If you’ve walked through the halls of the Palladium mall in Lower Parel, Mumbai chances are that you’re already familiar with their in-house pianist Ronnie Menezes. Dressed impeccably in his suit, he filled the foyers of the mall with his sweet piano sounds for over a decade and perhaps managed to etch a place in the memory of music lovers and mall goers alike. While those sounds will no longer occupy our lives, since the pianist passed away on 6 April 2021 at the age of 80, we are digging into the archives to reminiscence his legacy and contributions to the Indian Jazz scene that expand much more than his stint at Palladium.
Born in Mumbai in 1940, Menezes grew up in a house above Leopold Cafe. Music might have run through his veins from the very beginning but it was under the mentorship of noted pianist Mike Machado that his talent got its wings to fly. He went on to study at the St Xavier’s College and post his graduation teamed up with a few friends to form a boy band of sorts, they named it ‘The Teenage Rockers’ and would frequent Berry’s Restaurant and Bar in Churchgate to play nighttime gigs.
While that lasted for a few years, in the 1960s, he went on to helm bands ‘Ronnie Menezes Trio’ and ‘Ronnie Menezes and his Soul Sound’ playing at ballrooms and clubs alike. “He was a thorough gentleman and one of the old-school type, and most importantly always lent a helping hand to musicians starting out in Bombay at that time,” says the drummer Lester Godinho who played with the pianist and also fondly remembers him as a mentor to many.
“One thing led to another and soon my father formed the Ronnie Menezes Quartet and played for Usha Uthup,” says his son Roger Menezes. His most significant and memorable collaboration perhaps is the time he played for played for (Usha) Uthup’s debut album Scotch and Soda with his quartet that included guitarist Dhanraj Skau, drummer Lester Godinho, pianist Ronnie Menezes and Colin D’Cruz as the bassist. In an coversation with Mid-Day D’Cruz mentions, “I played with him at my first ever jazz concert in the ‘80s at Sophia College. We were a quartet which included guitarist Dhanraj Skau, drummer Lester Godinho, pianist Ronnie Menezes and me as the bassist.”
“When The Zodiac Grill opened in the late 1980s at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, its fine-dining menu was a treat for customers. According to the restaurant’s brochure, jazz pianist Ronnie Menezes was an “incomparable ivory-tickler”, playing jazz standards, ballads, movie theme songs and pop from “his endless repertoire”. He would play there six nights a week except on Sundays” recalled The Indian Express. Many who frequented the place have exclaimed that his favourites were ‘Too Close for Comfort’ and the hit Anglo-Indian number ‘I Married a Female Wrestler’.
Menezes performed across global stages for a few more years before taking his final seat at the Palladium but his legacy in fact lies in the fact that he played almost every night for nearly six decades, a claim not many musicians can make and one that can fill most with envy.
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