaking Muslim) and the arranger would flop down on comfortable cushions to listen to the director narrate the plot. When the director indicated the point at which a song was necessary, the composer would hum out a melody or pick it out on his harmonium. It was the arranger's task to note down these fragments, which the composer would later piece together into an entire song.

But even then, the composer would craft only the verse and the chorus. The arranger was responsible for fashioning the melodic bridges, for shaping the parts for individual instruments and often even wrote the background music. The arranger wasn't merely a secretary. The Goans drew on their bicultural heritage to give Bollywood music its promiscuous charm, slipping in slivers of Dixieland stomp, Portuguese fados, Ellingtonesque doodles, cha cha cha, Mozart and Bach themes. Long before fusion music became fashionable, it was being performed every day in Bombay's film studios.

Naresh Fernandes

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