Tag Archives: Jazz

Aki Kumar Fuses Blues With Hindi and Makes It Familiar

Aki Kumar is a blues musician and artist from the Bay Area. Over the years he has developed his identity as a musician and what it means to be Indian in a traditional Blues world. Now as a well-established musician and artist, redefining and breaking the barriers of genre, I chat with him to understand his growth and work as an artist. 

“Toxic masculinity is the biggest hurdle in my world. It’s the ‘macho bravado’ that I needed to get out of myself.” 

He elaborated on the importance of getting out of the man box and how the presence of toxic masculinity has affected many women in the Blues world. He details his understanding of appreciation vs appropriation, the importance of the Indian community and the barriers of toxic masculinity in the blues world, and how he overcame the divide in the music world, to create a fusion of those worlds. 

IC: Where do you feel you stand in music right now and going ahead? Where are you headed? 

AK: I’m headed towards running away from the label of ‘genre authenticity’ which is really what caused me to first try to not represent my Indianness and then go completely the other way. Blues has been heavily appropriated in the US by the white audience that consumes it. When I was starting out in the Blues scene, I played and performed with my white peers, following their tastes and catering to a white audience. But even they know in the back of their heads that they’re not the authentic torchbearers of this genre. It’s always been Black music and in fact, black musicians have been denied their rightful ownership for several decades. I realized I was chasing an authenticity that these guys (white musicians) were not going to find. What’s authentic for a Desi boy is to be Desi as best as you can. But moving forward I’m going to try and break away even more from these predefined notions of what is authentic and what isn’t. The only authentic thing to me is just me and if a song comes to my head I’m gonna represent it my way. 

IC: What message do you have for the people that look up to you? 

AK: I hope someone is inspired by what I’m doing. The thing I would like to tell people is to really find yourself in your art. I myself didn’t realize this when I was starting out because I came from a traditional standpoint. But despite that, you have to find your voice. It’s a journey and when you find it is up to your circumstances but it is the most important aspect of artistry, otherwise you’re just reduced to an authentic mimic of something that already exists. 

IC: As an Indian immigrant in the States, how important is it to speak from an Indian perspective, in your music?

AK: It has been a journey to be honest because the first ten years of existing in the US was just ‘hey do I have my visa? Where’s my visa? Is everything stamped? I don’t want to get a drunk driving ticket cause then I’ll get deported.’ Until I realize that there are more people here (in the States) and there’s a history here. It’s a process of growth and I think everyone goes through it. 

One of the things I find with the Indian community is that we can be caught on the fence. A lot of folks are not sure about how to thread this needle where they want to be nationalistic in the Indian sense but they can’t embrace American nationalism cause that’s toxic to them. So they end up being liberal in the United States in many ways and embracing the freedom they enjoy here and then being rigidly conservative in India. This is a liberalism of convenience where you’re saying ‘oh I’m going to embrace the aspects of a democracy or being liberal when they benefit me but if they’d not benefit someone else I don’t care’. This is something I would like to address because they need to be aware of this. If you care about inequality it has to be in all aspects. 

IC: Where do you think the rise in fusion music puts India in the global music market?

AK: I think India is going to be a powerhouse, it already is. There is so much variety and talent in India and the consumer market is also in India. If all the music was made in India and listened to in India, it would be a powerhouse even if no one knew about it. The next century belongs to India culturally speaking. There’s so much regional music and so much potential for fusion, which has already been happening. Bollywood, for example, is fusion music. We are a masala of cultures. Everything gets blended in and we make something good out of it. However, it is important that we don’t appropriate cultures in fusion. If you’re going to bring cultures together through music, be aware of what you’re doing and educate yourself on the genres and history behind styles of music. If you want to do fusion, be a master of your domain.

IC: You explore a lot of genres and with fusion, there is bound to be criticism from both communities of Bollywood and traditional blues. How do you deal with that?

