SATMAG Island Oct 30 2004
Kumar Celebrating 46 years in Music
The Ceylon Observer of 23/07/1958 carried an article by Eustace Rulach titled "CRYING HARMONICA" which said, "another of those jazz groups goes over the air on Tuesday July 29th at 12.15 pm. Featured as "Guest of the Week" is Kumar Molligoda and his "Flamingoes".
That was forty six years ago when Kumar Molligoda was leading a small band. Playing Jazz and playing a composition of his won. His instrument then was the Chromatic Harmonica. Now forty six years later, looking back at what this multi-instrumentalist has achieved, it is quite evident hat he is one of the most gifted saxophonists to be involved in jazz bands, dance bands, supper club bands, pop groups, lobby bands, rock groups, oriental groups and Sinhala film music and cassette recording orchestras.
Having started off on Harmonica, Kumar switched over to singing Rock and Roll appearing at dances and stage shows including Malcolm Andree’s shows. His rendition of ‘Jail House Rock’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ really brought the roof down. As there were no Rock and Roll guitarists around at that time, Kumar learnt to play guitar to accompany himself and also to play the solo spots. Though entirely self taught, he began to improve rapidly on guitar picking up Flamenco, and Jazz styles. His rendition of Arthur Smith’s Guitar Boogie’ was picked up by many aspiring young guitarists of the time. He got the biggest break in his career when the "Manhattans Dance Band" signed him on as their guitarist in 1962. Kumar also taught guitar during this period and Rajah Jalaldeen is his most famous pupil.
In 1963, Kumar Bought the first of his many saxophones. (The Hohner Tenor Sax he still blows). He began appearing in Cabaret spots as a Rock and Roll singer with his guitar and saxophone, and once did a cabaret with a Norwegian girl dancer at the Port Cargo Corpo-ration dance in 1964. In 1964, Kumar joined the ‘Mario Manricks' Band’ as guitarist, but when Mario Manricks heard Kumar play a few riffs on his saxophone, Kumar was asked to play saxophone from the next date. The guitar was gradually dropped as Kumar couldn’t carry a guitar, an amplifier and the sax. Back in those days musicians had to have their own instruments and carry them around too. And that was the beginning of Kumar’s love affair with the saxophone.
Within a month of learning to play the sax, Kumar played for a half-hour radio programme with a dance band News of a saxophonist, playing in a completely different style to all other saxophonists in Sri Lanka, began to spread rapidly. Many experienced saxophonists resented the entry of this ‘Johnny come lately’ into what they considered was an exclusive preserve of theirs. They played melody or very basic improvisations with a very ‘foggy’ sound. Kumar, with his vigorous blowing, fast and colourful variations and a crisp clear tone, showed what a saxophone in the correct hands could do.
Around 1965, Earle Arnolda invited Kumar to join the ‘Fireflies’ beat group which he was managing. This was novelty. A beat group similar to the famous band of the time ‘The Champs’ of ‘Tequila’ fame, ‘The ‘Fireflies’ were a hit with Kumar’s sax sound.
Interest in the sax began to grow. The ‘Jet Liners’ too included a saxophonist in their group and many young musicians took up playing sax inspired by Kumar. Two of them were Ivan Jayaratne and Chinka Thenabadu. Others who had been playing Alto sax went in for Tenor sax. In 1966 Kumar was invited to join the ‘Spitfires’ who were then unknown. They had plenty of talent in the form of Conrad and Budrin and Tillet Perera, a talented saxophonist himself. Within a few months the ‘Spitfires’ were the rage in town. Towards the end of 1967 Kumar left the ‘Spitfires’ to start his own group ‘The Boeings’. The first engagement was the New Years eve dance at the Capri Club. Earle Arnolda took over as Manager and in 1969 the ‘Boeings’ became the permanent band at the Galle Face Hotel’s ‘Mascarilla’ night club replacing the famous Adrian Ferdinands Combo. The ‘Mascarilla’ was the most exclusive night spot in Colombo at the time and this was quite an achievement for young Kumar.
By now Kumar had become a trained English teacher and the ‘Boeings’ had to be disbanded. Kumar then began to free-lance with the Latiff Miskin Combo and the Helen Lucas Combo and other groups. He later joined Peter Prins Combo to perform at the Blue Leopard night club. He left the band to free-lance again but was asked to rejoin the band in 1975 to perform at the Oberoi Supper Club.
