Great Guitars – Via Calcutta

In 1942  ,  two young, self taught jazz guitarists , arrived in Calcutta from  Burma, the eastern most outpost of what was British India.  Fleeing on foot, barely ahead  of the Japanese, were part of Reuben Solomon’s Jive Boy’ of the hottest bands in Rangoon.

Rangoon 1940 - LR Paul Ferraz sb, Reuben Solomon cl, Dean Wong vcl, Cedric West gtr, Ike Isaacs gtr

Cedric West’s talents got him quickly hired by Teddy Weatherford and was soon recognized as the leading jazz guitarist in Calcutta.  He appears on many Teddy Weatherford sides.  Cedric West went to England in 1947 and went on to become a respected session man, recording with Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones and Elmer Bernstein. He was a close friend of Joe Pass. He went on to hold down the guitar chair in the BBC jazz band and is described by Mike Edmonds as “he was a master bebop player and played with his thumb like Wes”.  His daughter Jenny Legget has been generous with providing lots of information about him which will appear in a future post dedicated to Cedric West.

Ike Isaacs went from Calcutta to Mussoorie and played in a hotel there until he left for England on  a scholarship around the same time as Cedric.  Ike was also self taught. Described as a master technician, Ike Isaacs was the dominant guitarist in English jazz until the mid-1970s.  Ike is featured in the list of the great jazz guitarists. He played with all the greats, including a 2 year world tour with Stephane Grapelli. This documentary from Spiros Mavrengelos documentary includes a rare clip of Ike and Grapelli together.  Listen to his story and his masterful playing.  

For the last fifteen years of his life Ike lived and taught in Sydney and became a much loved member of the Sydney jazz community.

Quite a story for two selftaught young men who passed through Calcutta and benefitted from the jazz culture of the time ..and proved to the world that jazz musicians from the subcontinent could be worldclass !   Aptly, many years later, Cedric West released an album titled “West meets East”.


The Paul Gonsalves and Teddy Weatherford – Resolved ?

In a prior post , (see Paul Gonsalves- Teddy Weatherford) my research suggested that the Paul Gonsalves listed in Teddy Weatherford’s Calcutta discography was the Paul Gonsalves of (later) Ellington fame.  Understandably, there were various reactions from the readers of this blog that challenged and questioned this possibility..Thats why we are jazz people..its a personal music !

The issues raised ranged from whether Paul Gonsalves was ever in Calcutta, to an insightful observation that on the Teddy Weatherford recording the listed Paul Gonsalves played Alto, while the real Paul Gonsalves “only recorded on Tenor”

Scroll down on this link to see  comments on that post .

Great feedback!

I continued to research this possibility , and found several sources that authenticated that Paul Gonsalves did serve as a young serviceman in Calcutta, and that he had played Alto in his youth. But, frankly, the reference to the Alto Sax continued to elude me.

I responded:

“Whats also interesting is that unlike popular belief, although he did play tenor in the Ellington band, the real Paul Gonsalves did in fact play alto. (Show me a sax player who cannot double !  )..There are people who   state emphatically that he was only a tenor player, but as I said, show me a sax player who cannot double ! In fact both Coltrane and Jimmy Heath migrated from Alto to Tenor

When Paul Gonsalves  played with Sabby Lewis in Boston, on his return from service in India, in the 46-47  period he played Alto.  In 1948 on a Radio transcription with Basie, he played guitar !

Regardless, we know for a fact that the famous Paul Gonsalves was a) indeed in Calcutta at the same time as Weatherford  b) did play with Weatherford and c) probably played on Weatherfords broadcasts for Armed Forces Radio Service

What is also a fact that the young Paul who was in Calcutta in 1942 or thereabouts had not yet developed his fame or renown, or his troublesome relationship with heroin and alcohol  (that came later in 1950 with the Gillespie band). He was just another young “colored” serviceman in Calcutta – (actually Cap Verdean, not African American)  This probably is why nobody seems to remember him.. he was just a horn playing serviceman”

Just today, I received from Jenny Legget, the daughter of the astoundingly talented Cedric West who played with Teddy’s band from 1942 through 1945 , an article from Storyville Magazine (June-July 1976) on Teddy’s band that clearly states:

” There were however, many “sitters- in” for despite the drabness of the band’s daytime repetoire, at night it was one of the hottest bands in Calcutta.  The most famous of the ‘extra’s’ was Paul Gonsalves , then a truck driver in the Quartermaster’s Corps. who used to borrow an alto sax from the Services’ club and jam with the band”

The article also quotes Reuben Solomon (alto sax) (leader of the Jive Boys) ” When Teddy wanted to play, he could play, but he didnt want to play often. He would get the boys offstage for two brackets with the rhythm section and the front line, more Dixie format, but modern for those days. Gonsalves was there when Teddy had the jazz bit. Teddy, the rhythm section, Gonsalves and myself”.

Thanks Jenny, for digging this up along with all the material on Cedric West,..who will soon have a post on this blog about his guitar talent and story.