April 7th, 1920 to December 11th, 2012
April 7th, 1920 to December 11th, 2012
George Harrison and Ravi Shankar
Selection from the film Monerey Pop ...
And Ravi Shankar on the Dick Cavett Show...
"Ravi Shankar obituary"
Indian virtuoso who took the sitar to the world
December 12th, 2012
Ravi Shankar, who has died aged 92 after under going heart-valve replacement surgery, was the Indian maestro who put the sitar on the musical map. George Harrison called him "the godfather of world music" and it was Shankar's vision that brought the sounds of the raga into western consciousness. He was thus the first performer and composer to substantially bridge the musical gap between India and the west.
He was still winning awards in the new century: in 2002 his album Full Circle: Live at Carnegie Hall (2000) achieved a Grammy for best world music album. Shankar's distinction as a sitar player lay in his brilliant virtuosity, creativity and musicianship. In the west his name is synonymous with the music of India.
Ravindra Shankar – in Bengali, Robindro Shaunkar – Chowdhury was born in the holy city of Benares, now Varanasi. The youngest of five sons, he belonged to a family of Bengali Brahmins from Jessore, now in Bangladesh, who were much influenced by the reformist ideas of writers such as Rabindranath Tagore, one of the major figures of the Indian Renaissance.
Ravi's father was a Sanskrit scholar who became chief minister of Jhalawar state, in the north-west of India. As a child in Benares, Ravi had his passion for music awakened by Vedic chants. But his first commitment was to dance.
His eldest brother, Uday, had worked as a dancer with Anna Pavlova before setting up an Indian music and dance company to perform in the west. Along with his mother and brothers, in 1930 Ravi joined him in Paris and became the youngest member of the company, specialising in cameo dance roles.
For two years, he led the life of a French schoolboy and became fluent in the language. While in Paris he heard western classical music for the first time. He loved the guitar artistry of Andrés Segovia and the singing of Feodor Chaliapin. Opera, too, enchanted him.
However, once back in India, he set his heart on becoming a sitarist after listening to the melodious playing of an older boy. He resolved to learn from the famous sitar teacher and performer Inayat Khan, the father of the sitarist Vilayat Khan and the sarodist Imrat Khan, but on the day of the initiation ceremony Shankar fell ill with typhoid.
Later, at the age of 18, he was apprenticed to Allauddin Khan, a disciple of Wazir Khan, who was a direct descendent of the legendary Tansen, the chief musician of the Mughal emperor Akbar. For seven years Khan was Shankar's mentor and through this connection Shankar inherited a great tradition of classical music. In his autobiography, My Music, My Life (1969), Shankar says that Baba, as he called his teacher, made his pupils practise for hours on end and often resorted to corporal punishment. However, on only one occasion did Baba smack him on the hands. In 1941, Shankar married Khan's daughter Annapurna, herself an accomplished musician, and they had a son Shubhendra before separating later in the decade. Another musician, he went on to accompany his father on tour, and died in 1992.
Shankar gave his first concert in 1939, and the following year began giving recitals with Khan's son Ali Akbar Khan, the sarodist, on All India Radio. He first made an impression in his own right with scores written in Mumbai for two notable Indian films of 1946, Dharti ke Lal (Children of the Earth) and Neecha Nagar (The City Below), and composed for the Indian People's Theatre Association. In 1946-47 he was involved with producing and composing music for a ballet entitled The Discovery of India, based on the book by Jawaharlal Nehru. He later founded and became the musical director of All India Radio's first National Orchestra and was sent on foreign cultural tours by the Indian government.
In addition to an arduous performing schedule, he composed the music for the films comprising Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy (1955-59). He also composed a concerto (1971), which he performed with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn. Shankar's initial exploration of the possibilities of combining jazz and Indian classical music led to the album Improvisations (1961). He went on to teach Indian music to the jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Ellis, and for the drummer Buddy Rich and tabla player Alla Rakha he composed Rich à la Rakha (1968).
His first meeting with George Harrison and Paul McCartney of the Beatles came in 1966, at a friend's house in London. Harrison took up the sitar and later that year went to India for a period of intensive tuition. From this partnership came Shankar Family & Friends (1974).
Shankar also created a musical partnership with Yehudi Menuhin. They had met in 1951 when the violinist was visiting India, though Shankar vividly recalled having seen him at rehearsals when they were boys in Paris in the 30s. In 1967, they played for the UN general assembly at a human rights day event. They also recorded three albums together, the first of which, East Meets West, won a Grammy award in 1967.