AK: There has been a lot of support, which I was really worried about in the beginning but a lot of folks got what was going on primarily because musically what I did with the fusion, worked. Most people who listened to it without prejudice found it smooth. The criticism comes from people who are so fixated on genre-centric music that they have established rules for what is and what isn’t fitting of blues music. In fact, all of the criticism has been from white people. Black people typically won’t go that way because they themselves have been oppressed in the ownership of the genre they created. So I don’t pay much attention to that part. In Bollywood music, it’s mostly people who say ‘oh that’s Kishore Kumar and he’s my favorite artist, but you don’t sound like him.’ I’m not Kishore Kumar that’s why I don’t sing like him. Nobody has really criticized me in a way that has stuck and after five years, if no one has found a way to give you truly insightful criticism, then maybe you’ve done something right. 

IC: Your track Zindagi that you released this year, is extremely comforting and hopeful, what made you release such a song during this time?

AK: I wrote the track a year before I actually did a video. I’m very proud to say that I wrote it in Hindi which has been a bit of a tricky thing for me because I don’t speak Hindi fluently. But it was part of the process of trying to write something more positive because typically I write cleverly worded attack songs to express my frustrations with the political or social climate. But then I thought that as an artist I need to find myself a more positive form of expression. Given the pandemic and how we landed last year, I had a feeling that if I put something positive right now it’s gonna seem lame cause people are not feeling positive right now. But there was hope of vaccines and the administration changing. Everything was building up to a more positive year. So I feel now is a time to put zindagi out there to help people feel hopeful. 

IC: The song was more reggae than blues, was there a reason for that?

AK: I’ve been on this old school Ska and Rocksteady journey which are precursors to reggae, and I’m the kind of person that steadily listens to one genre of music in extreme depth to really find its roots. I realized the things that appealed to me about the blues— the core nature of the rhythm being in place and this tonal vocality that just cuts through with a message, all of that is in ska and rocksteady because that’s the foundation of black music. I know reggae has kind of been a part of my musical listening even before I moved to the US like A.R Rahman’s Dil Hai Chota Sa’ is complete reggae, so I knew the genre and I just thought it would be perfect for the song.

Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Cambodian, Odissi, Jazz Artists

Ancient Contemporary: Odissi, Jazz, & Cambodian Classical

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

“Children are taught racism. Children are taught diversity. They don’t see it; they only see human. Two words: education and exposure. What are children educated about and what are they exposed to?” Coleen Lorenz, artistic director of New Ground Theater asked, and went on to affirm that she loves the Arts because they are the symbol of universal being-ness, of who we are at birth

This was part of the conversation when Coleen; Niharika Mohanty, artistic director of Guru Shradha Dance; Charya Burt, classical Cambodian dancer and teacher; and I met for the sixth episode, Ancient Contemporary, of Mosaic Connect, an online series designed to explore our common humanity through the performing arts. 

The episode aired when the country was in the grip of civil unrest. Shelter-in-Place had, on the one hand, unified us, on the other hand, protests against police brutality seemed to have uncovered a series of deep fractures among us…and within us. All of us, it seemed, were questioning our identity and purpose. More importantly, we all seemed to be looking at ourselves and each other with new eyes, asking ourselves the question – Where do I belong?

Some were looking to rediscover or reclaim their identity and some were challenging their neighbor’s very right to be included as Americans.

Programming at Mosaic Silicon Valley addresses this issue: how to move multicultural American communities from diversity and inclusion to belonging. We highlight the common roots or representations of any two artforms, such as in Ancient Contemporary, which mediated a course between Odissi and Modern Contemporary one the one side; Odissi and Classical Cambodian on the other. This was done deliberately, to create awareness about our common humanity and celebrate our beautifully rich traditions. Thus, the online episode showcased each style and artist, as well as their collaborations and was followed by discussion.

Mosaic Fellow, Charya emphasizes in Ancient Contemporary, “Arts can provide a model that is inclusive. For culture based artists like us, Arts can provide us with dignity, cultural identity, and pride to those in the community.” 

That pride is the basis of our collaborations. In contrast to the “Melting Pot” model, we welcome artists as they are, to build bridges organically, through discovery and connections.

Niharika was wondrous of the fluidity of vocabulary in the Jazz Contemporary style.

Coleen was impressed by the level of complexity incorporated in Odissi dance.

Charya was amazed at the similarities that her artform and Odissi had, to temple sculpture and mythology.

