Revisting Bombay: The Gateway Of Jazz

In Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story Of Bombay’s Jazz Age, Naresh Fernandes has lovingly re-created an era in the history of Bombay

The book explores the pathways of jazz music in the city, from the 1860s to the 1960s. Fernandes is enthused by the wafting and fragrant breeze of internationalism that enriched this port city. Bombay’s ports allowed European and American jazz artists to do stints in Bombay. They were elegantly complemented by Indian musicians, many of them from Goa. The story of Bombay’s jazz age takes us from luxurious hotels patronised by the aristocracy, to bohemian dives and clubs, to the haunts of the English colonials, and all the way to the music studios of Bollywood. The book speaks of stalwarts like Leon Abbey, Earl Tines and Bill Coleman from the United States, and their counterparts Chic Chocolate, Frank Fernand and Mickey Correa from India. The golden era went from the 1930s through to the 1960s.

The musicians who populate this book are almost all gone. So, too, is the music. Today’s traveller to Bombay can imagine the city in that era at several of the locations that hosted the exotic music called jazz. The Taj Mahal Hotel stands there, magnificently refurbished in all its old-world charm. Former colonial bastions like the Bombay Gymkhana and the Willingdon Club continue to serve Bombay’s classes. In various stages of decrepitude stand other reminders of the jazz age – the Grand Hotel in Ballard Pier, the Majestic Hotel in Colaba, and several others.

Fernandes’ book is about jazz, but equally it is about Bombay, and the spirit of the city in more hopeful times. In an exclusive interview, he told us, “With all this talk about world-class cities, there’s often the impression that globalisation is a new phenomenon. But in the 1930s, Bombay was already linked to events in far-flung parts of the planet – and its taste for jazz is proof of that. The city’s Western music performing scene in that decade was, improbably, greatly influenced by trends and musicians in both Paris and Shanghai.

Bombay’s eagerness to seek out eclectic influences and make them all its own was among the city’s great strengths all the way until the 1990s. Today, Bombay has become a city of surfaces, a city that pretends to appreciate diversity but which actually has a deep antipathy towards difference. By doing this, it’s actually repudiating one of the qualities that allowed it to become a world-class city long before its elites aspired to make it one.”

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