Performances at the great pop festivals of the time – Monterey, California, in 1967; Woodstock in 1969; and Concert for Bangladesh, New York, in 1971 – brought Shankar even more firmly into the west's popular gaze and saw him established as a pioneer of crossover sounds.
His Kinnara School of Music functioned both in Mumbai and Los Angeles. In his 70th year celebration concert at the Royal Albert Hall, he performed with Menuhin, the flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, the harpist Marielle Nordmann and Rakha, with whom he had a particularly long and fruitful relationship.
Though Shankar had many friends and admirers, in India especially there were classical musicians who were envious of his international success and criticised his association with the popular music of the west. His technique was faultless, but his flair for showmanship was resented by some.
His genius, of course, lay in a combination of gravitas and gaiety. Shankar not only transcended culture, race and geography, but also had no difficulty with the generation gap and differences of social class. The flower-power generation and the people who followed listened to what he had to offer with open minds. He was showered with citations and awards: in 1999 he was appointed a Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), in 2000 a Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur in France, and in 2001 an honorary KBE in Britain. In the US he was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In later years he divided his time between Encinitas, California, and Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, where the Ravi Shankar Institute of Music and the Performing Arts, was the culmination of his lifelong dream. Housed in an elegant pink granite building, it attracts students from all over the world.
He is survived by his second wife, Sukanya, and their daughter Anoushka, also a well-known sitar player; both father and daughter have been nominated for the 2013 Grammy awards. With the New York concert producer Sue Jones, he had another daughter, Norah Jones, herself the winner of several Grammies as a singer.
"Ravi Shankar, sitar master, dies at 92"
Ravi Shankar, who introduced Indian music to much of the Western world, counted Beatles member George Harrison among his disciples.
December 11th, 2012
Ravi Shankar was already revered as a master of the sitar in 1966 when he met George Harrison, the Beatle who became his most famous disciple and gave the Indian musician-composer unexpected pop-culture cachet.
Suddenly the classically trained Shankar was a darling of the hippie movement, gaining widespread attention through memorable performances at the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh.
Harrison called him "the godfather of world music," and the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin once compared the sitarist's genius to Mozart's. Shankar continued to give virtuoso performances into his 90s, including one in 2011 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Shankar, 92, who introduced Indian music to much of the Western world, died Tuesday at a hospital near his home in Encinitas. Stuart Wolferman, a publicist for his record label Unfinished Side Productions, said Shankar had undergone heart valve replacement surgery last week.
Well-established in the classical music of his native India since the 1940s, he remained a vital figure on the global music stage for six decades. Shankar is the father of pop music star Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar, his protege and a sitar star in her own right.
Before the 1950s, Indian classical music — with its improvised melodic excursions and complex percussion rhythms — was virtually unknown in America. If Shankar had done nothing more than compose the movie scores for Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray's "Apu" trilogy in the 1950s, he "would be remembered and revered," Times music critic Mark Swed wrote last fall.
Shankar was on a path to international stardom during the 1950s, playing the sitar in the Soviet Union and debuting as a soloist in Western Europe and the United States. Two early albums also had considerable impact, "Three Classical Ragas" and "India's Master Musician."
During his musical emergence in the West, his first important association was with violinist Menuhin, whose passion for Indian music was ignited by Shankar in 1952. Their creative partnership peaked with their "West Meets East" release, which earned a Grammy Award in 1967. The recording also showed Shankar's versatility — and the capacity of Indian music to inspire artists from different creative disciplines.
He presented a new form of classical music to Western audiences that was based on improvisation instead of written compositions. Shankar typically played in the Hindustani classical style, in which he was accompanied by a player of two tablas, or small hand drums. Concerts in India that often lasted through the night were generally shortened to a few hours for American venues as Shankar played the sitar, a long-necked lute-like stringed instrument.
At first, he especially appealed to fans of jazz music drawn to improvisation. He recorded "Improvisations" (1962) with saxophonist Bud Shank and "Portrait of a Genius" (1964) with flutist Paul Horn, gave lessons to saxophonist John Coltrane (who named his saxophone-playing son Ravi), and wrote a percussion piece for drummer Buddy Rich and Alla Rakha.
On the Beatles' 1965 recording "Norwegian Wood," Harrison had played the sitar and met Shankar the next year in London.
Shankar was "the first person to impress me," among the impressive people the Beatles met, "because he didn't try to impress me," Harrison later said. The pair became close and their friendship lasted until Harrison's death in 2001.