Clips from both explorations are included in Ancient ContemporaryLet us explore our identity and shared futures through the arts practiced in America today. Let diversity not be relegated to the label “ethnic” which by its very definition, excludes. Instead, let’s come together and include one another in this wonderful American mosaic. Let us be unafraid to express ourselves truly, in order that we may fully Belong. To sum up in Niharika’s words, “There is an ultimate truth. We are One. We stem from the same roots. Arts are more than ever, an expression of who we are.” 

Watch it all come together in the video below!

Follow the Mosaic movement here!

Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Ragas Live Festival: 24 Hours of Global Resonance

Ragas Live Festival has grown to become a vital element in the cultural landscape of New York City. Since its inception in 2012 when 50 musicians volunteered to create an FM-Broadcast at WKCR 89.9 FM-NY with the theme of “Community, Unity, and Harmony,” the festival has expanded to become a popular live event at locations including The Rubin Museum of Art and for the last few years, Pioneer Works.  

As the initial broadcast blossomed into an annual event, it attracted global attention, expanded the audience of Indian music, and documented and catalyzed what the New York Times would declare a “A Raga Renaissance Flowering in Brooklyn.” Now, Ragas Live has transformed that renaissance into one of the live music industry’s rare COVID-era success stories, managing to bring together over 90 musicians, from the deserts of Rajasthan to the mountains of Kathmandu, to perform remotely from 13 global cities in a celebration of ‘Community, Unity, and Harmony’. 

There’ll be cutting edge cross-cultural performances: Terry Riley will be performing raga based improvisations from Japan preceded by Brooklyn Raga Massive who will be premiering a 24 person performance of In D their homage to Riley.  Amir ElSaffar will be collaborating with the Brooklyn Raga Massive as well with Raga Maqam a 14 piece ensemble that explores the intersections between maqam, the tonal language of Arab, Turkish, and Persian traditional music, and raga, the classical music of the Indian subcontinent. Andy Statman, the legend of klezmer and bluegrass will be exploring both Jewish doinas and ragas from the 200-year-old synagogue B’nai Jeshurun.  Zakir Hussain will perform a tabla solo from San Francisco, Toumani Diabate will perform kora from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo will perform in El Clavo, Venezuela.

Founder and Executive Producer of Ragas Live Festival, David Ellenbogen says, “This has always been a festival with a pan-global vision. This year that dream is fully being realized.  We’ll have artists and listeners from every continent. We reached out to many of our heroes and to our astonishment, they all said yes.  These are the people that have changed the history of music. The artists felt a kinship with our idealistic vision and we are all working together to make it happen. We’ll have both artists and audiences all around the world: it will be 24 hours of global resonance.” 

Says the festival’s Artistic Director Arun Ramamurthy, “These legendary musicians are the torchbearers of their traditions who have brought their music forward. To have them all participating is so inspiring.”

“I love Indian music, I love Indian culture, I’m doing this because I think it’s a beautiful idea and I want to share life and music,” says Toumani Diabate, the legendary Kora player, who will perform a set from Côte d’Ivoire.

The entire event will be available free on November 21-22nd from 7pm-7pm to all as a video livestream at www.pioneerworks.org/broadcast and on broadcast as audio on WKCR-FM 89.9 FM.


Co-improv-id with Saxophone and Sitar

Staying inspired requires energy in the best of times. Doing so while sheltering-in-place, dealing with canceled shows, complete lack of a real audience, and asynchronous, socially distant jam sessions strikes a discordant note in the life of artists and art organizations alike.

In the face of these odds, Sangam Arts’ Mosaic Silicon Valley initiative and San Jose Jazz are continuing to bring harmony into our lives. On Thursday, Sept 24, “Making the Mosaic” will bring us not just music, but a premier collaboration between two musicians from different cultures, Saxophonist George Brooks and Sitarist Arjun Verma. The two musician-composer-educators will first improvise in words and then in melody, virtually.

“Making the Mosaic has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to get to know Arjun as a composer and performer. It has been a unique experience in that we have not been able to be in the same space as we developed the material for this program,” shared Brooks. ”To stay true to the spirit of improvisation, which sits at the core of jazz and Indian classical music performance, the final layers of the performances are recorded live and in single takes.  It has been demanding work, but very rewarding.”

The musicians have been creative not just in their art, but in overcoming the challenges of collaborating during shelter-in-place. Since they did not have the option of working with an actual band, they created a virtual band using layers of sitar, saxophone, and bass clarinet.

