Monday, June 22, 2009

Ali Akbar Khan (April 14, 1922 – June 18, 2009)


A great musician died a few days ago, the great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.  He was the master of the indian instrument the sarode, and one of the most renowned modern teachers of Hindustani music, or North Indian classical music.  For starters, here's a few videos to show you what the maestro himself sounds like:  Here, Here, and AACM.  The last clip was on the AACM, Ali Akbar Khan College of Music, which is located in San Rafael, California, where Ali Akbar Khan has taught at since the late 1960s.  The school currently is working towards getting funding for a public library on their campus to archive and preserve over 6,000 hours of concerts and classes for open use.  The family of Ali Akbar Khan wishes that instead of providing them with flowers or other gifts over the recent passing of the maestro, that you instead donate to their library fund, which you can at this address.

Ali Akbar Khan means a lot to me as a musician on multiple levels.  In high school I started listened to indian fusion music through the likes of John Mclaughlin and the band Shakti.  I remember an early love of "whatever that hand drum was that could obtain so many different sounds."  Of course later I found out that was a tabla, and a very difficult instrument to master, with a vast array of colors and timbres that could be achieved in those two little drums.  Another influence oddly enough came from listening to the younger blues and slide guitarist Derek Trucks.  He has this sound, that people immediately identify with, that comes from an old tradition, much older than himself, that Derek himself says comes from the Blues, from Jazz, and from Pakistani and Indian music.  He dabbles in the sarode, although has not recorded on it to my knowledge, and sites Ali Akbar Khan as a big influence.  From Shakti and Derek Trucks I made my way into hearing Ali Akbar Khan's music, the first album I got being Ravi Shankar/Ali Akbar Khan's "Ragas."  I knew of Ravi Shankar as being the primary sitar player and figurehead of Indian Classical music, or even "World music," whatever that vague term means.  A few years later in my life, and listening to a lot of recordings later, I bought a sarode from the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music.

The sarode came in a large well packaged box, and as soon as I opened it, I was completely confused on how to play it.  Lucky for me, after talking to a friend of mine who was taking sitar lessons, I was hooked up with a sarode teacher in Maryland.  The unfortunate part of this was, he lived three hours away.  My teacher was Soumya Chakraverty, who maintains a beautiful website on the instrument and it's music here.  Soumya was kind enough during a rough period of my life, to both take me on as a student, and then when the drive got to be too much, discontinue lessons.  I still believe in all my musical education, that this is some of the most important information that I have been able to receive in this life.  The Gharana, or musical lineage that I was learning though was the Shajahanpur Gharana, which roughly dates back to the 16th century, and was helpful in the modern development of the sarode, from the Afghan rabab, a similar precursor that was more of a marching percussive instrument.  Within this same Gharana, is another well known sarode player coming more from a vocal style, is Amjad Ali Khan.  A quick note, Ali Akbar Khan comes from the Senia-Maihar Gharana, and not the same Gharana as Shajahanpur.

Down the path that is like I was incredibly fortunate enough to play twice with Ashish Khan, Ali Akbar Khan's eldest son and sarode player.  Ashish Khan, like his father, started off studying with Allaudin Khan, the main figure that took multiple strains of Indian music, and codified into his own way of teaching.  A few a quick notes, Allaudin Khan lived to be 110, wrote thousands of pieces of music, and played over 200 instruments.  Towards the end of his life it is said that he practiced up to 23 hours a day!  When Ali Akbar Khan was studying with his father, Allaudin Khan, he made him practice 18 hours a day, starting lessons at the age of three.  So going back to Ashish Khan, the event was an annual music festival in my home town, that had a different theme each year, and that year was India.  The organization obtained grants and funding and were able to bring Ashish Khan with a young tabla player, Salar Nader.  My jazz professor at the time, Chuck Dotas, was comissioned to write a piece, so he composed a piece for double bass, drum set, trumpet, tenor saxophone, tabla and sarode, and we gave two performances of it.  Chuck took a ten beat raga that he had on record of Ashish playing, and morphed it into a jazz/indian piece for Ashish Khan to solo over.  Never before in my life has a performance meant so much to me.

This has been a rambling post on indian music, and it's effect on me, and a memorial to a great man, a great musician, and a great teacher.  One day, after grad school, I hope to move to California, and study at the Ali Akbar Khan College, and even though I will never meet or take lessons from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, my resolve is stronger in hoping to gain from the fruits of his labor and his wisdom that he has imparted on so many people internationally.