SITAR II. Shahid Parvez, sitar. Akram Khan, Tabla. Sense World Music. Available athref=http://cdbaby.com/cd/parvez2 Anyone who made the claim that Shahid Parvez was the world’s greatest sitar player would usually have to answer two obvious questions: 1) Shahid who? and 2) What about Vilayat Khan and Ravi Shankar (or Nikhil Bannerjee, for that matter)? In India and Europe, few serious Indian music fans would ask the first question. His recent concert at the base of the Eiffel Tower drew thousands of people, and he is always a major attraction at South Asian music events like Darbar and the Saptak festival. But for some reason his performances in America have been sporadic. Those of us who love his playing often have to travel hours to see him. The last performance I saw required a drive from Berkeley to Sacramento. Those who see him for the first time usually walk out saying, “Why have I never heard of this guy before?” As for the second question: Obviously it is impossible for anyone to be “better than” Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, or Nikhil Bannerjee, in any important sense. Parvez has absorbed, and arguably mastered, both Khan’s gayaki ang (vocal-based style) and Shankar’s and Bannerjee’s tantrakari ang (instrumental style). But of course mastering a style, or even two styles, is not the same as creating a whole new style. Parvez’s playing would not be possible if he did not stand on the shoulders of these giants, as he would be the first to admit. But Parvez has started with this rich musical inheritance and taken it places that no other player has ever even attempted. For jazz fans, a helpful analogy might be the relationship between Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. There are many intricacies in Coltrane’s playing that are not present in Parker’s (including a strong influence from classical Indian scales and rhythms). But that is only because Coltrane was able to absorb Parker’s innovations and then ask, “Where do we go from here?” If you have a teenage rock-and-roll fan in your house, Parvez could be his best introduction to Indian music. Parvez can play as fast as Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, and faster than any other sitar player I have ever heard—when it is appropriate for him to do so. But Parvez is no show-boater who relies on technique to please the gallery. His opening alaps are slow and deliberate. Most players mark the opening re ni sa section of the alap in less than a minute, and then go on to use da pa and ga for extended development. Parvez can spend as much as six minutes on these opening three notes, carefully exploring every color and nuance that can mark them. It is often said that the vocal style emphasizes the left hand (for bending and pulling strings) and the instrumental style emphasizes the right hand for (plucking and trills). Parvez’s command of both styles enables him to make a small number of pitches tell a vast variety of stories by exploring numerous combinations of all of these techniques. Parvez’s style is rooted primarily in the gayaki style, for his father was Vilayat Khan’s cousin, and his sitar is a modification of Khan’s brighter upper range style, without the surbahar-like bass-notes of Shankar’s sitar. (Parvez’s lowest note, which he rarely plays, is the D below Western middle C.) He has also customized his own sitar even further in the same direction as Khan’s. B.M. Sitarmaker in Miraj, India, now makes a trademarked Shahid Parvez-style sitar designed to have exceptionally good sustain to simulate vocal ornaments. Parvez’s exceptional understanding of vocal technique enables him to explore all the nuances of that sustain, from the long graceful slides of dhrupad to the quick multi-tempo vibrato ornaments of khayal. Parvez studied tabla before he ever picked up a sitar, and tabla players often speak admiringly of his dazzling use of rhythm. “When he plays chikare, he seems to be playing the sitar as if it were a tabla, with the single notes acting as the baya (bass drum) and the chords acting as the daya (treble drum), says tabla player Prithwiraj Bhattacharjee. “I’ve heard him play three measures of four in the melody strings, while simultaneously playing four measures of three in the chikare strings. And because he was playing both parts with a triplet on each beat of the tal cycle, it all fit perfectly over one measure of slow tintal. No one else can do that on a melody instrument.” This virtuosity did not come easily, however. His father, the great Aziz Khan used the same techniques that Allaudin Khan used on Ali Akbar Khan. (And one must admit, got very similar results.) Parvez started studying vocals and tabla at 3, sitar at 4, and was doing concerts at 8. “I had to do only two things—play sitar and study,” Parvez told writer Kavita Chhibber. “I never ever played outside, never had a normal childhood. Till today my father has never told me what he thinks of my playing or that he is proud of me. … He probably felt it would go to my head. … If an artist can stay humble and focus only on his art, he rises way beyond his talent and his craft. … Whatever I have learnt is so miniscule compared to what I still feel I have to learn that I see nothing to be arrogant about.” This October, Parvez will be appearing at the Sangati Center in Oakland, and will definitely make up for the lost time since his last Bay Area appearance. On Friday, Oct. 20, there will be an evening concert, and the next Saturday afternoon, Oct. 21, will feature both another concert and a listening session, in which Parvez will discuss some of his favorite recordings. More details at: www.sangaticenter.org 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.
The World’s Greatest Sitar Player?
by Teed Rockwell | Oct 13, 2006