Pam Crain

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Pam Crain
Pam Crain

How we at Indpaedia wish we had biographical details (and not just tributes and ‘when I met Pam Crain’) about Pam Crain (and other great Indians): date of birth, parents, family, street where they grew up, school, college, first break, mentors, first and subsequent achievements, lean period, comeback, anecdotes…

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Pam Crain
Pam Crain
Pam Crain
Pam Crain

Honey blonde who hit the sweet spot

With her throaty voice and smoky looks, Calcutta crooner Pam Crain, who passed away earlier this week, hit the groove

Anjum Katyal

The Times of India

Pam Crain. The name conjures up a slim, curvaceous honey blonde, who is dressed to kill in an impeccably fitted gown, hair styled just so, with distinctive high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes sparkling with warmth and laughter. She was glamorous, every inch a diva. And could she sing!

As a crooner fronting some of the top bands on Calcutta’s nightlife hub, Park Street, Pam had to cover a popular repertoire, but her true metier — and her great passion — was jazz. Since the musicians with her felt the same, they broke into jazz at every opportunity. And a loyal band of aficionados showed up night after night to listen, request and applaud. Mocambo and The Blue Fox were some of the restaurants where she wove her magic for generations of Calcuttans. To those who were young in Calcutta through the ’60s and ’70s, Pam personified the heady attractions of Park Street nightlife with its swinging music scene, an essential rite of passage as they moved towards steady jobs and adulthood. Pam was the flavour of their youth.

In the early ’80s I once presented myself at her residence, portable cassette recorder in hand, to do a long interview for a popular magazine. She told me that she had just got back from a trip to Singapore where she’d gone to explore an alternative new method for a facelift “because frankly, I have so many tucks behind my ears that there’s no space for any more!” she said mischievously, laughing at herself.

I loved her immediately. She was open, generous, giving, with a childlike zest for life that kept her vivacious and engaged long after she gave up singing. She unstintingly shared her expertise with so many budding singers, offering guidance, painstakingly making tapes of singers and songs she felt you should listen to and learn from.

Pam was a consummate jazz musician. From the beginning of her career as a teenager in the mid-’50s (or, by some accounts, even earlier), she had the good fortune to play with very skilled jazz instrumentalists. It was a time when the Calcutta music scene was bursting at the seams with talent. Over the next few decades she performed with the leading jazz musicians of the country — Anto Menezes, Louiz Banks, Braz Gonsalves and Carlton Kitto, amongst others. And with them, she was one among equals. As a singer, she was deep in the groove, responsive to the complex jazz rhythms with every fibre of her being, her entries impeccably timed, with a stylish, sophisticated delivery that was controlled, delicate, and nuanced. Pam’s smoky voice was distinctive, and she used its throaty appeal to great effect. Ajoy Ray, one of the city’s diehard jazz fans, someone who grew up listening to Pam, says that she had an impressive range. Although, according to one of her great admirers, she was outstanding at singing ballads, I feel that she was also skilled at improvising and going beyond the melody.

Among her great influences were Carmen McRae and Betty Carter, both challenging, difficult vocalists who really explored the jazz idiom. Pam understood that a jazz band is a collective where everyone contributes equally, where the voice is one more instrument, adding textures and layers, weaving in and out, responding, and contributing to building the overall mood. This is where Pam’s strength lay — even the most clichéd old favourite would be given a fresh new twist by her. She was much, much more than a mere crooner.

I remember hearing one of her last concerts, several years ago. What stood out for me was the sheer virtuosity, the years of experience that showed in her masterly timing, the way she played to her strengths, the sinuous phrasing, and her seamless rapport with the band. You knew you were in the presence of a seasoned artist. In her seventies, she went back for voice lessons, practising scales and breathing exercises all over again. Ajoy recalls that till the end of her days she sought out new singers and ideas in jazz, so that she could keep abreast of the latest trends. For her, it was truly all about the music. And she set standards of commitment, humility and hard work that are examples for any musician following in her footsteps.

Katyal is a singer, writer and translator. She has shared the stage with Pam Crain

Tributes: Original diva of Park Street

Original diva of Park Street goes silent, The Telegraph, India

Pam listened to jazz greats at Dow Hill boarding in Kurseong where she was introduced to the piano at age 13. She went on to become the voice of jazz and western music in Calcutta.

Metro took a trip down Park Street memory lane with some of Pam Crain’s closest.