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s mission is to connect communities through inter-cultural art. The organization purposefully commissions work that brings together high-caliber artists from disparate cultures with the goal of celebrating the differences while highlighting the common threads. As co-founder Usha Srinivasan puts it, “We see artists as the ambassadors to their cultures; when we bring them together, we bring entire communities together.”

Verma is a Mosaic Fellow and believes that “All music from every corner of this planet has the same fundamental building blocks, and when we, as artists, reach across the boundaries of musical genre, we realize this fact. More importantly, we realize the same is true about our humanity. Indian classical music shares an important feature along with jazz: the use of improvisation, or ‘composing on the spot’ as my teacher Ali Akbar Khan described it.  This gives us the freedom to express ourselves spontaneously through music in a way that is extremely fresh and personal.”


“Making The Mosaic: Improvisation in Jazz and Indian Classical Music” is a FREE event on Thursday, September 24 at 7PM PST. Register at https://sangamarts.org/making-the-mosaic/

Priya Das is the Co-founder and VP- Programming Strategy, Mosaic Silicon Valley, and a dedicated advocate for the classical arts.

Neel Murgai Ensemble’s New Album Will Reorient You on Love and Loss

With a unique amalgamation of traditional Indian Raga with chamber Jazz sound, the well known Brooklyn based music band, Neel Murgai Ensemble has come up with its new creation, ‘Reorientation’. A magical combination of ethereal overtone singing, slow-moving psychedelic-soundscapes with alluringly irregular time signatures and resonant scales, the new album boasts of an exotic musical experience for all music lovers across the world.

Recorded at Eastside Sound in Manhattan, Engineered by Sam Crawford and Lily Wang with mastering by Kane Mathis, the album is partially funded by the American Composer’s Forum, with additional funding provided by the Spark Plug Foundation. More than a new album, the musical compilation signifies a reorientation of both self and music that describes a story of loss and eventual recovery with a newfound love for the composer, overtone singer, sitarist and teacher Neel Murgai.

“The album is very close to my heart as it incorporates my journey of self-healing after I lost my old partner. Most of the compositions, especially the ensemble ones, were created in the past when I was with her and recorded them nearly 5-6 years ago. Music helped me to self rejuvenate myself, overcome the loss of someone special and move on from the tragic past. This album is dedicated to all those who are struggling from a personal loss and it is to convey to them that we can definitely move on from these tragic experiences. If I can do it, then it is a medium to inspire others too,” said Neel Murgai, the ensemble leader. “For some reason, I sat on these recordings for a long time. But just recently, my new partner and I had a baby. So it felt like it was time, like I needed to really just finish this up and move on from it in a way.”

Though the older ensemble pieces rooted in Indian classical instrumentation make up the backbone of the album, the nine tracks of Reorientation also includes recent work of solo overtone singing and looping pieces, resulting in elaborate aural explorations. The entire album is an artistic dialogue with Murgai’s older music and newer creations, providing realignment for heart and mind after devastating loss. 

“Reorientation is a combination of older ensemble tracks and newer tracks of solo overtone singing like the Mongolian throat singing using looping technology. Though they are divergent and so different in many ways, it’s like they’re talking to each other like my new self and my old selves are having this existential conversation,” the composer added, who had been working on this newer project of overtone singing and looping to concoct sublime sonic landscapes for over the last four years. 

One of the older tracks in particular, “Sunflower” was written for and dedicated to Murgai’s previous partner. This second track of the album is based on Raga Yaman. Raga, the form of Indian classical music, literally means “that which colors the mind”. The name for the final track on the album “16251”, actually represents the chords played. 

In contrast to the tradition-steeped in virtuosity that characterizes the foundation of the ensemble pieces, the more recent contributions are improvisational, self-reflexive, and inherently psychedelic.  “Music can always be used for healing,” opined Murgai, “but especially this overtone singing has been great for my own self-healing and for helping others because it is spontaneous and allows practitioners to facilitate a sound meditation experience.”

Many of the compositional ideas for Murgai’s overtone singing on tracks like the lead “He’s Got a Pulse,” came out in the spontaneity of improvisation. He developed a kind of improvisatory language, singing random vowels, syllables, and consonants while at once examining how they shaped the overtones. 

