Tag Archives: Saxophone

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.

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.