Nitin Kothari, Owner of Mocambo

Our association goes back to the early ’50s. Before Mocambo opened, we were looking for an orchestra and a glamorous lady to sing there. The team finally discovered this young girl of about 17 who was singing at some small restaurant on Chowringhee. They liked her vivaciousness, her voice and asked if she’d like to be the first crooner at Mocambo. She said ‘yes’ immediately. So she was appointed in 1955 before Mocambo opened in April 1956.

Pam had to be groomed because when Mocambo opened it was a very posh nightclub. A Jewish lady called Kitty Brannan, a fashion designer who used to run what we call a boutique today, was appointed. Pam was taken there and new outfits were designed for her. A favourite of hers was a fishtail dress and they made her half a dozen of those. They got her a hairdresser to style her hair differently.

And when Mocambo opened she was an instant hit, a celebrity.

She sang in Mocambo for more than 10 years. They were a six-piece band and Pam would pick the latest in pop music from the ’50s. They would start around 7.30pm and go on till 1 or 2am, especially on weekends.

Even after she left Mocambo, she never forgot my father or me. My father was the one running the restaurant at that time and I was a teenager learning the business. All of us were in awe of Pam Crain, she was like a goddess.

Louis Banks, Musician

I met her in the 1970s and invited her to join my band, the Louiz Banks Brotherhood, in Blue Fox. I heard her a couple of times and became an ardent fan; she was so amazing. When I think back, she was the greatest jazz diva of our country. The greatest.

She was way ahead of her times in India. She was a free spirit and she loved to improvise. She was an outstanding beauty. She had beauty, brains and talent.

We also collaborated as a song-writing team. She wrote many songs like Cool Me Down and Reason. She was a great lyric writer.

The last time I played with her was in Bombay in the 1990s. I had a band (The Louiz Banks Band) and she had moved to Bombay, before moving back to Calcutta again.

We were in touch on the phone. The last time we met was in Calcutta where I was doing an RD Burman show in July. I called her over and we had a meal together at The Taj.

I always tried very hard to make her come back to singing but she used to say, ‘No, no. I’ve done my thing’.

Jayashree Singh, Singer

She was my mentor. If it wasn’t for Pam, I wouldn’t have started singing. She taught me how to sing, how to dress for stage....

I was 20 when I first met her. We’d go to listen to her at Blue Fox and we ended up becoming family. She was magic on stage. She was exquisitely beautiful. Her dressing sense was way ahead of her times.

One of my favourite performances of her was Betty Carter’s Ego. If Pam was inspiration for me, Betty Carter was inspiration for her. And this one time in Bombay at the Jazz Yatra, Betty Carter was performing and Pam sat in the audience, crying for 10 minutes. Later she went backstage to meet Betty with a painting of hers that Louiz Banks had made and given Pam so she could get it signed by her. Betty Carter hugged her and said she couldn’t believe that there was someone in India who sang her songs and was so much into her. Next day she called Pam over and they had lunch together and then went out shopping. I think that must have been the best day in Pam’s life.

She was a very shy and private person off-stage and our home was among the few that she visited. And every time she would come we’d play Scrabble, gossip, listen to music. For me it’s like losing a best friend.

Biddu, Musician

I first met Pam in 1964, when my group the Trojans played at Trincas. We went to see her perform at a nearby restaurant. Almost every night in Calcutta, after the restaurants and cabaret clubs had closed for the night, we would all arrive at Pam’s house and party till the sun came up.

I met Pam a few times later during my yearly trips to India. She looked the same as I had seen her 30 years ago. Pam was a one-off. She will be missed by all who knew her.

Moon Moon Sen, Actress

She was so ladylike and fashionable. She taught me how to stand.

Her mother was quite a seamstress and Pam knew how to cut cloth like many designers don’t. Pam and her friend Brenda Lilley had a boutique, Madame Butterfly, on Free School Street.

Park Street has lost its voice with the passing of its original diva, Pam Crain.

The 80-year-old died in Calcutta on Wednesday morning following a cardiac arrest triggered by respiratory distress. She is survived by husband Don Saigal and other family members.

Blue Fox was Pam Crain.... A very large part of Calcutta is gone.


Listen to Pam Crain on YouTube

THE BRAZ GONSALVES 7 WITH PAM CRAIN - no amount of loving (1970 INDIA)

The page that will open has links to many other Pam Crain numbers as well.

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