Making music where he goes!
Bombay jazz legend JAZZY JOE came to 'Afternoon House' and made music for MARK MANUEL yesterday.
JOSE Caetano Pereira, better known in Bombay music circles simply as Jazzy Joe, came to the office yesterday. This is 'Jazz Yatra' week, and I expected to see him around somewhere soon. Not so soon, however. And not at the office, bearing his clarinet, flute, and three saxophones, like a travelling musician from some Black & White Hollywood musical. Though Jazzy Joe is a colourful figure, a bit of a character, never without his golf cap and his loud and flashy tie. Yesterday's tie had a base clarinet on it, like a style or music statement. And he hummed music inbetween speech, he ran his fingers up and down my table, as if he was playing the saxophone, and he drummed the sides of the chair, like he was on the keyboards. I've not had so much of music in my office since FM returned to the radio and I switched it on one morning six months ago.
He is all keyed-up for the 'Jazz Yatra', naturally, and this year, he is going to give Bombay a mixture of Western Jazz and Indian Classical music. "I've got some young fellows with me for the flute and tabla, and they've got more go in them than the old timers," Jazzy Joe said happily. I looked at him keenly. "Aren't you an old timer yourself," I asked, because I have heard stories of him jamming with the likes of Quincy Jones way back in 1956. And of him conducting his own band in Lahore before Partition. Jazzy Joe replied nonchalantly, "I don't know how old I am, myself. I've been playing music, starting with the violin, since I was seven. Before that I was singing in church, in Goa. And I started playing blowing instruments when I was nine."
He was born in Calangute, and from there he went to Lahore when he was 12. A cousin who later went on to assist Shanker-Jaikishen, invited him over to learn music. Jazzy Joe proved to be a quick learner. He not only learned to play every musical instrument the country had to offer (except the guitar), but he also began writing and copying music, he learnt to specialise in compositions and arrangements, whatever that means. After Partition, he came to Bombay, where a lot of good bands were already making music. But there was no place for Jazzy Joe. "I was good, but I didn't get a break," he said honestly. He got it in Delhi, where the famous Rudy Cotton Band accepted him and encouraged him to compose. Jazzy Joe then went on to Calcutta and The Grand Hotel, where he played in the Symphony Orchestra for 15 years. "Through Jazz, I was getting an idea of Classical music," he said. That was also the period when he met the great Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, both renowned violinists.
Since then, he not only returned to Bombay, but he has become a regular fixture on the Jazz music scene over here. He can play any kind of Jazz you ask him, especially the latest version, which he struggled to describe and finally said was known as "free improvisation". "You don't have to know the basics," Jazzy Joe said, "you just play what you feel like! You do what comes to mind. In Classical music, you're playing somebody else's composition; in Jazz, there's no end to your experimentation." He himself has played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who are to Jazz what Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston were to boxing. "And I still play their kind of music, which is Be-Bop, and which is most difficult, because it has so many intricate passages and lots of chords," he explained, striking the technical chord. "They are all dead and gone," he said of Dizzy and Charlie, "but their music remains. Just as Beethoven's and Mozzart's do."
And he is a happy, sunny fellow, this Jazzy Joe. "Why do they call you Jazzy," I asked. He stopped polishing his saxophone and pointed an accusing finger at me. "You people call me that. I got the name six, seven years back. But I think I am jazzy! I move! I'm not in one place when I play. I enjoy my music, I love to make people happy, that's why I am so energetic!" And he is energy-plus and some more. "I am married but I tell my wife, I am in show business, so I must be bachelor-like. She sees me surrounded by women, cabaret artistes, dancers, singers, but she is not jealous. She knows I enjoy myself, but then I must always come back home to her." Home is Bandra, right next to the police station. He gave me instructions how to get there. "Don't take the first turn, you will land up in the lock-up! Before the police built a high wall, convicts used to escape and come into my garden! And what fun we had when Salman Khan was arrested!"
I have been seeing Jazzy Joe and hearing him in Bombay, though not at a 'Jazz Yatra', for some time now. He is in great demand at all the 5-Star Hotels and 'stand alone' restaurants when they want to have music. The consulates employ his services, too, especially the German consulate, because the Germans love Jazz. This month end, he is playing at a 'Thanksgiving' dinner at the US consulate. He has his own band of musicians now. Two crooners, one person on the sax, one drummer and one for the keyboards. He might add the trumpeteer or somebody with the clarinet at the last moment. And he never plays for big money, that is a thing about him. "I am not interested in money, I play for the love of music," he said. I know this is true, because Jazzy Joe does a number of shows, gigs, concerts, free and for charity. And he's got a band of amateur musicians who are all professionals, like doctors, scientists, businessmen, management experts, everybody with an interest in Jazz. He calls them Jazzy Joe's Junkeys. "These people play from the heart, they don't need the money. They are not born musicians, but they have a love for music," he explained.
"What keeps you ticking," I asked. "Music," he replied. "I like going abroad every year at my own expense and playing in different clubs. I've made 20 trips, all over Europe, the Scandinavian countries, America, I go and join the Jazz musicians and give them a taste of fusion. I play Indo-Jazz. They are amazed! They don't believe I come from India. They want to see my recordings. Agents want me to come over and meet them. India has great musicians, I tell the world. We can compete with the best. Only we don't get the chance."
He had so many interesting stories to tell. I like this one best. Jazzy Joe was flying Emirates between Dubai and London. The air-hostesses recognised him because they stay at the Oberoi when they are in Bombay, where Jazzy Joe used to perform. They got him to take out his clarinet and play on the flight.
He gave them an impromptu concert. And when he landed in London, Emirates organised a limousine to pick him up and gave him a complimentary stay in a grand hotel to which the airline was linked. "Music keeps me ticking," he continued, "if I stop playing, I'll be in the grave in one month."