One of the challenges of recounting history in a documentary film is locating archival material. And a film about the story of Jazz, in India, requires authentic archival audio.  Its a constant search , that turns up resources from the most unexpected places..and this post is about an amazing find..the basement tapes ! ..this time from Bombay, via Canada, and not from  Woodstock !

Heres the story..About a year and a half ago, we learned about some old reel tapes that had languished in a basement in Canada, transported there from India by the sister of a well known Bombay musician of the past..They finally go to us, in bad shape, contents unknown, and frankly in danger that old magnetic tape would fall apart..The reels had all the danger signs, cracking surfaces, stretched , and print through (when audio leaks through the layers of tape). Regardless , we finally found an machine that could play this, thanks to our friends at the Institute of Jazz Studies and carefully sampled a few  minutes from each…. WOW..what was in our hands was the only known recording of the Micky Correa Big Band..swinging away, live,  at his very last performance …the farewell concert , Taj Mahal Hotel, 1962 !

It was too dangerous to run the entire tapes..what was most important was that they be transferred.. so it was determined that they be sent to a specialty shop,  where they could be transferred off they went to a specialty shop in Ohio that pulled off as much audio as possible from the two reels that were playable.

A six minute test edit captures part of this story …


And there you have it .. the Basement Tapes..a wonderful piece of archival history, portions of which will feature in our film…thanks to the Correa family.


Tracing the story – now back to 1922

Thanks to Abe Thomas in Los Angeles, we were made aware of Astri Ghosh (New Delhi) and her efforts to document an oral history of Jazz musicians in India. Astri has shared this interesting article by Burnet Hershey  from the New York Times Magazine and Review of Books – 1922 – a jazz journey along the “Jazz Latitude”,–round the world from San Francis to New York, via Japan, Saigon, Siam, India, Egypt, Jerusalem, Monte Carlo, and Paris….Astri graciously quotes what Burnet Hershey  has to say about Jazz in India at that time:

“In Calcutta, as in Bombay and throughout India, where the English civil service man makes his home, and where a handful of white business, army and professional men make up the European colony, Jazz is welcomed as a “lifesaver”. In this country of few diversions, it relieves the tedium of routine existence. India sounds like a paradise for romance, but the colonist, the army officer who has spent many months and years amid the “dirt of Asia,” is blase and weary of the life. He has turned to bridge and poker. Now he gladly seizes upon jazz. And there is always the “stengha,” the whisky-soda, faithful auxiliary of jazz.

In India, the full state of jazz has not yet been evolved from ragtime, although the frequent streams of returning officials from England all bring with them new cargoes of tunes – direct from New york via Leicester Square. But by the time they reach there, they are old and shopworn.

Copyright New York TImes

Journey along the Indian coast in the Arabian Sea to India’s little brother Ceylon, where you find jazz in its most antiquated state. It isn’t jazz, but they think it is. They have only arrived at Down in Jungle Town. The record, played on a venerable gramaphone, was one of the old ones which announced the song and the band. But the one-step is there. On the terrace of the Galle Face Hotel, on the edge of the Arabian Sea, an Arabian moon, swaying cocoanut trees, chirping monkeys and cawing of big birds mingled with the strains of the local band”.

Although a somewhat disparaging view of Jazz in India, never the less, an important historical document that references Jazz in India – 90 years ago…

Click here for the entire article, Jazz Latitude,by Burnet Hershey, June 25, 1922, Copyright the New York TImes

Thanks Astri , and do keep us posted on your Oral History project !!