Harrison was instrumental in getting Shankar booked at the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. They partnered in organizing the Concert for Bangladesh and were among the producers who won a Grammy in 1972 for the subsequent album. They toured together in 1974, and Harrison produced Shankar's career-spanning mid-1990s boxed set, "In Celebration."
But Shankar came away from his festival appearances with mixed feelings about his rock generation followers. He expressed hope that his performances might help young people better understand Indian music and philosophy but later said "they weren't ready for it."
"All the young people got interested … but it was so mixed up with superficiality and the fad and the drugs," Shankar told The Times in 1996. "I had to go through several years to make them understand that this is a disciplined music, needing a fresh mind."
When Shankar was criticized in India as a sellout for spreading his music in the West, he responded in the early 1970s by lowering his profile and reaffirming his classical roots. He followed his first concerto for sitar and orchestra in 1971 with another a decade later.
"Our music has gone through so much development," Shankar told The Times in 1997. "But its roots — which have something to do with its feelings, the depth from where you bring out the music when you perform — touch the listeners even without their knowing it."
In the 1980s and '90s, Shankar maintained a busy performing schedule despite heart problems. He recorded "Tana Mana," an unusual synthesis of Indian music, electronics and jazz; oversaw the American premiere of his ballet, "Ghyanshyam: The Broken Branch"; and collaborated with composer Philip Glass on the album "Passages."
With his wife, Sukanya, and daughter Anoushka, Shankar moved to Encinitas in 1992 but spent several months a year in India. He devoted much of his time to establishing the Ravi Shankar Foundation for Indian music education, based in Encinitas, and a similar center in New Delhi. In 2001, he received his final Grammy, in the world music category, for "Full Circle."
He was born Robindro Shankar on April 7, 1920, in Varanasi, India, to a Brahmin family. The youngest of four sons who survived to adulthood, he changed his name to Ravi, meaning "sun," when he was 20. His father, Shyam Shankar, was a scholar and lawyer who was absent for most of Ravi's childhood.
At 10, Ravi moved to Paris with his mother to tour with his brother Uday Shankar's Company of Indian Dancers. In 1938, the great sarod player Allauddin Khan joined the troupe as a guest artist in the U.S., and Shankar was drawn back to Indian classical music. He returned to India to study the sitar with Khan for seven years.
His 1969 autobiography, "My Music, My Life," is considered one of the best general introductions to Hindustani music.
When Shankar performed last year at Disney Hall, Times reviewer Swed wrote that "he opened ears and remade sensibilities" — and deserved to be called a legend.
Shankar's personal life was complicated. In 1941, he married Annapurna Dvi Allaudin, the daughter of Allauddin Khan and sister of master Indian musician-composer Ali Akbar Khan. The couple had a son, Shubhendra, and divorced in 1958. His son died in 1989.
Shankar had relationships with dancer Kamala Sastri, Sukanya Rajan and concert producer Sue Jones, who is Norah's mother. He married Rajan in 1989.
Besides his wife and daughters, he is survived by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"Ravi Shankar, Prolific Indian Sitarist, Dies at 92"
December 12th, 2012
The New York Times
Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitarist and composer whose collaborations with Western classical musicians as well as rock stars helped foster a worldwide appreciation of India’s traditional music, died Tuesday in a hospital near his home in Southern California. He was 92.
Mr. Shankar had suffered from upper respiratory and heart ailments in the last year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday, his family said in a statement.
Mr. Shankar, a soft-spoken, eloquent man whose performance style embodied a virtuosity that transcended musical languages, was trained in both Eastern and Western musical traditions. Although Western audiences were often mystified by the odd sounds and shapes of the instruments when he began touring in Europe and the United States in the early 1950s, Mr. Shankar and his ensemble gradually built a large following for Indian music.
His instrument, the sitar, has a small rounded body and a long neck with a resonating gourd at the top. It has 6 melody strings and 25 sympathetic strings (which are not played but resonate freely as the other strings are plucked). Sitar performances are partly improvised, but the improvisations are strictly governed by a repertory of ragas (melodic patterns representing specific moods, times of day, seasons of the year or events) and talas (intricate rhythmic patterns) that date back several millenniums.
Mr. Shankar’s quest for a Western audience was helped in 1965 when George Harrison of the Beatles began to study the sitar with him. But Harrison was not the first Western musician to seek Mr. Shankar’s guidance. In 1952 he met and began performing with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he made three recordings for EMI: “West Meets East” (1967), “West Meets East, Vol. 2” (1968) and “Improvisations: East Meets West” (1977).
