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Monday, November 29, 2021

The Jazz Chronicles

The camera pans through a crowded Alimuddin Street in Kolkata,before zeroing in on a man in a red tie sitting jauntily on a hand-pulled rickshaw.

Written by Georgina Maddox |
June 30, 2011 3:51:57 am

A film,Finding Carlton,traces the bygone era of jazz in India

The camera pans through a crowded Alimuddin Street in Kolkata,before zeroing in on a man in a red tie sitting jauntily on a hand-pulled rickshaw. The next frame cuts to a silver-haired gent playing the saxophone,while another elderly man taps out a rhythm on the drums. Even before the music begins to play,we know that we are watching jazz musicians in action.

All three men are jazz maestros from Kolkata and are catching up after many years — one of them is Carlton Kitto,among the few bebop jazz guitarists in India,who currently plays at the Oberoi Grand in Kolkata. The others in the trio are saxophonist Joe Pereira from Mumbai,also known as Jazzy Joe,and drummer Clive Hughes. The person who has brought them together is Shusheel Kurian,former advertising professional from Mumbai who now lives in New York and makes films. After two years of researching,travelling and filming,Kurian has created a documentary titled,Finding Carlton,that takes a comprehensive look at jazz in India.

“It was a beautiful experience to be a part of this film,” says Kitto. Referred to as the uncrowned king of Indian jazz,Kitto has played with American jazz legends like Thelonious Monk,Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Clarke. It is through Kitto’s story that the narrative of jazz in India unfolds.

Documenting the lives of musicians for whom time has stood still,Kurian says that he was drawn to the subject when he heard about Kitto in 1981 through his professor Warren Pinkey. “One day,I heard him perform on YouTube and was totally blown away,” says Kurian,50,who went on to contact Kitto after reading a New York Times article that mentioned him playing at the Oberoi. “I am an amateur jazz guitarist and when I heard Kitto play I found that his technique had the feel of Charlie Christian (an American guitar legend from the Benny Goodman Sextet). When I went to Kolkata to meet him,I found that he was a great storyteller and decided to tell the story of Indian Jazz through him,” says Kurian.

The 90-minute-long film delves into the early history of jazz in India,right from its arrival with the colonial rule. Officers of the Raj,tired of playing poker,were happy to sip whisky and listen to jazz played by the Anglo Indians and Parsis who used to learn the music from 70 rpm records,rehearsing a tune over and over again until they had mastered it.

Apart from featuring modern jazz names like Louis Banks and Sonia Sahgal,the film has 1,200 archival photographs as well as several hours of archival sound from 1927 to 1960. One important section features lost sound recordings of Mickey Correa’s last concert at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai,then called Bombay. Among the tear-inducing interviews in the documentary is one with Correa’s daughter after she hears his recordings for the first time in many years sitting in her Brooklyn living room.

The film is still a work in progress and Kurian plans to showcase it at various film festivals. “I have shown the film in Kolkata and Mumbai in order to get a feeling of what people think of it,” says Kurian.

Cameraman Avjit Mukul Kishore says that it was easy filming these performers since they were used to being watched. “In their homes,I looked for little objects that would tell the story of their lives. For instance,there is a small guitar-shaped clock in Carlton’s home. Louis Banks loves driving his SUV. So we did most of the shooting in that,” says Kishore.

While Kitto plans a concert in October in Mumbai,Kurian signs off by saying,“Jazz can only survive if there are clubs for the musicians to play and hang out and jam. It cannot be restricted to a concert once a year.”

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