In 1976 Kumar left the country to rejoin the Spitfires in Teheran as their guitarist in place of Raj Seneviratne. However, Kumar continued to play sax and he proved to be a big hit with the audiences and the night club owner used to send Kumar a bottle of champagne every night for playing a special disco version of ‘Summertime’. After an year in Teheran Kumar went to Damascus for a two year contract with the Spitfires. The vocalists in the band were Noeline and Maxi. During this time Kumar began acquiring his collection of six saxophones. Kumar returned hone in 1979 and formed a Jazz quartet and also began freelancing. In 1981 Kumar went abroad with Rajah and Priyanthi and performed at the Continental Hotel Sharjah, Meridien Hotel Abu Dhabi, Sheraton Hotel Jordan and Gulf Hotel Bahrein for a 3 year period. On his return Kumar continued as a soloist with various groups. He also re-activated his jazz quartet. In 1989, Peter Prins invited Kumar to re-join his band for the third time. After a trip to Australia with the band Kumar quit the group once more to concentrate on his Jazz quartet. With the departure of his pianist, late Cecil Rodrigo, Kumar began performing with Debbie and later with Anil Perera on Grand piano with no microphones or other electronics. Having performed at the Trans Asia Lobby for one year, Kumar began performing for exclusive functions at prestigious venues with Anil on piano whenever Anil was free, preferring to concentrate more on his job as Creative Director cum Senior English Copy write in an advertising agency.
To date, Kumar has performed at 46 consecutive New Years eve dances. This is a unique record which no other local musician has probably achieved.
Kumar was a pioneer saxophonist in the Sinhala film music and pop music fields having done his first film recording in 1964. He has recorded with Jothipala, Rukmani Devi, Mohideen Baig, Milton Perera, Angeline Gunatileke, Victor Ratnayake, Three Sisters, M. S. Fernando and many others. On the Jazz field he has performed his own compositions at jazz concerts. He was playing Indo-Jazz from the early sixties and has a raga based composition. ‘Improvisations on a Raga’ to his credit. Today Kumar performs on Soprano sax, Alto sax, Tonor sax and the massive Baritone sax in his own inimitable style and distinctive tone and is the most sought after saxophonist. Kumar has spent most of his earnings on his collection of saxes. The Baritone alone cost over Rs. 800,000/- today.
Kumar says that there are six people to whom he is grateful for his success. They are the late Leonard Franke, leader of the Manhattans dance band for encouraging him to buy a saxophone, Mr. Seelanatha Kuruppu for his help in buying the Hohner Tenor sax, late Johnny Willimas of Harmonics music shop, late D. B. I. P. S. Siriwardena for helping to clear his saxophones and providing assistance in many ways, Earle Arnolds for his support and friendship, and most of all his dearly loved late father for supporting his musical career in every way. According to Kumar his father was his greatest fan.
Kumar celebrated millennium night 2000 performing at the ‘Gables’ Hilton hotel with pianist Anil Perera. During the past few years Kumar performed with his jazz quartet at exclusive venues and following the death of bass player Errol Mulholland and Lucky Manic-kavasagar he decided to give up the quartet and go solo. Having performed for an year at the Hilton Hotel’s ‘Spoons’ restaurant Kumar now performs at the Cafe Deli France at Crescat Boulevard. He is grateful to Yasnin Cader and Jagath Wijetilleke of Hilton Hotel, Harpo Gunaratne and Imran Saibo and in a big way to Niroshan de Silva of Deli France as well as his many patrons such as Mr. Nigel Austin and family and Mr. Anslem Perera and family for their support in making his prescent solo career the success it is today.
Just as it happened in 1964, Kumar still continues to inspire many young boys and girls to take up to blowing sax and several saxophonists from the oriental field and the services bands come to listen to Kumar at Deli France. Two of then have already started playing solo or as a duo following in Kumar’s footsteps.
To celebrate his 46th anniversary Kumar has released a CD of 14 well known tunes ranging from pops to latin jazz and be-bop. As it is not a commercial venture, the CD is not available in the shops and can be obtained only from Kumar at the Cafe Deli France.
The CD features Kumar blowing Tenor sax, Soprano sax and Baritone sax and is the first of its kind by a Sri Lankan musician and probably the first in Asia.
Kumar has plans for a concert or a TV programme to celebrate his anniversary but it is still in the planning stage.
One thing Kumar assures is that it will not be a run of the mill type like the concerts we’ve seen lately. So watch out for details and the date. Those who wish to obtain Kumar’s CD can contact Kumar at the Cafe Deli France where he performs on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 7.30 p.m. to 11.00 p.m.