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Nostalgia notes from nightclub gigs
Nondon Bagchi on the drums with Jenny on stage at the Tollygunge Club; (above) Jenny in performance at the same show. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

In December 1992, we went to perform in Delhi ' at the Gymkhana Club, if I remember correctly. We were in a day before the performance and being at a loose end that evening we all trooped into the Maurya Sheraton to hear Jenny ' one of Calcutta's favourite singers ' perform. It was a fine evening; a tight band, complete with trumpet and saxophone, neat sound and a well-chosen repertoire, delivered in her inimitable style.

As the evening wore on, our spirits soared, round after round of drinks were ordered and we returned to our hotel very happy and very broke. Which hardly mattered. Just about 24 hours more in Delhi, a performance to focus on, and the first flight out the next day. We did our work, came back to the hotel and booked our wake-up calls before catching a few hours' sleep.

But when the phone rang at 5 am, it was to tell us that there would be no flight back home. There had been trouble in Ayodhya, the whole country was on high alert, many cities had curfew and flights were grounded. So with just one change of clothes and no money in our pockets, we had to wait and watch. No ATMs and no credit cards. But fortunately, Gyan (now bass player with Skinny Alley and at that time singer and guitar player with Pop Secret, the band we were in together) had an account in a Delhi bank, and he helped to keep body and soul together till we returned a few days later.

A few years on, another Pop Secret gig in Delhi and again a visit to see Jenny. Not on stage, but at home, chilling out over a lavish lunch ' four hungry musicians making the most of the graciousness and generosity of spirit that she brings to her performances on stage.

Jenny started where so many of us did ' in Trincas. Through the Seventies and into the early Eighties she performed at Blue Fox, Hotel Hindusthan International and finally at Polynesia restaurant/nightclub at the Grand Hotel, before leaving for Delhi.

I had never had the privilege of being on stage with her but that opportunity finally came last weekend when she did a comeback of sorts with two shows in the city. There was a suicidal edge to the whole thing with all of us (minus Alex, the keyboard player whose flight from Delhi was delayed) meeting only on the morning of the first gig, and I was very apprehensive to say the least, but Jenny had the rehearsal under control in a few minutes.

'We'll keep it simple, there will be plenty of eye contact on stage and if you watch and follow closely, all will be well,' she said. I discovered that she knew exactly what she wanted from each musician, could communicate with me in a way that showed she understood drums and drummers remarkably well, was flexible and accomodating with no hang-ups ' a thorough professional. Not very surprsing, considering a long and illustrious career, but a relief nonetheless.

Bassist Willie Walters and Feroze Akhtar on guitar are veterans of the nightclub circuit and had played many of Jenny's songs before, so things were looking up. That was Round One.

Round Two was slated for the sound check at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club itself, but these plans were scuppered because of a technical snag ' something about a power connection not being available ' and so it was straight on stage at 8.45 pm ' without a proper sound check.

Jenny, who was joined on vocals by Don Saigal, veteran of the good old days who needs no introduction, was poised and unfazed. This was a party gig ' a dinner dance after the annual awards ceremony of the Advertising Club of Calcutta and she sang songs like Hotel California (which we all knew backwards), Give Me One Reason (a Tracy Chapman hit), Hot Stuff (a disco piece with a tight arrangement) and a cool version of Fever, which was pure nostalgia.

'I'm gonna give you some Delhi stuff,' was how she introduced a medley of Rock You Baby, Sexy Thing, That's The way I Like It and Sunshine Day, all done to a hypnotic bhangra beat. Unusual for me, but the floor was rocking.

Don did a rock and roll set, and some reggae and the gig, which was not a very long one, went off reasonably well with Jenny constantly on the move on stage, giving little signals and reminders, conducting it all in a relaxed way, smile perfectly in place.

Day II was Sunday the 12th, at the Tollygunge Club. This was a completely different set altogether, evoking memories of nightclub entertainment on and around Park Street in its heyday. We did some jazz standards as instrumentals ' Midnight Blue, Take The A Train and Watermelon Man.

Jenny sang time-tested favourites like Summertime (in an infectious funk tempo), Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Sunny Side of The Street, a bossa nova medley of Girl From Ipanema and Desafinado, and Lullaby of Birdland. Fever, possibly the only song common to the two shows, was tight and convincing the second time around and was an instant hit, as was Sway, a cha cha that had many in the sit-down concert audience surging towards the stage.

Donald did Broadway in the way only he can as well as All of Me, Stevie Wonder's Reggae Women and others, and there were times when the nostalgia was so strong that you could smell the cigarettes and alcohol and airconditioning of a Park Street nightclub.

Of course there were glitches, but the spirit of someone who is an entertainer to the core won the day. Apart from the fact that, even in the more challenging songs, the voice never lost its infectious quality and control.

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