Updated: April 8, 2021 3:39:11 am
When The Zodiac Grill opened in the late 1980s at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, its fine-dining menu was a treat for customers. According to the restaurant’s brochure, jazz pianist Ronnie Menezes was an “incomparable ivory-tickler”, playing jazz standards, ballads, movie theme songs and pop from “his endless repertoire”. He would play there six nights a week except on Sundays.
The restaurant packed up its grills in 2015. On Tuesday, its star pianist bid adieu as well. Menezes, who lived in Andheri, had contracted Covid-19 in March and was treated for it but eventually died of a heart attack. He was 80.
In the last decade, Menezes was best known as the in-house pianist at Palladium, a mall in Lower Parel. He would play there on weekdays, impeccably dressed in a suit, filling the atrium with his notes, providing the rich background music to the most ordinary shopping experiences.
On his piano would be the “Do Not Touch” sign, but he would take requests from visitors, a pop number or a Broadway classic, ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ or even the Titanic soundtrack, with a smile. Around Christmas, the pianist would unleash his merry tunes and carols at the mall.
Menezes was born in Mumbai in 1940 and grew up in Colaba, in a house above Leopold Cafe. His talent flourished under the mentorship of noted pianist Mike Machado. He studied at St Xavier’s College and after graduation, teamed up with some friends to form “The Teenage Rockers”. This band of boys launched itself with its nightly gigs at Berry’s Restaurant and Bar in Churchgate.
“One thing led to another and soon my father formed the Ronnie Menezes Quartet and played for Usha Uthup,” Menezes’ son Roger said. Menezes played for Uthup’s Scotch and Soda album.
As a resident pianist, Menezes also played at ITC Maratha. While catering to the musical tastes of the customers, his personal favourites were ‘Too Close for Comfort’ and the hit Anglo-Indian number ‘I Married a Female Wrestler’.
Music producer Colin D’Cruz, who played with Menezes in the 1980s, said, “Name a jazz standard and he would play it. He was all about playing the piano. You had to see him play it to experience that intense joy.”
D’Cruz said that Menezes was a joy to work with and knew how to accompany a singer best. “Not many pianists have this skill,” he added.
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