Finding Carlton

“I was vain and blind then
Prone to be unkind then
Wish they’d turn back time somehow
Then I was audacious
I ignored what was precious
How I wish you’d ask me now”
How I wish By Thelonious Monk

I have a history with jazz that goes back a long way. When I was little my dad would sing me the standards. On our long drives together we would listen to jazz and he would play out the rhythm on the car wheel while I sang. When he figured out he had a captive audience he began his long, hard journey to introduce me to the world of Jazz.

Unlike most twelve year old’s the music I took with me to boarding school were carefully recorded and labelled cassettes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. They were my prized possession and were played to the point were there was more cello tape holding it together than the recorded bits. Every term my father would painstakingly record everything he thought I would like and send it to me by post.

Unfortunately being in boarding school also exposed me to a whole new range of music. Suddenly Ella didn’t seem to understand me like Jim Morrison or Dire Straits. As I grew older I turned into some sort of rebel, hated the system and found that the closest I could get to being an angry soul with a disturbed past was through bands like Audioslave and Tool. My father and I got into blazing fights and after weeks of silent treatment he finally bought me a disc man so everyone else in the house didn’t suffer.

Soon our amplifier stopped working, everyone bought their own laptops and iPods and suddenly the music died out. Occasionally I would walk past the cupboards of CDs and play one hoping against hope that my father wouldn’t catch me.

After some years I could see him make an effort to understand the music I listened to and slowly things got better. We could talk about music again. Of course there are moments where he gives me a look of utter disdain but I’d like to think things are going well.

It was only when we had our first holiday in New York together where I realised just what my father had to offer. Here is a man who spent a large part of the late 60s hitch hiking across America photographing some of the most famous jazz musicians of all times. His photographs and stories take you along a musical journey like no other. Watching him tune in to Joanne Brackeen at the Lincoln center while we sat at the bar was an extremely humbling experience. Now after years of blocking him out I realize what a complete and utter git I’ve been. But I do know this: He never quite gave up on me and I don’t think he ever will.

Every story is always better with a happy ending and what better way than to tell those of you in India that the movie Finding Carlton has finally found its way back to India and will be screened in a city near you. My exposure to jazz in India was limited to a few stories from my father and the Taj Mahal Foxtrot so I am excited to see what Susheel Kurien has to share.

“Finding Carlton, an original and lovingly crafted new HD documentary documentary of the story of jazz in India, explores the African American jazz diaspora in South Asia, and, for the first time, brings to life a remarkable example of early cultural globalization.

Built around a portrait of surviving Indian jazzman, the maverick guitarist Carlton Kitto, audiences are taken on a richly atmospheric journey into India¹s little-known jazz age that lasted from the 1920s to the 1970s and until now has gone unrecorded in the history of that country and the history of jazz.

What emerges is the unknown and mesmerizing story of a bygone era and the testimony of one of its last survivors, Carlton Kitto. A maverick dedicated to pure jazz, particularly bebop, Carlton, 68, is an unsung cultural custodian who has nurtured hundreds of young musicians in the jazz idiom, and who still plays to half-empty Calcutta hotels.

Weaving verité scenes of Carlton’s isolated, impoverished, yet passionately dedicated existence, Finding Carlton uncovers an untold story of cultural cross-pollination born of the pre-war African-American diaspora, the American Army presence in Calcutta during the Second World War, and of the US State Department’s sponsored jazz tours in India. The film also illuminates the influence of American jazz on Bollywood and provides one of the earliest examples of cultural globalization.”

If you still need convincing you can read this beautiful review by Jazz lives here. I urge every Jazz lover to come down and support the film, I’m sure we won’t go home disappointed. The schedule is as follows:

PUNE October 11 – 6.30 pm At the NFAI – National Film Archives of India, co-hosted by the Poona Music Society

PANAJI – GOA – October 13th – 6.00 pm ESG Center, Panaji

BANGALORE October 15 – 6.30 pm at the Bangalore International Center

BANGALORE October 16th OPUS – Gina Forever Foundation –                                                                       SPECIAL EVENT- AND LIVE PERFORMANCE BY CARLTON  KITTO BEBOP ENSEMBLE

BANGALORE October 17 – 7.30pm at the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore,                                                  co-hosted by the Bangalore School of Music

BOMBAY – October 20 – 4.00 PM at the Films Division Complex – FD Zone Documentary series



  1. IN GOA TOO DUDE!!!!
    woohoo.. and this is the film you told me about at Mums Kitchen no?

    PS: what a lovely father-daughter story this is!

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