For another track, “Moom Moom Gong Bong,” Murgai utilized this language, along with Mongolian vocal techniques, as well as techniques pioneered by Timothy Hill of the Harmonic Choir, a seminal group in modern overtone singing who systematized the use of vowel sounds to elicit overtones.  Yet, sometimes real words emerged out of that process too, like in the track “Speak True,” a song in which words just kind of emerged spontaneously, partially because of the way that the vowel sounds elicit certain overtones that he was going for. 

Though Neel Murgai entered the world of music by playing tambourine in school in New York City and then learned Jazz music, it was his acquaintance with Indian classical music in Varanasi as an adult that helped him gain a new direction in music. Combining Raga with jazz sound, incorporating different talas and creating own versions of different talas, it paved the way to create a signature style for the Indian American musician internationally. After the worldwide release of his new album, he is also looking at exploring new opportunities, presenters and promoters in India for next year. Reorientation’s live emanation, performances will also feature ensemble members who are also connected with the Brooklyn Raga Massive, including Trina Basu on violin, Arun Ramamurthy on violin, Marika Hughes on cello, and Sameer Gupta on tabla.

Murgai is also the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM), a NYC-based artist collective dedicated to creating cross-cultural understanding through the lens of Indian classical and Raga inspired music. The collective, which has a dedicated following community who love Indian classical music, not only organizes weekly concerts but performs at bigger venues like Kennedy center and has an annual 24 hours music festival as well. 

“I want to continue experimenting with Indian classical music through our collective. We were one of the first bands to bring Indian classical influence to western minimal pieces and now we have performed nearly 80 concerts in a year. Right now Indian music just involves 3-4 musicians playing at a time and I want to experiment it with having a repertoire with over 20 people performing together, expanding and exploring the loneliness of Indian classical music,” said Murgai. Further adding on his future plans he concluded, “I have already started planning for my next record that would be completely focused on solo performance based on overtone singing. I have a new idea of presenting raga as a kind of abstract expressionist, using raga phrases with minimal music. My direction is currently headed in that way, which is also known as yamanism.”

Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.

Sarod Goes Electronic with Amaan and Ayaan

Sons of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, sarod players and  brothers Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash released a new album Infinity on September 6, 2019. Neha Kirpal spoke to the duo about music, their family’s rich legacy of the sarod, and how Indian classical music is perceived abroad.  

Tell us about your new album Infinity

Ayaan: Infinity is our collaboration with the versatile artist Karsh Kale. We’ve known Karsh bhai for a long time, and of course, we follow each other’s work. We’ve been wanting to do something together, and we finally decided to move forward when we met at the WOMAD Festival in the UK in 2015. But because of all our busy travel schedules and concerts, it took a long time to complete the album. When we started, there was a lot of emailing of files back and forth, and a ton of work went into each and every track. I’m glad it has all worked out. Here we are now, ready with Infinity

Amaan: The most exciting part of the album is that this is the first time that we’ve worked on something in which the sound is very raw, metallic. It took about three years in the making, so fingers crossed, hope it does well.

Ayaan: The texture of the instrument in each track is different. It has something for the lovers of music of various genres—classical music, the sarod, as well as electronic music. We have two very important artists featured in this album. First is my father (Amjad Ali Khan) who has played in a track called ‘JourneyMen.’ This is the first time he will be heard in this space—electronic sound—which is almost the opposite of what he usually sounds like. And second, we have the very talented duo of Pavitra Chari and Anindo Bose who perform in two of the tracks, called ‘Darkness’ and ‘Shadow Between.’ 

As Indians, we are trying to ape the western culture. We need to be more proud of our own heritage – Amaan Ali Bangash

What is it like being young musicians in a traditional art form? Do you feel this is a trend that is catching on among today’s youth?

Amaan: Definitely. I think it is a wrong notion that classical music is not being taken on by youngsters. The simple logic is that not every musician goes down well with everybody. There are movie singers, pop singers—one may know about ten of them—but there are thousands of names out there. That doesn’t mean the genre is not working. Tomorrow, God forbid, if I’m not working, it doesn’t mean that classical music is going down. Coming from a family of this great heritage, I’m just humble, because it takes a lot to live up to our father’s standard. We both are trying very hard. The aim is to be focused, humble, hardworking, not take oneself too seriously, and just have a good time, enjoy oneself.

