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Here’s to the bygone musical ‘bebop’ era of Kolkata - GetBengal story

4 November, 2023 17:09:38
Here’s to the bygone musical ‘bebop’ era of Kolkata - GetBengal story

Carlton Kitto, a bebop jazz enthusiast in India

Though the world outside Bengal gleefully relates Kolkata only with Rabindrasangeet, music in Bengal has much more to offer. Startling but true, Kolkata became the hotbed of jazz music during the 1970s. The last of the jazz mavericks to shed light on the undocumented history of jazz in Kolkata is Carlton Kitto, the ultimate cultural remnant of that era, the unsung hero of jazz. Carlton Kitto was born in Bangalore in 1942. He was a significant bebop jazz enthusiast in India who didn't believe in making concessions. Bebop, a name comparatively unfamiliar, demanded the expertise and skill much of which this jazz exponent beheld. Carlton Kitto was an exceptional guitarist, and the magic he worked on the strings left listeners in awe.

During the 70s, Park Street, Kolkata, become the hub of jazz, with this particular genre of music playing in every nook and corner. Restaurants and bars like Trincas, Moulin Rouge, Blue Fox, Mocambo played it throughout. It was the time when Carlton Kitto began his musical journey at Moulin Rouge, with a band named Carlton Kitto Jazz Ensemble. Two years after he began playing, Pam Crain, the queen of crooners joined him in the endeavour. In no time, Kitto became the talk of the town. The elite crowd of Calcutta loved delving deep into the magical realm created by the most popular jazz guitarist in the city.

However, the good times soon came to a close. The then-government imposed a 90% tax and ordered to shut down the club during the end of the 70s. The restaurants were compelled to ask the musicians to leave, thus bidding adieu to the days of bebop jazz, saxophone and old school charm. Kitto, along with Louis Banks went to Mumbai to play for the band of R.D Burman. Louis Banks claimed himself to be the "king of fusion" and seemingly left behind the allure that jazz had to offer. But Kitto was not a man to surrender. The riches that the purportedly successful endeavors brought to him, failed to take over his devotion for bebop.  

An unwavering Kitto came back to Kolkata and lived the rest of his life with passion and conviction. Even though he was sometimes referred to be a purist or traditionalist, Kitto was a true artist who firmly believed in performing the music he enjoyed.  He was a valiant soldier who had no regrets in life. He continued to entertain, instruct, and inspiring many of the guitarists who with time, became big names in the music industry.

Kitto shared the stage with several jazz maestros, including Chico Freeman, Charlie Byrd, and Sonny Rollins. Sources claim that once when he was playing the music for Queen Elizabeth, Ravi Shankar came up to him and expressed his wish to share the stage. The last original bebop jazz guitarist who worked to preserve this genre of music until his passing, Carlton Kitto was a true artist who lived his life according to his own aspirations. At the age of 74, he passed away on November 28, 2016, but his lessons continue to be applied. Almost seven years to the day his has left and still "Fly me to the moon" plays in the air.

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