Jana Gana Mana and Mumbai's Jazz connect

Aug 15, 2012, 08:50 IST | The Guide Team

On August 14, 1947, three years before it was declared as India's national anthem, Mumbai's Jazz musicians played the Jana Gana Mana at the Taj Mahal Ballroom, to an audience that included JRD Tata and Vijayalakshmi Pandit. We look back at Mumbai's tryst with Jazz during this historic time through excerpts from Naresh Fernandes' Taj Mahal Foxtrot

By the time Independence finally arrived, swing had become so popular that the highlight of the banquet at the Karachi Club on August 15, 1947, to toast Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was a performance by the Anglo-Indian bandleader Ken Mac. Mac had been flown in from Bombay on a special Tata Airlines plane.

In 1947, outside the Taj, at the Gateway of India, crowds crooned “Jai Hind”. PICs/ Pradeep Dhivar

As the evening proceeded, Jinnah asked the band to play Paul Robeson’s “The End”, a tune he used to hum when he performed his weekly Thursday ritual of visiting the grave of his wife Ruttie in the Khoja cemetery in Bombay’s Mazagaon neighbourhood. As a mark of respect to Jinnah, Ken Mac sang the tune himself.

But nowhere in the subcontinent did the taste for jazz run as deep as in Bombay, a port city like New Orleans, that was home to people from across the subcontinent — and many other parts of the world.

The Taj Mahal Ballroom hosted some of the earliest Jazz bands in India

Around the time Ken Mac was crooning a lullaby to the new nation of Pakistan, a Bombay Swing Club brochure listed more than 60 bands in the city, starting with the Alexandra Band and running through to the Zoroastrian Symphonyans. The list included outfits headed by such legends as trumpet players Frank Fernand and Chic Chocolate and saxophonist Micky Correa.

The combined bands of Micky Correa and Chic Chocolate were on the stage at the Taj on the evening of August 14, 1947, when Dosoo Karaka — by now, a veteran correspondent at the nationalist Bombay Chronicle newspaper and author of several books on Indian social life and politics-accepted another invitation to dine there.

Musicians take to the stage at the Taj on Independence Day. Pic Courtesy/ Taj Mahal Foxtrot, Roli books

This time, he was a guest of the mayor of Bombay. His companions included the young industrialist JRD Tata and Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the younger sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, who at that very moment was preparing to ascend the podium of the Constituent Assembly in Delhi to intimate the country he had been chosen to lead about its tryst with destiny.

As it neared midnight, the lights in the Taj Ballroom were dimmed. Karaka stepped forward to make a speech. “Today, we join the community of the free people of the world,” he told the gathering. “The flag which was once the symbol of rebellion has become the flag of the people.

Let us hope that under it this country of ours will find peace, dignity and greatness again.” As the lights flooded back on, the crowd cheered and the jazz musicians on stage launched into a jaunty version of the Indian national song, “Jana Gana Mana”.

An Indian Theme, Page 104
Men in dinner jackets danced with men in dhotis, Englishmen sang “Auld Lang Syne”, Gandhi caps were tossed in the air. Outside, by the Gateway of India, the crowds crooned “Jai Hind” to the tune of “Tipperary”. “So freedom came — like all the New Years rolled into one,” Karaka recalled.

Vande Mataram in A Capella
This Independence Day, catch a special version of the Vande Mataram on 9XM. The special version has been sung in a capella style by a US-based band called Penn Masala. The band mainly comprises of college students and five of the band members have been part of the video. The video will be aired on an hourly basis on the channel, so any time you switch to the channel you should be able to catch it. 
Log on to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rqu5M6AkEbw

Did you know?
Jana Gana Mana was adopted as India’s National Anthem three years post independence. 

Go to top