Finding Paris – The French Connection


Alix1

click to enlarge

Between 1950 and 1952,  Calcutta was home to the  “Le premier négre du jazz, made in France” (= The first “black” French jazz musician) – Alix Combelle and the “modern” sound of his sextet – three saxes, and a rhythm section.

We followed up in a  2011 Update with interesting documentation including a photo of the band in Calcutta.

Jhaveri 1955-JazzHot

Next, in 2012- came the French Connection, and our friendship with Stephane Dorin, who shared this documentation written by the remarkable “Godfather of Jazz in India”  – Niranjan Jhaveri, found in  Charles Delaunay and Hughes Panassié ‘s  Jazz Hot Magazine  (1955)

And now in 2013..more news of the French jazzmen in India ? Continue reading

The French Connection


Four years ago, when we began this project, we had little idea of the interest that might surround it.. and apart from a few whisky sodden minds here and there, we were under the distinct impression that interest in similar research and uncovering was restricted to the aforesaid flotsam and jetsam of peripheral jazz trivia.. How wrong we were.. and little did we know at that time that scholars and learned souls were steadily pursuing and uncovering more of the the rich history that has materialized into this film.. And we regret most heartily that we not privileged to meet them along the way and benefit from their academic scholarship..

And thus , this French Connection

In 2011 we wrote about how the legendary French tenor man Alix Combelle.. found his way to Calcutta

ALIX COMBELLE

….and then, then in 2011,  more about Alix Combelle…and then, in response,  from Our Gentleman of Perpetual Indian Jazz Archives (aka Naresh Fernandes the author of the very fine book Taj Mahal Foxtrot)  shared with us Niranjan Jhaveri’s 1953 review of Alix’s performance in Calcutta.. but was this the only French Jazz Connection to our continuing story ?

Well, around the spring of 2011, the Finding Carlton Blog received the following letter from France:

I came across your Bluerhythm website, and was so delighted to see someone has done a documentary on Cartlon Kitto.

Stephane Dorin , in Calcutta 1997.. working on his Research

I met him 15 years ago in Calcutta, at the beginning of my PhD on jazz and rock culture in Calcutta. I also met Arthur Gracias, Amit Datta, Rubien Rebeiro, Anto Menezes and my friend Tuki from Krosswindz.

I have been to Calcutta around 10 times, the last one was in 2009. …. I am a social scientist in Paris,…..I mostly wrote in French, but I recently published an article on Jazz and race in colonial India, in Jazz Research Journal. It might be of some interest to you…This month also, I am publishing another article, of a larger scope, but in French, in the anthropology review L’Homme (issue 202, 2012).

Astounding.….!

But, wait,, it turns out that Stephane Dorin’s, scholarly work, Jazz and Race in Colonial India was rich in detail and explored the nuances of culture that gave rise to the jazz culture that prevailed thereafter.  His research included study of materials available from the Roy Butler Collection, in Chicago…from where arrived this image of a contract that lured an American jazzman to play in India.

Stephane also opined , quite succinctly, that although Bombay with its many Goan musicians had a rich jazz history, it was Calcutta , that in many ways was the “mothership”..  he says..  “Anglo-Indian musicians acted as go-betweens, passing down the theoretical knowledge of western harmony as well as the practice of western instruments to the generations of post-Independence India. Moreover, they were the first Indian musicians to perform jazz and blues standards in Calcutta or Bombay, around World War II. Thus, they played a major role in the diffusion of jazz and blues music in India.”

In our film,  Finding Carlton, we share the story of Herb Flemming the “first Jazz Ambassador”who landed in Bombay in 1933, after a brief rest stop in Bombay, proceeded almost immediately to Calcutta and the Grand Hotel..

In the summer of 2011 we had the opportunity to meet with Stephane and get to know this passionate scholar who continues to have focus on the “Circulation of Jazz outside the United States”..

Stephane Dorin:   http://www.stephanedorin.fr
Maître de conférences à l’université Paris 8 Chercheur en délégation au Centre Européen de sociologie et de sciences politiques (CESSP) UMR 8209 CNRS/EHESS/Université Paris1-Panthéon-SorbonneCentre Pouchet, CESSP, 59-61 rue Pouchet, 75849 Paris Cedex 17

Stephane has been diligently working on uniting scholars from around the world who have looked at this ..and as his network has expanded  it now spans to academics at various universities. He has had remarkable outreach and will hopefully be able to unite a worldwide team of authorities in seminal conference …where for the first time they will look at how jazz cultures were birthed and flourished outside the United States.. and hopefully as they pursue this discourse , there will be Finding Carlton (and) Uncovering the Story of jazz in India

Alix Combelle – Update


Sometime last year we came across more material on Alix Combelle – the #1 European tenor man in the late ’30s – who resurfaced as a Calcutta bandleader !

see the blog post Alix Combelle – in Calcutta and the associated comments

We had found no archival material about Combelle’s time in India until recently, while reviewing material we had collected, we noticed that we did indeed have some documentation:
Note both these images are high resolution and can be clicked on to provide more detail

The only photograph we have seen of the Alix Combelle band playing in Calcutta

A letter, or a briefing wriiten in French by Niranjan Jhaveri which appears to been published in le Jazz Hot , June 1952 – “News from the Orient” communicating information about Jazz in the then Far East, with mention of swinging Manila, and other hot spots for Jazz. It references Alix Combelle “est toujours a Calcutta” amd that Rene Franc , ex clarinetist of the Orchestre Blaslavsky can be found in Bombay! . A full translation would be appreciated, as would any other information.

Alix Combelle – In Calcutta – 1951


Alix Combelle was the hottest tenor player in pre-war Europe..and respected by the American musicians who brought jazz to Europe. ..The French nicknamed him: “Le premier négre du jazz, made in France” (= The first “black” French jazz musician)..Articles in Downbeat and Hot Jazz (paris) speak highly of his playing ability.. The blog KEEP SWINGING includes a recording.. We came across an Alix Combelle 78 issued on the old Columbia Label and pressed in Dum Dum Calcutta …and wondered why this recording was released in India..Later on , in interviews with old timers in Calcutta we heard that Alix may have played in Calcutta around 1950.. We just heard from his son Phillippe, a jazz musician , who confirms this.. “dear sir i think my father alix combelle was in calcutta india in 1947 /1948 with his band thats what my mother says but i am not sure ; ; ;if i find some news about it i tell you latter i am a jazz musician too and i like to go to india to play in jazz concert i am on my space/philippe combelle take a look if you want i wish you good success for your work on the story of jazz in india sincerely philippe alix combelle” It would be interesting to find out where he played..we hear that it was a 6 month or longer stint.. Calcutta must have been a swinging city ! FOLLOW UP : See DOUG PETERS COMMENTS (below) ..WHERE HE VERIFIES THAT ALIX COMBELLES CALCUTTA GIG WAS IN 1951/52 at PRINCES, THE GRAND HOTEL..