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Half an hour of jazz: Soli Sorabjee.
Half an hour of jazz: Soli Sorabjee.

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

Ever thought that law and music wouldn’t mix? Soli Sorabjee’s lifelong love for jazz tells you otherwise.

Indeed, certain professions don’t let you hang up your boots with age. At 78, Soli Sorabjee is still practising law and is nowhere near the official retirement he had a few years ago as Attorney General of India.

Just like his bond with law is a life-long affair, so do his ties with his other love — jazz music, which he fell for as a young man living a carefree life in Mumbai way back in the 1940s. Even today, he says, “I listen to jazz at least half and hour every day.” Sitting in his office above his residence at New Delhi’s swish Neeti Bagh, a relaxed Sorabjee adds that he has another weakness: English poetry. There was also a time when he was interested in horse racing.

Taking advantage of his relaxed demeanour, one weaves into the conversation, “We hear that you have a music room?”

“Oh yes, let’s go there then, and to talk about poetry, you have to visit another room,” says Sorabjee, flashing a gentle smile.

Down memory lane

As he settles down in the music room, you spot umpteen number of books on jazz, LPs, CDs, jazz curios, two music systems, a record player and, of course, a rack of photo frames of Sorabjee with important people, one being the grand old man of jazz: Benny Goodman. Seeing you look at it , he says, “I had the pleasure of listening to Benny in person,” adding, “Can you get the photo for me, please? I haven’t had a look at it for sometime.” Holding the frame close, he goes down memory lane.

In 1948, young Sorabjee was visiting Rhythm House, a legendary music shop in Mumbai, to buy a record of Brahms Hungarian dance. “Instead, the guy at the counter gave me Benny’s ‘Tiger Rag’. Hesitantly, I heard it once, then twice, thrice…” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Not too many people know that Sorabjee started a jazz band called Capital Jazz in Mumbai. Also, in 1978, he with a few jazz connoisseurs organised the first Jazz Yatra in Mumbai. It came to Delhi in the mid-1980s.

“Not bad…in India, we had heard Duke Ellington in 1963, Louis Armstrong in 1965. I tried to get Benny here for Jazz Yatra, couldn’t, he was not ready to travel so far,” says Sorabjee. This year, Jazz Yatra, now called Jazz Utsav, will take place in Delhi from November 27-29. “It will be at the FICCI auditorium. We will have about eight foreign bands from Germany, Poland, Norway…,” he adds.

Talking about his interest in poetry, he says he has a circle of friends who meet “once in two months” to discuss poems and poets. “We take a theme for discussion and play poetry records recited by people like Richard Burton, interlaced with music,” he says. He misses his friend Roselyn Wilson, now no more, “who used to organise these poetry meetings so beautifully.” Sorabjee had brought out an anthology of poets in 1992, he says, “I want to expand on it.”

His own album

Also, he hopes to bring out an album of jazz music one day, “the scores that I like, perhaps with a name like Soli’s favourites,” he smirks. Besides Goodman, Armstrong, Gillespie and Charlie Parker, his favourites include Duddy De Franco, Julkis Sims and Arti Shaw.

With technological advances, he can now listen to jazz on his phone. Like a child eager to flaunt his latest toy, he takes out his mobile and plays a jazz tune for you. ‘Isn’t it great?” he asks. Nodding, you leave him to his “half an hour of jazz”.

This column features the little-known aspects of well known personalities


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