South Bombay’s restaurants and hotels — Gaylord, Volga, The Ritz, Astoria, The Ambassador, the Taj Mahal Hotel — were once flush with chintz sofas and velvet curtains. Their patrons were men with slicked-back hair wearing snappy suits and women draped in saris or donning gowns. Everyone smoked. Socialites, politicians, and Bollywood celebrities like Dilip Kumar rubbed shoulders. The soundtrack to these gatherings was the hottest trend in the country: jazz. For three decades — from the 1930s to the 1960s — the jazz scene in Bombay was a place of allure, innovation, and vibrant characters.
But jazz wasn’t just a mere Western import — it also infiltrated Indian sounds and compositions during its 30-year heyday to the point that it inspired a new genre, Indo jazz. Within a few decades of its arrival, jazz underpinned much of contemporary Indian culture, even seeping into Bollywood hit singles such as “Eena Meena Deeka” from the 1957 film Aasha, and lingers well into the present-day.