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  • Writer's pictureTrincas Restaurant - Kolkata, India

Willie Walters' Jazzscape

Updated: 17 hours ago

It’s 1963, and little Willie Walters is being treated to icecream at Magnolia on Park Street where a 3-piece jazz band plays. As the icecream melts in the warm Calcutta air despite the airconditioning, a beautiful lady walks in. She’s wearing a fish-tailed dress that glides over the floor behind her. She’s got the allure of a Hollywood star in moving pictures - one whom you can never take your eyes off. Eve notices 8 year old Willie, notes of music float by, she turns and winks. He is so surprised, he drops his icecream. This will be his first memory associated with Jazz… and with Trincas (though he doesn’t know it yet). Eve broke a million hearts performing at Trincas across the street. With her short pixie hair and looks that could melt boys and ice creams, she was the voice that cast a spell on Calcutta from 1964 to 1969.

 

Willie would grow up to be a part of the cultural history of Calcutta as well. He would become a beloved bassist with a penchant for exploring music; his talent would be his magic carpet ride through the next 5 decades. He’d watch, listen, learn, play and finally plant himself firmly in the Jazzscape of the city over the next five decades.  

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It’s now 1973 and Willie’s bachelor uncle Johnnie Dell is on his shippie break from the Merchant Navy. The pay is good and it allows three months of rest. Where else to spend it, but at home in Calcutta with it’s roaring nightlife, theaters and cosmopolitan culture? 17 year old Willie and his friends are excited to be out and about with Uncle John. They visit the best restaurants to eat and listen to music. Every place is different and has it’s own flavour– Moulin Rouge, Bar Barrell, Blue Fox, Trincas. At Blue Fox, Louis Banks is playing a funky version of Jazz. There’s George Benson on drums, Pam Craine in a blue wig, and guitarist Carlton Kitto in his shimmering shirts. It’s the kind of jazz that gets your heart pounding.

 

But when Willie walks into Trincas that summer, it’s life changing. The décor, the sound, the table settings, the lighting, the service - it’s like stepping into a different world. Benny Rozario and his boys are the sharpest band he’s heard, perfectly in sync with each other. They are playing on a system called Elk. It’s the best sound quality Willie will ever remember.    

Within 3 months, Uncle Johnnie has spent all his money, but Willie has found his first love – music, specifically jazz!

 

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In the late 1970s, Carlton Kitto moves to The Oberoi Grand Hotel and Willie Walters follows. The Grand’s nightclub Polynesia opens and Willie plays as part of an ensemble that has saxophones, an obo, trumpets, guitar, a piano and drums. Jenny is on vocals, having recently moved from Trincas.

 

As the decade turns, music styles change further, at The Grand there are spot artists like Sharon Prabhakar and the Greek brothers Freddie & Mike. There is also cabaret with the fabulous Miss Shefali and a leaning now towards disco.

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In the 1990s, bleeding into the 2000s. Willie alternates between Jazz gigs at The Oberoi Grand and the ITC Hotel, and performing with Gyan and Jayshree Singh’s Pop Secret and the band Shiva. Music makes a versatile man but life sometimes runs in circles. Willie finds himself back at Trincas in the 2000s playing pop, oldies and light rock with the evening band.

 

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It's now 2022 at Trincas, Willie has been in charge of the evening ensemble for a couple of years. Covid has ripped the guts out of performance art across the world. Live music venues in Kolkata are scarce, but Trincas has persisted with it’s music programme as it has always done for the last 60 years.

 

There are things happening here… ideas from the past, melding with the present, looking to the future. A misnomer for Trincas is that it’s a “jazz bar”. But if you play to expectations when they are aspirational, good things happen.

 

The Willie Walter’s Quartet is born for weekend afternoons with the sun slanting into a red-velvet room. It’s born because Willie is capable of moulding a set of musicians (who have never played in a jazz band) into an ensemble. It’s born because weekend afternoons have a “feeling” to them, just as jazz does, and just as Trincas does. Willie in his 60s looks dapper in his tuxedo, giving the twenty-something-year-olds in the band a run for their instagrammability. Jazz has a coolness to it. To be 60 and cool is the definition of cool. This man commands his respect through his talent and experience. He’s playing his favourite music at his favourite place in town. Life is great.

 

Within a few short weeks, there are lines outside Trincas for Weekend Jazz Lunches. Within a few months, there is outside demand for the sound that the Quartet has re-introduced. Within a year, there are new Jazz duos and trios and ensembles and establishments are touting “Jazz Nights” as one off events.  

This is perhaps Willie’s greatest legacy. With Trincas, he’d been instrumental in bringing the Jazz movement back to Kolkata. Trincas was always been his favourite. It’s only apt that a favourite and a first love spawned a legend!



Eve 1960s
Jazz at Trincas 1970s with Usha Uthup
Willie with Infusion (Kiefer, Sucheta, Mantasha, Venessa & Debayan) 2020
Willie with Infusion (Kiefer, Sucheta, Mantasha, Venessa & Debayan) 2020

Willie Walter's Quartet 2021
Willie Walter's Quartet 2021

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