Mr. Shankar loved to mix the music of different cultures. He collaborated with the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and the jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, who had become fascinated with Indian music and philosophy in the early ’60s. Coltrane met with Mr. Shankar several times from 1964 to 1966 to learn the basics of ragas, talas and Indian improvisation techniques. Coltrane named his son Ravi after Mr. Shankar.
Mr. Shankar also collaborated with several prominent Japanese musicians — Hozan Yamamoto, a shakuhachi player, and Susumu Miyashita, a koto player — on “East Greets East,” a 1978 recording in which Indian and Japanese influences intermingled.
In addition to his frequent tours as a sitarist Mr. Shankar was a prolific composer of film music (including the score for Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” in 1982), ballets, electronic works and concertos for sitar and Western orchestras.
In 1988 his seven-movement “Swar Milan” was performed at the Palace of Culture in Moscow by an ensemble of 140 musicians, including the Russian Folk Ensemble, members of the Moscow Philharmonic and the Ministry of Culture Chorus, as well as Mr. Shankar’s own group of Indian musicians. And in 1990 he collaborated with the Minimalist composer Philip Glass — who had worked as his assistant on the film score for “Chappaqua” in the late 1960s — on “Passages,” a recording of works he and Mr. Glass composed for each other.
“I have always had an instinct for doing new things,” Mr. Shankar said in 1985. “Call it good or bad, I love to experiment.”
Ravi Shankar, whose formal name was Robindra Shankar Chowdhury, was born on April 7, 1920, in Varanasi, India, to a family of musicians and dancers. His older brother Uday directed a touring Indian dance troupe, which Ravi joined when he was 10. Within five years he had become one of the company’s star soloists. He also discovered that he had a facility with the sitar and the sarod, another stringed instrument, as well as the flute and the tabla, an Indian drum.
The idea of helping Western listeners appreciate the intricacies of Indian music occurred to him during his years as a dancer.
“My brother had a house in Paris,” he recalled in one interview. “To it came many Western classical musicians. These musicians all made the same point: ‘Indian music,’ they said, ‘is beautiful when we hear it with the dancers. On its own it is repetitious and monotonous.’ They talked as if Indian music were an ethnic phenomenon, just another museum piece. Even when they were being decent and kind, I was furious. And at the same time sorry for them. Indian music was so rich and varied and deep. These people hadn’t penetrated even the outer skin.”
Mr. Shankar soon found, however, that as a young, self-taught musician he had not penetrated very deeply either. In 1936 an Indian court musician, Allaudin Khan, joined the company for a year and set Mr. Shankar on a different path.
“He was the first person frank enough to tell me that I had talent but that I was wasting it — that I was going nowhere, doing nothing,” Mr. Shankar said. “Everyone else was full of praise, but he killed my ego and made me humble.”
When Mr. Shankar asked Mr. Khan to teach him, he was told that he could learn to play the sitar only after he decided to give up the worldly life he was leading and devote himself fully to his studies. In 1937 Mr. Shankar gave up dancing, sold his Western clothes and returned to India to become a musician.
“I surrendered myself to the old way,” he said, “and let me tell you, it was difficult for me to go from places like New York and Chicago to a remote village full of mosquitoes, bedbugs, lizards and snakes, with frogs croaking all night. I was just like a Western young man. But I overcame all that.”
After studying with Mr. Khan for seven years and marrying his daughter, Annapurna, also a sitarist, Mr. Shankar began his performing career in India. In the 1940s he started bringing Eastern and Western currents together in ballet scores and incidental music for films, including Satyajit Ray’s “Apu” trilogy, in the late 1950s. In 1949 he was appointed music director of All India Radio. There he formed the National Orchestra, an ensemble of both Indian and Western classical instruments.
Mr. Shankar became increasingly interested in touring outside India in the early 1950s. His appetite was whetted further when he undertook a tour of the Soviet Union in 1954 and was invited to perform in London and New York. But it wasn’t until 1956 that he began spending long periods outside India. That year, he left his position at All India Radio and undertook tours of Europe and the United States.
Through his recitals, as well as recordings on the Columbia and World Pacific labels, Mr. Shankar built a Western following for the sitar. Interest in the instrument exploded in 1965, when Harrison encountered a sitar on the set of “Help!,” the Beatles’ second film. Intrigued by the instrument’s complexity, he learned its rudiments and used it on a Beatles recording, “Norwegian Wood,” that year.
The Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Byrds and other rock groups quickly followed suit, although few went as far as Harrison, who recorded several songs that appeared on Beatles albums with Indian musicians, rather than his band mates. By the summer of 1967 the sitar was in vogue in the rock world.