Ayaan: I think classical music has this amazing ability to reinvent itself very organically. The way even great stalwarts that we hear today have progressed and reinvented their thinking has been just so brilliant. Every two, three, or five years, even we as artists, find that one’s ideology of music, way of taking the journey forward changes. 

After a very long time, my brother and I have revisited the electronic world with this new album. We had done an electronic album almost 15 years ago called Reincarnation, after which we ventured into the classical world where we wanted to bloom. A lot of our collaborations then had been with western classical musicians and operas. But it’s been wonderful to revisit the electronic world, and that too with Karsh bhai who is also classically trained. We’ve done almost four to five shows together.

A lot of young people are learning classical music across the world. What are your views on Indian classical music being practiced abroad?

Amaan: Both of us are very blessed that we have been going abroad, accompanying our father for concerts from a very young age. 

Internationally, classical music is very accepted. We have played at some of the best venues—from Carnegie Hall to Albert Hall to the Chicago Jazz Festival. People in general are very welcoming to an Indian art form. As Indians, we are trying to ape the western culture. We need to be more proud of our own heritage—whether it’s our heritage sites (which are kept in such a pathetic condition these days), music, or other things. 

Ayaan: I think the west has been wonderful to Indian classical music. Before chicken tikka masala became a global favourite, Indian classical music was already doing its rounds at the biggest of festivals and venues. Thanks to all the legends who have been travelling all these years, today we’ve got a readymade industry that exists abroad. Because of the western classical tradition coming out of Europe, people are far more traditional in their approach. In the US, of course, it’s a more open-minded kind of approach to accepting cultures. 

In terms of audiences, we have concerts happening in the biggest of venues and lots of orchestras forming with western classical musicians as well. We just need to give dignity to the grace of this art form in our lives, because musical fireworks and dynamics is one thing; but the grace and elegance that comes with it, is more important. We should not let that bit down.

According to you, how is the sarod growing/transforming over the years?

Amaan: There have been great performers and legends of the sarod over hundreds of years—from the time of our ancestors—who have contributed a lot to the technique of the present-day sarod. Then, the new generation comes and makes more changes to it. So, just like the human race, musical instruments are also evolving. 

What are you working on next? What are your upcoming tours? Anything specific coming up in the US?

Ayaan: We have a two-month long US tour called “Sarod Trilogies” coming up with our father, this month. Apart from that, we recorded an album called Strings for Peace with the brilliant classical guitarist Sharon Isbin  in New York earlier this year. That will, hopefully, release early next year. 

We also recorded with Joe Walsh, the legend from The Eagles, at his studio in California. That is now under production, so hopefully that will also come out next year sometime.  

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com



Heart to Heart: A Symphony of Music and Advocacy 

Have you considered that music can be a means to spread awareness on important public health issues? Three musicians hailing from three distinct cultures are crossing borders to transform hearts.They are using spiritual consciousness and healing energy, while drawing attention to  an alarming—but woefully under-reported—rise of congenital heart defects killing hundreds of thousands of children annually around the world. 

This trio of acclaimed multi-talented musicians are pioneering an adventurous blend of western jazz and Carnatic-style Indian music. The musicians in this diverse super group include India-born U. Rajesh, hailed by many as the world’s foremost Carnatic-style mandolin player; Greece-born Dimitris Lambrianos, a keyboard prodigy who is now a world-class composer and performer proficient on dozens of instruments; and American composer, recording artist, and music educator George Brooks, on the saxophone.

The concert sponsor, the U.S.-based Heart to Heart Foundation, supports low-cost pediatric heart surgeries that have saved the lives of thousands of children in numerous low-income countries. The concert will include a brief video presentation about the Foundation’s work.  

Saturday July 20, 7:30pm. Cemex Auditorium, Stanford University. For free tickets to this event, please register at:  https://tinyurl.com/H2H-Music . For additional information, please visit:  www.h2h.foundation


Kabir meets Miles Davis at Stanford Jazz 2019

The weather in Central Maharashtra, said Jim Nadel, Artistic Director and Founder of Stanford Jazz Workshop, was about the same as outside, in Palo Alto, California. This seemed a fitting setting for the Indian Jazz Journey on June 23rd, and attendees were welcomed with a cooling mango beverage and a hand-held fan.

