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Pandit Jasraj’s amazing command of his three and a half octave range makes it hard to believe that his voice is not an instrument of some sort. He can sing every possible sitar bend, sarod slide, and tabla rhythm, reminding us that the voice is where all music began.
Usually with vocalists one has to choose between an experienced older singer whose voice is not as powerful as it was, or a strong young voice that still has more to learn. With Jasraj you get it all, for his years of musical experience have given him artistic wisdom, and yet miraculously left his voice as young as an enchanted prince.
Although Pandit Jasraj was born into a family who had been singers for generations, his father’s death when Jasraj was only 4 forced his family to decide that he would never become a musician himself.
Jaraj was sent to school, in hopes that he would master some lucrative middle-class profession. But one day he heard an old gramophone record of a ghazal singer in a cafe, and knew immediately that he wanted to become a singer. He cut classes almost every day so he could go to that café and listen to that same record over and over, since there was no other music anywhere nearby.
Finally, his family decided to let him become a tabla player, for there was a greater demand for accompanists than for soloists. He became accepted as a prodigy before he was teenager, but resolved to become a singer instead when a promoter insulted Jasraj, and then refused to let him sit on the same level as the soloist. Jasraj refused to cut his hair until he learned to sing.
At 14, he began studying vocal music with his older brother, Sangeet Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Maniram, and thus began his life of devotion to singing. The legendary singer no longer plays tabla in public, but says his training with the instrument still helps him today. “I still play tabla for myself, but no longer perform,” says Jasraj, “but my tabla experience helps me hear what the tabla players are doing, and that means I can interact with them more effectively.”
The master vocalist has had a lengthy career that includes around a dozen music albums and hundreds of students.
In 1995, Pandit Jasraj opened his first school, the Pandit Jasraj Music Academy in New Jersey, with Pandita Tripti Mukherjee. The school’s mission is to teach enthusiastic music students in the Mewati Gharana style. The pair have gone on to open other schools in New York and Pittsburgh, Penn.
He also has auditoriums named after him in two North American cities, and the Jasraj Award was created by the government of Canada to honor and aide students of Indian music.
Jasraj has received several titles and awards such as Padma Bhushan, Surer Guru, Sangeet Martand, Sangeet Kala Ratna, Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Doctorate in Music by Vishwa Unnayan Sansad (West Bengal), Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar, and the Dinanath Mangeshkar Award.
Presented by the Bay Area Performing Arts and India Community Center, this performance will include accompaniment by Pandit Samir Chatterjee (tabla), Aditya Narayan Banerjee (tabla), and Tripti Mukherjee (vocal support, harmonium).
Sunday, Oct. 19, 5 p.m., Malavalli Hall, India Community Center, 525 Los Coches St., Milpitas. $30, $40 advance; $35, $45 at door. Tickets: (925) 947-1908, sulekha.com/bayarea. bapa-pg.com.