by Don Robertson
Part Four: The Hero From Across the Sea
2005 by Rising World Entertainment
in the midst of it all, came a hero from across the sea, his
armor burning brightly in the sun...
Indian Classical Music
would like to tell you how I discovered the Classical
music of North India. I was studying music at
Colorado University in 1965 when I met a young man from Australia
O'Sullivan at an audio store "on the hill" in Boulder. We became friends and while my studies at
Colorado University focused on more traditional music, it was
here, in this store, that Richard introduced me to the
major contemporary composers of the time: Boulez, Berio, Nono,
Schockhausen, Cage, to name but a few. He was always very exited about
music. Late one night
he called me from the store and begged me excitedly to come immediately. He had something he wanted to play
for me, but he wouldn't tell me what it was. Obligingly, I got
into my car and drove to the store. It was well past closing
time. He seated me carefully in the room were during business
hours audio speakers
were demonstrated, then carefully placed the arm of one of the
record turntables onto a record. He was grinning with
anticipation of how I might react.
to hear another Boulez masterpiece of
colorful discords, or perhaps a new serial piece by Luigi Nono.
But as new sounds poured from the speakers, they were like none
I had heard before and they were instantly captivating. I was
listening to the master sarod
player Ustad Ali
Akbar Khan, from India.
Thus I began a journey
that I have traveled to this day. I left Colorado University to
pursue the study of this newly found music, finally arriving in
Los Angeles, where I began learning the sitar from Harihar Rao.
The following year, I
moved to New York, and there I began studies with Ustad Ali
Akbar Khan himself. By this time, every note from each of the very few
records that had been available in America, I already knew by heart.
not alone, as classical music from North India would have an
enormous effect on music in the West: a fact that has been too
the situation in American and European concert halls continued
to deteriorate, an important figure arrived from
India. His name was Ravi
Shankar, a musical diplomat that awoke the West to his
ancient and great
tradition of classical music, one that had
been developing in a parallel course with ours, the classical music of
Northern India, one of the greatest
musical traditions in the world.
came heroically to our aid, and helped transform three of the major
genres of Western music: rock, jazz, and classical music... all
three deeply effected by this ancient music from North
India, a fact that has not been fully understood in our culture. Most people
still do not know what North Indian classical music is.
Shankar was a dancer who
became a musician while studying with the great musician and
began traveling to the West in early 1960s, and in
1966 George Harrison of the Beatles became his student.
Following this, Ravi became a celebrity, stealing the show at three
major rock festivals: the Monterey Pop Festival, the Concert for Bangla Desh,
and the famous Woodstock Festival.
inspired changes in the three major forms of Western music.
Influence on Pop Music
George Harrison became his student, both John Lennon and Paul
McCartney became interested and testimony to this are the songs by the Beatles that
have obvious Indian
influences, songs such
as Norwegian Wood, Within
You, Without You, and Harrison's My Sweet Lord. The music of the Beatles changed considerably after their
brush with Ravi Shankar,
and North Indian classical music influenced many other musicians and rock groups as
well, groups such as the Byrds, Richie Havens, and the Doors.
Influence on Jazz
Coltrane began listening to Indian Music in 1961. At that time
Ravi Shankar's records were probably the only ones available to
him. “I collect the records he’s made, and his
music moves me. I’m certain that if I recorded with him I’d
increase my possibilities tenfold, because I’m familiar with
what he does and I understand and appreciate his work. I also
hope to meet him when I return to the United States,” he told
he told François
Postif in France. Ravi and Coltrane met in December of that year and
continued to stay in touch.
Coltrane named his second son after Ravi in 1965. “I like Ravi
Shankar very much. When I hear his music, I want to copy it –
not note for note of course, but in his spirit. What brings me
closest to Ravi is the modal aspect of his art,” he said
understanding of North Indian music, however, was only rudimentary, and
his familiarity with it apparently went no further than Ravi
Shankar, not really India’s greatest exponent, but certainly
the most popular in the west. But the scales that he became familiar with influenced
his music considerably, and in turn influenced the course of jazz.
Influence on Classical Music
The founders of
minimalism, Terry Reilly, LaMonte Young, and Philip Glass were
all extremely influenced by the classical music of North India.
This is covered in the next part of this treatise: The
Return to Tonality.
For those who understood more deeply, the real masters from India
was Ravi Shankar's teacher Allauddin Khan's own son, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan,
whom I mentioned at the beginning of this section, along with sitarists
such as Nikhil Banerjee and Vilayat
Khan, and a handful of great vocalists and instrumentalists. But
Ravi had an enormous influence in music. His appearance with tabla
maestro Alla Rakah at
the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 was a monumental event. The
response from the audience was thundering acceptance, much
greater than the stunned looks given Jimi Hendrix when he set
his guitar on fire at the same event. Ravi
Shankar provided a gift from India to the West.
He influenced the Beatles, John Coltrane, Philip Glass and many
others. Yet even now his influence continues, as he is the father of multi-grammy-award-winning
singer and pianist Nora Jones.
Indian classical music was not a fad of the sixties. It became
an institution in America, albeit a small one, and one that
continues to grow and strengthen, with many serious devotees. It is a tradition of music
that requires and deserves intense
study in the West, and it will continue a role of influence that
will deeply affect our own music of the 21st Century as an
increasing number of composers and musicians begin to understand
its importance and beauty.