Written by 3:43 PM Music

Chris Perry – arranger and the re-inventor of Konkani pop

Chris Perry – image courtesy Alchetron

Chris Perry was born in Borda in 1928 as Kristovam Pereira, the second of eight children born to Agostinho and Espiciosa Pereira.

Goa, the smallest Indian state, located on the Arabian Sea in southwestern India and was a Portuguese territory from 1510 until 1961. While Konkani is the official language, most Goans were taught in Portuguese before 1961. Many Goans are Catholic, speak Portuguese, and hold Portuguese family names. Goa was India’s most Westernized region during Portuguese colonization and 19th-century inflows of British and other Westerners. It is a home of Western music, with Goa being the home to most Indian jazz musicians.

Perry was raised in a musical family and began performing on the tiatr (musical theatre) stage at a young age, playing the role of Bab Pinto. He began to produce his own Tiatr plays and is known for the plays Noxibantlo Nhovro, Padricho Lob, and Vid Mog Kornaranchem in the region.

He became an accomplished musician, especially in the trumpet and the saxophone. He was known for perfect timbre (absolute pitch) and his ability to change between the trumpet and the saxophone mid-song. He was also a prolific singer-songwriter, having written several hits during his era.

Perry infused jazziness in the traditionally Goan music while Anthony Gonsalves, another arranger and violinist, helped introduce Western sounds to Bollywood.

Chris started working in the Bombay movie industry as a violinist during the 1940s, becoming one of Bombay films’ most important arrangers of music. He performed in many Hindi films, notably Kabhi Kabhi and Trishul.

One of the more recognized acts from the 1970s scene was trumpeter Chris Perry and singer Lorna Cordeiro, the resident artists at the Venice club in Central Bombay. Chic Chocolat, the trumpeter, became a fixture in downtown Bombays Taj Mahal hotel, (click on link to listen) working with Chris Perry, the genius who had re-invented Konkani popular music. (click to listen) If you read my article on Chic Chocolate, that is the same Chris Perry I am referring to. Perry moved between Bombay and Kolkata (now Kolkata) in the late 50s and had his own band, The Chris Perry Band.

Chic Chocolate – Taj Mahal Foxtrot

Perry had to engage in an accepted practice of finding gigs, even after making a name for himself. Goan musicians met at Alfreds, a Kolkata restaurant, every morning. Perry, Tony Cyril, Dennis Vazo, Johnny Rodriges, Johnny Baptista, and Mike Machado had tables. Anyone planning a nighttime event would “book” musicians, for example, “one trumpet, and one piano”. . Each musician was paid Rs. 15, and Rs.18 if he wore white jackets and black trousers.

Bombay was a very cosmopolitan city by the late fifties, and people came from around the world. Everything was becoming Westernized, with Western influences flooding, especially fashion and music. The best restaurants served Western food and had dance floors featuring Jazz bands. La Bella, located in the Bombays Fort area, was at the top of the list of such restaurants.

Everybody was there, and every night was packed. Reporters kept away from the doors as alcohol was still tightly banned and obviously nobody wanted the goings-on to be reported in the Press. However, Chris Perry was known to get his feet into Bombay’s doors at La Bella, and since Goa was still under Portuguese rules, he had to get a special visa to perform there. Perry and his band were a regular act in the 1960s at the Venetian, the elaborate disco in Astoria hotel in Bombay. The Astoria was located on Churchgate Street, the city’s musical and entertainment district and Venice were known as the “jazz man’s jazz club,” drawing musicians from across India. In 1958, Dave Brubeck performed there, as did Duke Ellington in 1963.

Perry was considered to be brilliant, a perfectionist, and was obsessed about his musicality. His drummer, Diogo DeSouza, said, “Anyone who joined his band ended up honing their craft The group began touring, stopping in Delhi, Mussoorie, Shimla, and Ooty before settling in Bombay..”

He would carefully write out the arrangement for each player, expecting them to play exactly as he had written. Even if one note was misplayed on any instrument, he could detect it from afar. According to DeSousa, Perry once gave a black eye to one of the band members for not playing a note correctly. Since this happened on the performance day, he brought the musician an ice pack and gave the rest of the band dark glasses. This became a trend setter and since then, the band always wore dark glasses for night performances!

Perry saw 16-year-old singer Lorna Cordeiro performing “Underneath the Mango Tree” at the Bandra fair, Bombay, in 1960. Cordeiro, also from Goa, was brought to Bombay by musician Raymond Albuquerque after winning the Connie Francis Sound-Alike Contest while she was still at school. He offered her a place in his band, as she was outstanding and had received an excellent reaction from the crowd. She agreed, and Perry became her mentor.

Perry worked with her for six months before introducing her to audiences, teaching her to dress, move onstage, and use the mic. She made her debut at The Lido at Calcuttas elegant Firpos restaurant, singing an arrangement of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Cry Me a River.” Cordeiro was signed by His Master’s Voice company (HMV), which initially refused to let him record in Konkani. Perry fought on her behalf, and HMV relented. Cardeiros’s career took off following the album’s release. She became known as just Lorna and became a household name across India.

Perry’s songs were memorable, thumping, romantic, and blended Goan folk and jazz elements. These songs were immediate hits, getting lots of airplay thanks to their romances. Audiences were drawn to Lorna and the apparent chemistry between her and Perry.

Nachom-ia Kumpasar Let’s Dance to the Rhythm), a musical strung together with 20 of her songs composed by her music mentor, Chris Perry, in the Sixties and Seventies show cases their relationship both musically and socially.

Despite Perry being a Catholic man married with three children and the difference in their age, the two began an extremely public, non-marital affair. Offstage, Perry was jealous of Lorna and would hit any man that spoke to her. Their dalliance ended in 1973, with Perry returning to his wife and family.

The rumor was that he forced Cordeiro to sign a contract that she could not perform on stage with any other band. Perry was said to have used physical force to enforce that contract. However, Chris Perry’s son, Glenn Perry, challenged this. Perry claims in his lawsuit that Lorna and Monserrate worked together to bring up several allegations against his late father, including that Chris Perry had made a 20-year deal prohibiting Lorna from singing.

“Lorna was simply the singer that sang Chris Perry’s songs. She did not compose, write lyrics, or perform the music. She was an absolute newcomer to the musical world. Chris Perry molded her to become a great singer through teaching and mentoring her, just as a flower would blossom from a bud.

Glenn claimed her father had chronic Parkinson’s and was not able to speak out during the years leading up to his 2002 death. Glenn said: “I am 100% committed to telling the truth. To fight against that stigma, I am going to do what is necessary to reclaim the good name of my dad,” said Glenn Perry, adding that he has confidence in the legal system and that the truth will eventually prevail.

Despite being a megastar, Cordeiro was forced out of the music business. She never married and became a recluse and an alcoholic. She made a successful comeback in 1995.

A street in Margao was named after legendary singer Chris Perry at Goa’s Heritage Festival as a gesture of respect for his contributions to Konkani music and the film industry. Perry supported other musicians’ careers, with her songs being covered by Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhonsle, Usha Uthup, Adolph Fernandes, Seby Fernandes, Hema Sardesai, Lulu Fortes, K. Alvares, Ophelia, Mohana, M. Boyer, and H. Britton.

Chris Perry died on 25 January 2002, following complications of Parkinson’s disease.

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