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All that jazz

In the early 1980s, I remember telling my bassist friend Lew Hilt, who was playing in Blue Fox under the band leader Carlton Kitto, that it would be nice if he put in a word for me should they ever need the services of a drummer.

Lew came across one evening and said, “Decide quick, buddy. In the nightclub business, you gotta decide quick. Can you join?” I hesitated, and the chance was lost. A week later I visited the Fox and saw someone else at the drums.

But Lew kept the incident in mind and months later when Carlton was asked to do a jazz concert at a garden party, Lew said to me: “It’s a one-off show this time. If you can rehearse in the mornings at the Fox, you can play.”

Next day, sharp at 11am, I was at the Fox, almost the last to arrive. The first thing that struck me about the old school pros who played at the nightclubs around the year was that despite late nights, they were always on time — even early in fact. And always full of fun. “Check this out, Nondon,” said Carl, handing me an audio cassette of Pat Martino pieces like Special Door, Great Stream and others.

They were the most intricately phrased yet precise, fast, up-tempo, be-bop, swing jazz tunes I’d ever heard. Carl was testing me. He’s like that.

After some solid homework, I got about three-tenths of the way there, but Carl accepted that. Thus began a teacher-student relationship that has lasted all these years, coming through umpteen concerts, mostly memorable and some forgettable.

He is not a drummer, but all the points of reference he has given me have been understandable and precise. With Lew Hilt on bass and Carl on guitar and someone like Joe Fernandez on keyboards or piano, we have had some fine times.

Carl’s knowledge is phenomenal. He is a purist, though, and won’t play pieces that don’t belong to the be-bop school and don’t swing. His favourite composers are Charlie Parker, Miles Davis (‘the early stuff’, he’ll clarify), Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others.

Some of the greatest names in jazz who have passed through Calcutta and jammed at the Fox have left shaking their heads in wonder and disbelief at Carl’s grasp, memory and musical vision. He continues to teach, lead a laid back life, play the occasional gig (only with those he likes ) and entertains with superb adda.

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