As jazz took Mumbai by storm in the 1930s and 1940s, Goans who had already secured a place for themselves in the city, began to shine even more. At first, they were overshadowed by Western masters but soon began to form their own musical bands. Thanks to the enviable foundation acquired in parish schools, no instrument that formed part of the swing band was too difficult for them. Stalwarts like Micky Correia, Chic Chocolate, Chris Perry and others ruled the roost. But then arose a star in the Indian firmament-a star that began to shine the brightest-the legendary Braz Gonsalves. Soon, he was blowing the roof off everywhere and eventually gained the reputation of being India's best saxophonist of all times.
Braz, who brought honour and pride to Goa, was born in Neura on February 3, 1934. He learnt music from his dad Lawrence, a dedicated music teacher and choir master and composer for brass bands. At 15, Braz left Goa and soon became the new sensation all over India. His record over the last decades is prodigious and speaks volumes for his creativity and versatility as a player and composer.
He plays the tenor, alto and soprano saxophones in addition to the flute. He was a regular at India's foremost Jazz event-the Jazz Yatra-and was rightfully featured in the first Yatra in 1978. Subsequently, he played in five more yatras. He has performed with great musicians from India, namely, Louis Banks (his favourite pianist), Rama Mani, J Mani, Karl Peters, Ranjit Barot, Shanker Mahadevan, Pam Crain, Hariprasad Chaurasia and others. He has been a soloist for recordings of jazz, Gospel, indipop albums, ad jingles and Hindi film music.
A pioneer of Indo-Jazz fusion, he cut a record of original compositions called 'Raga Rock' in Calcutta in 1970. Braz's innovative style saw him being featured in several International festivals in Europe and the Far East in the 80s and the 90s, He toured with 'Sangam', the best fusion band India has ever produced, and played with international jazz greats like Charlie Byrd, Eddie Daniels, Sadao Watanabe, Paul Gonsalvez, Cat Anderson and others .
Gonsalves says, "All these accomplishments would not have been possible without the grace of the Almighty. Thanks to God and to my Dad, who nurtured my music and brought me up in God's grace. Today, I only play for the greater glory of God."
Talking about his "life-changing experience" in the early 80s, the septuagenarian narrates, "It all happened on a trip to Munich. As part of a fusion group that recorded the landmark 'City Life' album, I took a nasty toss on the ice and broke my hand."
Gonsalves interpreted the accident as a sign from the heavens. When he returned to India he joined the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and now finds himself increasingly drawn to church activities, leaving him little time for public performances.
He married Chic's second daughter Yvonne, who is a versatile vocalist having sung for various bands. She appeared as the soloist with Chapman Robert's 100-strong gospel choir at the 1980 Jazz Yatra. Gonsalves has two daughters Sharon and Laura who are singing prodigies, while his son-in-law Darryl Rodrigues is a keyboard wizard.
Now, Braz lives at his home in Porvorim. As he turns 80 on February 3, reminiscing a glorious past, he says, "All I want is peace and happiness which I have found abundantly in the Lord."
It's time we raise our glasses and say a una voce: "Ad multos anos".