What a musician. R.I.P.
Slightly ironical that I should begin this post with an excerpt from an interview with a western classical musician. Here's the guitar maestro, Julian Bream, talking about a trip to India that he took in 1963:
"He seemed to me, just about the finest musician I had ever met....his mastery was not the normal professional mastery that most of us professional musicians have.....his improvisations were so fluid, so expressive, so inventive...this was the way to play music"Do watch the short YT video here.
Every classical music-loving family builds its own private pantheon and mine was no different. At the very top was always Ali Akbar Khan. Of course, when I was six or seven, I remember being more awestruck upon being told by Amma that he was a descendent of Mian Tansen and what kid wouldn't be impressed by knowing Mian Tansen was the man who brought lightning and thunder with his music? While I don't remember the concert too well - I was probably eight or nine - I am pretty sure that when I saw him up on stage, I was half-expecting floods.
The sitar may be more expressive and it does have a wider dynamic range but in Khansahib's hands, the sarod, as the cliche goes, said more with less. It took me a while to understand why music lovers associate his playing with depth, dignity and quiet intensity. No notes were ever wasted, nothing was overstated and the aim was always true.
Thank you for filling our homes and our lives with such wonderful music.
You can find lots of recordings of AAK on the web. One such source is this fantastic blog which has a beautiful duet between the Ustad and L. Subramaniam.