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MUSIC IN THE HILL STATION

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Chick Chocolate put down roots in 1945. (Pic courtesy: Arjun Wachani)

By: Ganesh Saili

‘Music in Mussoorie?’

Incredible as that sounds, this hill station’s music tradition goes back to the nineteenth century – an age of specialists. How else can one explain the existence of J.C. Bechler & Co. and Dili & Co. both of which dealt in fine jewellery? Or H. Clark & Co. (1896) and Trevelyan & Clark (1896) which employed European assistants to manage their millinery and drapery departments. Mrs Draper advertised her training in millinery with hats imported from Europe, while further down the Mall lived Mrs Hakman’s, who, apart from running a hotel, specialised in selling wigs and perfumes to suit all pockets and tastes.

For those musically inclined, the fact is that most of the pianos in the hill station were all stamped ‘Made in Mussoorie.’ In the Library, long before The Criterion became a famous eatery, Fitch & Co. set up a shop in 1899 under Mr. A. Liebenhen, a piano maker and tuner. Eight years later, he shifted the shop to Kulri which dealt with all musical instruments. The last occupant of this shop in the 1970s was an Armenian, who had a shop under the name A. Godin & Co.

 

Some moments turn into memories.
(Pic courtesy: Tulika Singh Roy)

In the 1960s, ‘Whispering Windows’ was our rendezvous – where Thunderbird, Ashwani Kumar and a jukebox belted out Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walking, or Brian Hyland’s Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini or Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again. If you strayed further down the road you found yourself at Hakman’s Hotel – where Pat Blake with his ensemble of twelve, along with Rudy Cotton’s saxophone, lit up the evenings.

Next time when you’re on Mall Road, check out the celebrated eatery named Chick Chocolate. Roughly speaking, it is midway in Kulri, sandwiched between the Das Photo Studio and the old New Empire Store. Naresh Wachani, the present owner, just recently found out that the store his father founded in 1945 had been named after Chic Chocolate, the jazz legend.

Satchmo playing the mellower cornet.
(Pic courtesy: unknown)

This coronet saga of Antonio Xavier Vaz begins at Bombay’s Taj Hotel, and summer heard the melodies pour out in Mussoorie’s Savoy Hotel. Occasionally, during his afternoon break, Vaz took to teasing the keys on an old piano at The Criterion Restaurant nearby, and soon, crowds began to gather outside the restaurant to tap their feet to the music.

Briefly, Chic Chocolate marks the beginning of Bombay’s Jazz Age. Both C. Ramchandra and Madan Mohan, music directors of the time, took his help in composing music for films like Nadaan (1951), Albela (1951), Rangili (1952), and Kar Bhala (1956).

Antonio Xavier Vaz was born in the Goanese village of Aldona. Given the economic uncertainty of 1930s India, he decided on a different course for himself in times when many musicians struggled to find gainful employment.  Understandably, his mother was upset with him; she wanted her son to become a motor mechanic and to grow up and have his workshop one day.

Louis Armstrong, also known as ‘Satchmo’ (fat cheeks, a name given by his Jewish foster mother), was to be his role model. Initially borrowing a bit of his idol’s style, Vaz quickly developed a style of his own. Starting in 1945 with a group called Spotlights, he became the group’s leader and called it ‘Chic and the Music Makers’. That band won a contract to play live music at the Taj Hotel. One momentous day, Bollywood music composer C. Ramachandra dropped by for lunch, heard the music, hired the band, and recorded the performance at the Taj. From then on, there was no looking back, for Antonio Xavier Vaz became a part of the film world. Songs like Ina-Mina-Dika and Shola Jo Bhadke, have the mark of Chic Chocolate stamped all over them.

Unfortunately, the end came in 1967. He was all of forty-five years old.

I wonder if he imagined that one day his name would adorn a store, in the centre of Mall Road, launched by J.D. Wachani in 1945. Ably carrying on the tradition are his son Naresh, and grandson Arjun.

That story, too, is now a legend all on its own.

Ganesh Saili, author-photographer, has written and illustrated twenty books, some translated into over two dozen languages. He belongs to those select few who illustrate their writing. His work has found publication in periodicals, columns, and journals.