Iconic jazz player from Kolkata Carlton Kitto no more

A museum of music and innocence left behind


News - India & You

November 29, 2016

/ By / Kolkata


The man with a mission to keep Bebop alive bows out unnoticed

Jazz community in India mourns an unparalleled loss as one of the stalwarts of the music form in India, Carlton Kitto breathed his last in Kolkata yesterday.

The personal blogs and twitter handles of musicians and music-lovers across the country lamented the void that Carlton Kitto has left. The guitar maestro who practiced and perfected the African American genre of bebop music, originated in New Orleans, for almost five decades in Kolkata succumbed to a prolonged illness at the age of 73. He leaves behind a museum of innocent memories in the hearts and minds of music lovers who experienced him as a prodigy on the stage since 1973.

Music from Calcutta

There was a time when this eastern metropolitan city was known as Calcutta and art aficionados of the country gathered here to soak in the best of jazz, blues and various other forms of western music. Park Street in erstwhile Calcutta was the mecca of live music scene in the country and British era clubs and pubs would stage relentless talents from around the country. From Moulin Rouge in the Park Street to the Grand Hotel at the Esplanade, Carlton Kitto was an irreplaceable musician in various ensemble jazz bands during the early seventies. Mocambo, Trincas, Blue Fox, Someplace Else, Chowringhee Bar – Kitto mesmerised his audience at every upscale restaurant and pub.

His residence at Alimuddin Street will now stand as an epitome of the memories shared by his numerous apprentices and followers over the years. He was one of those cocooned souls who found the much needed peace in the city and rejected greener pastures. In one of the documentaries made on Kitto, he says, “I was happy playing here and doing the kind of music that I love to do.” His long time friends and musical associates have extended offers for a better career and may be a life with a few more fans to cheer; he was adamant on not leaving Calcutta, the city he loved passionately. The city’s live music scene was deteriorating as clubs and pubs were shut or slapped with heavy duty. What kept Kitto going was a memory which was nothing but a shadow of the past and his guitar that would speak volumes about his proficiency in jazz.

End of an era

The man who played for Queen Elizabeth II or the man whose magnetic notes allured the likes of Ravi Shankar to walk into Blue Fox and jam with him will still be remembered for his humility and nonchalance. He was a genius who never claimed authority amid the din of growing mediocrity, rather keeping poised, content and unregretful over the years. In a career spanning over five decades, Kitto shared the stage with many greats, including Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, David Leibman, Larry Coryell, Chico Freeman and Charlie Byrd. Contemporaries not in age but who shared the stage with Kitto in Kolkata such as ace drummer Nandan Bagchi or guitarist Amyt Datta expressed their grief on social media. Datta went on to question the present system which “could not do much when he was alive” and urged his friends and followers to ponder. The loss of Kitto definitely leaves a vacuum that can hardly be filled anytime soon; however, much is left in terms of understanding the talents like Kitto who pass away without the apt recognition they deserve.

There’s no denying the fact that Carlton Kitto was an institution by himself, but did we do enough to hail this son of soil while he still lived and breathed? This deserving jazz icon passing away without feathers in his cap is a disheartening reality we must now live with.

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