[Dixielandjazz] Origins of Jazz

Phil O'Rourke philor at webone.com.au
Tue Mar 1 03:28:28 PST 2005

A little while ago the subject of the origins of jazz was being discussed on
the list.
I could tell from the way that the articles were written that people are not
sure where OKOM originated.
I had memories of an article that I had read about twenty years ago and
remembered how autoritave it was. It took me some time to search for that
article but I have now found it and, with apologies for lateness, am happy
to share it with list members.

My Poppadam tol' me

Although jazz has thrown up an abundance of controversies over the years,
the one element on which there has hitherto been universal agreement is that
concerning the origins of the music.

It has long been accepted that jazz evolved from a combination of African
music, introduced into America by the slaves, and European dance music.

Now, however, comes a remarkable book, "Jazz Is Where You Sikh It", by P.
Vencatachellum, which threatens to cause a gigantic upheaval in jazz circles
by claiming  that jazz had its origins in India in the middle of the 19th

In a fully documented survey of the beginnings of jazz, Venactachellum
traces its origins to an eating house in New Delhi where the specialities
were particular spicy jhals. The resident musicians led by Ali Zanda,
specialised in syncopated improvised music which quickly became associated
with the food being served. It became known locally as "hot jhals" musicand,
as the musicians played the "l" out of it, this became corrupted to "hot
jhas". From there it was a short step to hot jazz or jazz.

If this were all the evidence that Vencatachellum was able to provide, it
would be derisory indeed. But he goes on to trace the spread of the music to
other towns in India where, during the days of prohibition, musicians would
get together for what were known as chutney sessions in the local

Meanwhile the original New Delhi band was gaining a wide following among the
Sikhs who derived, it is said, great élan from the music. As a result of
this the band became known as the Original Sikhs Elan Jhas Band and the
leader achieved additional fame when he wrote Ali Zander's Raga Time Band.

Hand in hand with the evolution of jazz in New Delhi was a secondary
movement emanating from a member of the British Raj in the northern state of
Nepal. He assembled around himself a large orchestra of British and Indian
musicians which became known as the Nepal White Man Band.

Also contributing to the mainstream of jazz development was religious music
and a number of gopal (gospel) singers were emerging, using jazz rhythms in
conjunction with traditional hymns like "We Pilau The Fields And Scatter".
And from the workers in the cotton fields came the blues form, later taken
up with some success by a titled woman in the Punjab known only as Maharanee
(later corrupted by Western writers to Ma Rainey).

But perhaps the blues movement, says Vencatachellum, came from the fakirs
(including some elderly female ones known as mother fakirs) who roamed
Bombay moaning laments as they walked through hot coals.

Their wailing became so distractingthat the authorities banished them to the
municipal toilets where a special section was put aside for them. The
lavatory seats each had a dozen spikes sticking up and the wailing that
echoed through the place naturally became universally known as the music of
the 12-barb loos - perhaps the most fundamental form of Indian jazz.

Vencatachellum traces the development of various forms of jazz - that of the
West Coast stream evolved by a group of diminutive members of the
aristocracy known as Shorty Rajahs, the bebop movement introduced by a
number of seers who transformed the standard Whispering into Guruvin' High
and the rock 'n' roll style pioneered by Chuck Ber-Beri, who found fame with
RagaBeating Boogie and Sweet Little Sikhs Teen.

The Author is particularly interesting when he gives the stories behind such
jazz standards as Low Down Dhoti Shame Blues, Poppadam Allow No Music Played
In Here and You Korma Long Way From New Delhi. He also refers at length to
the introduction of the electric sitar by Charlie Hindu and the
contributions made by such Indian jazz greats as Vindaloo Donaldson, Rajah
kellaway, Rupee Braff, and singers like Delhi Rice and Chappatti page. He
also recalls the pioneering work of the dark-hued trombonist frem the south
known as "Tanned" Ory.

Vencatachellum is convincing when he explains how Indian jazz evolved into
rhythm and blues through the efforts of the Tabla Motown label. And he is
most persuasive when he talks about the bosa nova influence from the former
Portugese region, led by the talented Domengo Chutney. Domengo, he explains,
is nicknamed "Mango" by his followers, and since he comes from the former
Portugese region, is often referred to as "Goa Mango" - an appellation
familier to jazz lovers throughout the world.

However the author is on rather more treacherous ground when he sets out to
prove that most of the American jazz standards are, in fact, based on
original Indian tunes.

He quotes the case, for example, of an Indian potentate who commissioned a
song from a local composer. The composer completed the work and, to make an
impression, rode to the palace sitting on the ear of an elephant and
singing, Caliph, On Ear I Come. He has other far-fetched  explanations for
titles like Ghee Baby Ain't I Good To You, Whose Sari Now, DIG Urdu Urdu and
I CVall My Sugar Ghandi.

Vencatachellum has written a recourceful and fascinating book, but I am
bound to say that if you are a serious student of jazz, in the Brian Oxide
class, you may find that Jazz Is Where You Sikh It, instead of helping you,
tends to India.

This article is reprinted from Melody Maker and is attributed by that
magazine to "the almost totally unknown authority on Indian culture, Jean
Elliot, who has made a bit of chutney in her time and once visited Southall"

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