Drummer Franco Vaz and violinist Uttam Singh remember RD Burman

Jun 24, 2017, 10:31 IST | Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya

Ahead of RD Burman's 78th birth anniversary, drummer Franco Vaz and violinist Uttam Singh share memories of creating music with the legend

Drummer Franco Vaz at a tribute concert for RD BurmanDrummer Franco Vaz at a tribute concert for RD Burman

Rahul Dev Burman, a gem of the Indian music industry, was born gifted with melody. Being the son of legendary composer Sachin Dev Burman, he got attuned to scales and chords from an early age. When Pancham (his nickname) became a star after Teesri Manzil (1966), people weren't surprised. The prolific composer ended up scoring music for over 300 films spanning three decades. His last innings (the beginning of the '90s) didn't serve him well - the films bombed and the music remained unnoticed, except his swansong 1942: A Love Story, released posthumously. However, he is still remembered for the revolution he caused in the film music genre. Ahead of his 78th birth anniversary on June 27, drummer Franco Vaz and composer Uttam Singh - two of his musicians - share the experience of rubbing shoulders with the genius.

The legendary musician at a recording session
The legendary musician at a recording session

The humble side
Singh, a respected music composer/arranger, was a violinist in Burman's colossal ensemble. "I often asked him how he could come up with so many melodious tunes at the same time. He would say, 'Uttam yaar, bas ho jata hai,'" he says.

The 69-year-old also recalls an incident when Burman lost his temper during a recording session. "We were at Film Center and a senior musician made a mistake. We had to go for a retake. In the next attempt, another musician got a note wrong. During the third take, there was a blunder by a third row violinist, and he lost it. It was understandable but I asked him why he had to shout at a junior when so many seniors were also at fault. After the song, he came to us personally to apologise. He said, 'Uttam, I am sorry, I couldn't control myself the third time,''' he recalls.

Uttam Singh
Uttam Singh

Pancham, the cook
Vaz began his journey with Burman with Kasme Vaade (1978) and he still plays in the tribute band. The 61-year-old reveals the culinary skills of the composer and how he loved to cook for his musicians. "He would make delicious snacks, all non-vegetarian, to go with drinks and would discuss recipes in between recordings. He often cooked authentic Bengali dishes, like Fish Kalia," he reminisces. "He would also discuss football and hockey with us. He loved sports."

When Burman returned to India from the UK after a bypass surgery in 1989, he had started freeing his musicians for he knew the end was near. "He told me to look for other avenues to earn as he wouldn't be able to work as much. It was sweet of him to say that because we always felt awkward to take assignments beyond his projects. We never thought he would pass away at 54 (in 1994)," rues Vaz, who learnt to play the Cuica (a Brazilian friction drum) under Burman's tutelage. "He bought that from Rio De Janeiro and we used it on a Bengali song called Maccher Kanta. Even today, when I play his songs on stage, I sense his presence."

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