Lord of Jazz who gave up greatness for God

Gonsalves gave up a professional career spanning over two decades and dedicated himself to the Church and gospel singing groups

It's difficult to get a question through to Braz Gonsalves these days. Age has caught up with one of India's greatest jazz musicians at 85 and the man whose music was once described by connoisseurs, "as the kind which rears and sways before eventually striking the listener like a serpent", struggles to catch up with questions asked of him.

Questions like, what really were some of the most inspirational moments of his life and music. But when he hears the word, music, he reels off stories of his tours in Europe in the 1980s, with Louis Banks and Pam Crain.

Born in Portuguese-held Goa in 1934 in a small village called Neura near Panjim (now Panaji), Gonsalves also credits his early days in the local Church for first stoking his musical genius.

"My early inspiration was during the days when I was raised in Goa was my Church. I learnt music in my parish. Music then was largely Georgian and bordered around religious chants," Gonsalves said.

The jazz great now lives in Porvorim, near the state capital, best known for the inharmonious symphony of honking cars and trucks as they zip along the National Highway-66 that cuts through the concretised locales of the suburb.

In the colonial era and some years after, the local Church was the breeding ground for Goan musicians of the Catholic faith.

Cut off from the Indian mainland and its music, a Goan Catholic lad in all likelihood, knew more about a Bach piece than a classic S D Burman song, Gonsalves acknowledges.

"Those days we did not have any Hindi, Konkani music or English music," he said.

He left Goa as a teenager to pursue his career as a musician. After a brief pit-stop as a musician in a circus band, he plunged headlong into the wild partying oases of Calcutta and Bombay of the 1970s. In the late evenings the veritable ring masters of these stylish clubs were the musicians who made the crowds sway and turn on the notes they belted out.

Soon, Gonsalves became the toast of Hotel Astoria in Bombay for his exemplary rendition on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones.

What made Gonsalves' music special? According to Naresh Fernandes, author of the popular treatise on Bombay's tryst with jazz, it was his spirit of innovation.

"Braz, in addition to being a virtuoso on his instruments, is one of the most innovative jazz musicians India has ever produced. He found inspiration in a variety of sources and was mixing Indian influences with jazz long before this became popular."

"His melodic and harmonic explorations are astonishingly sophisticated, and his gospel compositions have a joyous serenity. Most of all, Braz brings his listeners, delight," he added.

His fame as well as his company of other legends of his time like Louis Banks and Pam Crain took him around India as well as Europe, which he says were some of his most memorable moments, pioneering Indo-Jazz fusion.

But it was on a cold night in Munich in the early 1980s, that Gonsalves, who according to Indian jazz connoisseurs was on the cusp of greatness then, stumbled into the warm embrace of the Lord.

All it took was a fall on a patch of slippery ice, which broke his hand and in a way welded him o the arms of God. A flash of light he says, seared through him, moments after the fall, which altered his mind and made Gonsalves rededicate himself to God.

Gonsalves gave up a professional career spanning over two decades as a jazz exponent and dedicated himself to the Church and gospel singing groups.

Not that he gave up playing the reed instrument altogether. He continued to play for church groups and occasionally did perform on a public stage like he did in Goa in 2011. Some years back, he was conferred recognition by the state government for his contribution to art and culture.

Gonsalves now expects his grandson Jarryd, to pursue the legacy and belt out unbridled joy on the sax. "Jarryd has taken up playing jazz. He is in Bombay (Mumbai) now and is playing very well. But he has to keep on going. There is no end of learning. He will take my legacy forward," he


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