The man who was untired of repetitions

The bandleader Mickey Correa, the last link to an incredibly rich part of Bombay’s musical history, passed away on September 22, 2011, at the age of 98. This picture was probably shot around 1939, when Correa was hired to lead an orchestra at the Taj in Bombay. He stayed there until 1961. Over the decades, his band was a nursery for fresh  talent. The musicians who emerged from his ensemble included the pianist Lucilla Pacheco, the saxophonists Johnny Baptist, Norman Mobsby and George Pacheco, and the trumpet players Chic Chocolate and Frank Fernand.

Correa, who was born in Mombasa and who spent his childhood in Karachi, belonged to the first generation of Indian musicians to play jazz. He and his contemporaries perfected their skills in the late 1930s in the bands of African-American musicians like the pianist Teddy Weatherford and the trumpet player Crickett Smith –  men who spent long years in India, preaching the gospel of jazz.  At the Taj, hotel brochures advertised Correa as “the man who was untired of repetitions” as he delighted the crowds night after night playing their requests.

Mickey Correa with Crickett Smith.

I had the honour of interviewing Correa several times over the years, and his daughter Christine made his invaluable photograph album available to me.  It’s an astonishing record of Bombay’s jazz history unfolding over four decades.

A couple of years ago, my friend Susheel Kurien restored a tape of  Correa’s last concert. It was made on a Grundig reel-to-reel by his brother, Alex, who played in the band for 20 years. (That’s him playing the drums in the first photo.) After Alex Correa died, his wife took the tapes to their daughter’s home in Ottawa. Mickey Correa’s daughter Christine gave them to Kurien to use in his excellent documentary, Finding Carlton. Among the tracks that didn’t make it to the film, is this Konkani chachacha, which he kindly passed on to me.

The Mickey Correa band playing a track titled 'Konkani'.

Here’s a portion of the footage that Kurien shot, featuring Mickey and his daughter Christine Correa.

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