Sunday, March 5, 2017

Max De Souza, simply Jazz Part II

Max with his muso nephews Jonathan and Craig Rattos

The Hurricanes

In the 1960s, the music scene in Nairobi was strongly influenced by the British rock bands and it was not long before I joined good friends Ronny Victor (rhythm guitar) Lawrence Fernandes (lead guitar) and Chand, the only left handed drummer in Kenya. We called ourselves “The Hurricanes”.

I was 16 at the time and there was not much money at the time and sometimes I would walk home to save the bus fare towards my first guitar.

Arun from Assanands Music Store in Nairobi was gracious to put away my first Eko Bass guitar until I was able to fully pay for full amount. We played a lot of rock n roll at the Goans club: Goan Institute, Railway Goan Institute and there Goan Gymkhana.  There were a lot of great bands as you will learn.

I then went on to play with great big band musicians and was gradually mentored into Jazz by:  Joachim Fernandes (sax), Joachim Furtado (sax),  Valentine (guitar), Philip De Souza (guitar),  Auggie Alvarez (sax and trumpet), Leo Rodrigues (drums)  Anthony Coutinho “Cooty” (sax, bandleader of “Cooty and the Supersonics”),  Amigos, the  New Avenue Hotel resident Band:  Keith on piano (South Africa) Angelino (sax, Italy) – Enrico (guitar, Italy) and George (drums, South Africa),  The Stringbeats, and other big bands at that time.  Nairobi was alive with the sound of these big bands virtually every week or second week and loved listening to them and watching the dancers going round the round the dance floor enjoying the different dance tempos Waltz, Fox Trot, Tango, Mambo and slow songs. Dancers and Bands were in sync and applauded after each song the band played. Music didn’t start until 9pm and went on till the early hours of the morning. I had many a conversation with band members during their breaks or at the end of the evening, making good friends and being inspired later during their rehearsals.

Oh, and there were no booze buses!

I started working at the New Avenue as a hotel receptionist. In the evening, I would play with the resident band in the hotel’s Grill Room. It was at the Avenue that I took my first steps in the world of professional musicians and was mentored by the musicians already mentioned, mainly from South Africa, long before Kenya gained independence in 1963. Playing with these pros, I got the chance to back some international artistes. The guys in the band urged me to learn to read music as this was vital in the professional world as most international artists just hand in their music sheets and they may or may not have a rehearsal.

However, at the band’s rehearsals the discipline, dedication and commitment contributed to each night’s 100% performance. I brought on my good friend Philip De Souza on guitar and later Terence Pinto on organ for a few months to the Avenue. I enjoyed four years performing 6-days-a-week with these wonderful great musicians who I still keep in touch having moved to different parts of the world. 

The late Anthony Coutinho (“Cooty”) was my greatest inspiration in dance band music.  He took me under his wing and mentored me in his band “Cooty & the Supersonics”. He coached me on what it takes to be a band leader: the time and patience for rehearsals, song selections, discipline and managing musicians including marketing, provided me with a wealth of knowledge. We performed at several big events and big clubs, Nairobi, Nakuru, and Eldoret and all the way to Uganda and every event was sold out. All of seven of us travelled in his Peugeot 504 station wagon with all the equipment loaded on the roof-rack. His musicians (some of whom I still keep in touch with) Paul De Souza (drums), Neville De Souza (Guitar), Philip De Souza (Guitar), and Joseph Raposa (vocals) It was not such a long time ago that I played alongside “Cooty” in Canada. Rest in peace with the great bands in Heaven. 

The Canadian experience

Soon after migrating to Canada in 1973, I played with several good bands: Mystics (friends from Bombay) Lester Rodrigues (guitar), Dennis Davids (piano) and Ken Fialho (drums) for three years. The band was very popular within the Can-Orient circle and GOA Toronto. I then formed a band with my brother-in-law: Roy Rattos (guitar/vocals) Percy Gomes (drums), Steve Alvarez (sax) (one of the truly great musicians from Kenya), and Peter Grimmer (guitar). The band was called “Blytz”.

We had a great run, play all over the place for four years..  The band did everything from 70s classic rock to Dance music and kept the crowd on the floor. Great memories. Working during the day in major systems operations and project management had its challenges  but music kept me sane. I have performed with more than 50 bands in Canada, playing classic rock, 50s and 60s show bands, Latin, Jazz, Country, Celtic and I still enjoy them all.

What is your favorite instrument?
Though I owned several instruments through the years, my favourites are
Eko Beatle Bass (owned since 1969), Steinberger CRM4 Electric Upright Bass, Steinberger XL Bass and Musicman Stingray Fretless.

What is your favorite music, why?
My favorite music is songs from the Great American Song Book. Songs by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett. Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darrin and many others from the 50s and 60s as well the Motown soul sounds by  The Temptations, Stylistics, Platters and many more

What are your fondest memories?

Growing up in Nairobi and performing with our Goan musicians each has a special memory through the photographs and times together on and off stage.
Working at EMI/HMV Records in London England for three years provided me the opportunity to meet personally with likes of John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Mama and the Papas, Pink Floyd, The Free, Led Zepplin, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Jimmy Cliff, Jackson 5, Ry Cooder, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Shirley Bassey, Al Martino and many many others informally, bacstage, working with them on albums (track summary), publishers, radio stations, festivals and shows.  When I visited them at their homes to review the album in the evening, it was a surprise and interesting to see who walked and shared in the conversation. I would land up playing an instrument and a few chords with them or enjoying that informal musical jam. Interesting to share in a conversation on an upcoming song or what made them write or review a song presented to them by another artist. Seeing musicians that don’t perform together just sit down and play was incredible yet memorable. There was nobody in that room that had a recorder or even attempted to interrupt that moment in time. It was just friends getting together informally enjoying time together. Many a story about their day to day world would go around and they would be like normal people. Memories at Abbey Road studios, where heated discussions during recordings and views, exchanges or disagreements would lead to a complete stop. I never imagined that these are artists that I would meet these artists who we worshiped and listened to in Kenya. I experienced a world of Music and memories never imagined would happen. To understand the lives of the Beatles watch the movie “Let It Be” where you will experience their lives in the Abbey Road Recording Studio. This will give you a unique feel of their musicianship, highs and lows and great talented musicians they were.  This was one of the times I watch them record at Abbey Road Studio in London.

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