Several fans were to be found in the human form as well. Deepa Nagpal of Los Altos said she had come to hear Mahesh Kale. (Hear the conversation below:)

A festive vibe at Dinkelspiel Auditorium

I glanced at some of the handouts to find out more about the musicians. It was, as promised, “a special moment to witness the creation of incredible new music as jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and Indian classical music superstar Mahesh Kale collaborated in this special event with saxophonist George Brooks and tabla master Subhankar Banerjee.

Vocalist Mahesh Kale’s career accelerated exponentially in 2015 when he won the best playback singer award at the 63rd National Film Awards for his work in the epic musical Katyar Kaljat Ghusli. The film scored an unlikely honor for a regional art form far outside Bollywood’s mainstream Hindi-language fare, helping spark a revival. “Youngsters have taken a liking,” Kale says. “They have these songs on their play list next to Adele, and when youngsters connect to an art it gives a lifeline for 50 to 60 years.”

George Brooks has long served as a bridge between the American jazz scene and India’s greatest classical musicians, a role the Berkeley saxophonist has embraced in organizing a series of unprecedented East/West encounters for the Stanford Jazz Festival.

Kale and Brooks have been collaborating for several years, but making his first trip with this cross-cultural collaboration was storied jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, whose two-handed tapping technique radically expanded the instrument’s possibilities. He burst on the scene in 1985 with his debut for the Blue Note label, Magic Touch, which spent a year on top of the jazz charts.

Tabla maestro Subhankar Banerjee rounded out the ensemble, adding another virtuosic voice to the proceedings. Banerjee has toured with many of India’s greatest musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and Shiv Kumar Sharma. He’s also collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin, a founding father of the Indo-jazz movement as a co-founder of the 1970’s ensemble Shakti.”

On Sunday, Dinkelspiel Auditorium was full to capacity. The audience applauded the musicians in turn. Several jugal-bandi improvisations added to the playfulness of the concert, with Stanley Jordan climbing aloft a stool at one point to strike a pose with George Brooks. All hands were on deck for this riff on So What by Miles Davis.


Mixing East and West. So what?

But the audience was clearly the most enchanted when Mahesh Kale displayed the vocal range that is the legacy of his classical training. Hear Mahesh Kale’s beautiful voice as he sings Chadaria by Kabir at Stanford Jazz 2019:


As part of the workshop, and in keeping with the oral tradition of music, the audience was encouraged to repeat musical notes, but the result, Kale stated with radical candor, was “quite terrible.”

After meeting with the long queue of admirers and well-wishers, Mahesh Kale spoke to me about how diverse music forms might not be part of the repertoire, but somewhere reverberate with the inner self. Music is a great equalizer, he says, and while high tech brings wonderful things, music serves as a balancing force for Silicon Valley stress. (He is an engineer by training,)


George Brooks characterized the concert as a cross-pollination and wanted to distance himself from the notion of fusion music and said he considered this more of a conversation between artists and a way to develop relationships between artists.

The audience protested when the musicians announced that it was time to wind down. And as the concert ended, the third such collaboration, and the audience filed out, several members of the audience were humming the tunes they had heard.

Perhaps Mahesh Kale was on to something. Despite living in Silicon Valley, no one looked particularly stressed.

Cover image: Mahesh Kale, voice; Stanley Jordan, guitar; George Brooks, saxophone; Subhankar Banerjee, tabla.

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents magazine. She feels fortunate to be able to attend ICMA (Indian Classical Music and Arts) and other classical music concerts close to home.

Attending ICMA concerts — one of the perks of living in the Valley

Indian Jazz Journey Comes to Stanford

Indian Jazz Journey featuring Mahesh Kale, Stanley Jordan, George Brooks, and Subhankar Banerjee
Dinkelspiel Auditorium, June 23, 4:00 p.m.
Co-resented by the Indian Classical Music and Art Foundation, and the Stanford Jazz Festival.
More information and tickets:

Be in on the creation of incredible new music as jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and Indian classical music superstar Mahesh Kale collaborate in this special event with saxophonist George Brooks and tabla master Subhankar Banerjee.