At first Mr. Shankar reveled in the attention his connection with popular culture brought him, and he performed for huge audiences at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and at Woodstock in 1969. He also performed, with the tabla virtuoso Alla Rakha and the sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, at an all-star concert at Madison Square Garden in 1971 that Harrison organized to help Mr. Shankar raise money for the victims of political upheaval in Bangladesh.
Mr. Shankar eventually came to regard his participation in rock festivals as a mistake. Looking back at that era, he said he deplored the use of his music, which has its roots in an ancient spiritual tradition, as a backdrop for drug taking.
“On one hand,” he said in a 1985 interview, “I was lucky to have been there at a time when society was changing. And although much of the hippie movement seemed superficial, there was also a lot of sincerity in it, and a tremendous amount of energy. What disturbed me, though, was the use of drugs and the mixing of drugs with our music. And I was hurt by the idea that our classical music was treated as a fad — something that is very common in Western countries.
“People would come to my concerts stoned, and they would sit in the audience drinking Coke and making out with their girlfriends. I found it very humiliating, and there were many times I picked up my sitar and walked away.
“I tried to make the young people sit properly and listen. I assured them that if they wanted to be high, I could make them feel high through the music, without drugs, if they’d only give me a chance. It was a terrible experience at the time.
“But you know, many of those young people still come to our concerts. They have matured, they are free from drugs, and they have a better attitude. And this makes me happy that I went through all that. I have come full circle.”
He maintained his friendship and working relationship with Harrison, who released a recording of a 1972 performance by Mr. Shankar on the Beatles’ Apple label and produced a recording in a more popular style — short, bright-edged songs with vocals, rather than expansive instrumental improvisations — by Shankar Family and Friends (who included Harrison, listed in the credits as Hari Georgeson, as well as the bassist Klaus Voorman, the pianist Nicky Hopkins, the organist Billy Preston and the flutist Tom Scott) on his own Dark Horse label in 1974. That year, Mr. Shankar toured the United States with Harrison. They last worked together in 1997, when Harrison produced Mr. Shankar’s “Chants of India” CD for EMI.
Mr. Shankar continued to be regarded in the West as the most eloquent spokesman for his country’s music. But his popularity abroad and his experiments with Western musical sounds and styles drew criticism among traditionalists in India.
“In India I have been called a destroyer,” he said in 1981. “But that is only because they mixed my identity as a performer and as a composer. As a composer I have tried everything, even electronic music and avant-garde. But as a performer I am, believe me, getting more classical and more orthodox, jealously protecting the heritage that I have learned.”
Mr. Shankar was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, from 1986 to 1992.
He taught extensively in the United States. In the late 1960s he founded a school of Indian music, the Kinnara School, in Los Angeles. He was a visiting professor at City College in New York in 1967. Recordings of his City College lectures were the basis for “Learning Indian Music,” a set of cassettes that explain the basics of the style. Mr. Shankar was the subject of a documentary film, “Raga: A Journey Into the Soul of India,” in 1971, and published two autobiographies: “My Life, My Music” in 1969 and “Raga Mala” in 1997.
In 2010 the Ravi Shankar Foundation started a record label using a variation of the name of his collaboration with Menuhin, East Meets West Music, which began by reissuing some of his historic recordings and films, including “Raga.” Mr. Shankar’s first marriage, to Annapurna Devi, ended in the late 1960s. They had a son, Shubhendra Shankar, who died in 1992. He also had long relationships with Kamala Shastri, a dancer; and Sue Jones, a concert producer, with whom he had a daughter, the singer Norah Jones, in 1979; as well as Sukanya Rajan, whom he married in 1989. Mr. Shankar and Ms. Rajan had a daughter, the sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar, in 1981. He is survived by his wife and two daughters as well as three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“If I’ve accomplished anything in these past 30 years,” Mr. Shankar said in the 1985 interview, “it’s that I have been able to open the door to our music in the West. I enjoy seeing other Indian musicians — old and young — coming to Europe and America and having some success. I’m happy to have contributed to that.
“Of course now there is a whole new generation out there, so we have to start all over again. To a degree their interest in India has been kindled by ‘Gandhi,’ ‘Passage to India’ and ‘The Jewel in the Crown.’ What we have to do now is convey to them an awareness of the richness and diversity of our culture.”
Ravi Shankar [Wikipedia]
And the instrument...
Here's Brian Jones on the sitar from the Rolling Stones' Paint It Black...