Swara Samrat Maestro Ali Akbar Khan passed away peacefully on June 18, 2009, surrounded by his family. Khansahib (as he was affectionately and respectfully addressed) had been a dialysis patient since 2004, and had been enduring numerous health issues ever since. He continued teaching publicly at the Ali Akbar College until just weeks ago, and taught music at home until the day he died.fa8096e2d727d0c35c9309ade7bfc63b-2

The tributes to Khansahib have rightly stressed that he was a musical genius of the stature of Beethoven and Mozart. However, we in the Bay Area are especially grateful for another of his great accomplishments. This was not something he directly created, but rather something that he inspired in others. Students of Hindustani music came to the Bay Area solely because he was here—from Japan, South America, Europe, and even India. Other well-known Indian teachers followed, and the result was a community of thousands devoted to classical Indian music. Khansahib remained the central inspiration of this community for decades.

Khansahib was famous for his performances at the world’s greatest concert halls, and for his many recordings. Eight months of every year, however, he gave himself entirely to his students. We were constantly inspired by Khansahib’s example of artistic dedication and compassionate patience, and anyone who tried to master the profound intricacies of his lessons was forever changed by that experience. These lessons contained centuries of tradition seamlessly interwoven with his unique genius. No one learned how to play them as well as he did, but everyone learned how to listen, and shared their enthusiasm with friends, and friends of friends.

The result was an audience for Hindustani music which was unmatched for both ethnic diversity and devotion to artistic excellence. It is both heartbreaking and inspiring to realize that this community can and must now go on without him. He was admired and loved, and will be greatly missed.

Khansahib is survived by his wife, Mary; seven sons, of whom Aashish and Alam Khan are sarod players; and four daughters.

Teed Rockwell has studied Indian classical music with Ali Akbar Khan and other great Indian musicians. He is the first person to play Hindustani music on the Touchstyle Fretboard.

 

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