George Brooks has long served as a bridge between the American jazz scene and India’s greatest classical musicians, a role the Berkeley saxophonist has embraced in organizing a series of unprecedented East/West encounters for the Stanford Jazz Festival. Vocalist Mahesh Kale’s career accelerated exponentially in 2015 when he won the best playback singer award at the 63rd National Film Awards for his work in the epic musical Katyar Kaljat Ghusli. The film scored an unlikely honor for a regional art form far outside Bollywood’s mainstream Hindi-language fare, helping spark a revival. “Youngsters have taken a liking,” Kale says. “They have these songs on their play list next to Adele, and when youngsters connect to an art it gives a lifeline for 50 to 60 years.”

Kale and Brooks have been collaborating for several years, but making his first trip with this cross-cultural collaboration is storied jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, whose two-handed tapping technique radically expanded the instrument’s possibilities. He burst on the scene in 1985 with his debut for the Blue Note label, Magic Touch, spent a year on top of the jazz charts.

Tabla maestro Subhankar Banerjee rounds out the ensemble, adding another virtuosic voice to the proceedings. Banerjee has toured with many of India’s greatest musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and Shiv Kumar Sharma. He’s also collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin, a founding father of the Indo-jazz movement as a co-founder of the 1970’s ensemble Shakti.

For tickets, call 650-725-2787, or visit https://stanfordjazz.org/more-info/indian-jazz-journey-2019/


A New Bird Calls

Rudresh Mahanthappa has been named “Alto Saxophonist of the Year,” many times over, by DownBeat’s International Critics Poll and by the Jazz Journalists Association. He is also the recipient of a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.


A great way to get to know him is through his latest album Bird Calls. Though the press release claims that “Rudresh Mahanthappa has explored the music of his South Indian heritage and translated it through the vocabulary of his own distinctive approach to modern jazz,” his album has no discernible South Indian flavor, in a good way. Unlike jazz violinist Arun Ramamoorthy, whose sounds are directly relatable to Karnatik music, Mahanthappa has channeled instead, jazz master Charlie Parker into his sounds.

Most of the 13 tracks are inspired by specific Parker numbers. Mahanthappa’s “Gopuram,” for example, is attributed to Parker’s “Steeplechase.” Both comprise a repeated pattern of notes. However, Mahanthappa has the refrain echoing one instrument following the other, and shadowing the sequence till it settles in to your senses. Parker, on the other hand, had a less subtle approach in “SteepleChase” with all the instruments playing it at once. The album’s “Talin is Thinking” is based on “Parker’s Mood” but is more frenetic. (Incidentally, the entire album is dedicated to Mahanthappa’s toddler son, Talin.)

It is said that Parker’s music was both fluid and harsh but the ethos of Bird Calls is not conflicted. It is simply an ode to Parker’s music. Admits Mahanthappa, “This album is not a tribute to Charlie Parker. It is a blissful devotion to a man who made so much possible.” He is referring to the fact that Parker is considered a father of Bebop, the complex jazz music from the 1940s.

There are parallels to Parker and Mahanthappa’s lives as well. Each was around 12 when they were captivated by the sound of jazz; the former by the “new music” idols of his time such as Louis Armstrong. Of his own first introduction to Parker’s music, Mahanthappa recalls, “I was blown away. I couldn’t believe the way he was playing, gorgeous with so much charisma and flying all over the horn. I think hearing Charlie Parker was what planted the first seeds of wanting to do this for the rest of my life. It was very powerful.”

Bird Calls also features a 20-year-old trumpet prodigy called Adam O’Farrill. The effortless virtuosity reverberating between O’Farrill and Mahanthappa can be heard in “On The DL” inspired by Parker’s “Donna Lee.” The CD is interspersed by a series of shorter birdcalls, solo, duo and group ruminative interpretations of the inspiration music.

You might wonder, “Why the title Bird Calls?” It is a play on Parker’s nickname, “Bird,” or “Yardbird,” and of course the fact that he is calling out to jazz lovers of the world, in his 95th birthday year.

Bird Calls is available on February 10, 2015 on ACT Music. More info on
rudreshm.com and actmusic.com

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz, and other genres.