Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)

Master sitarist and improviser par excellence Ravi Shankar died yesterday at age 92. (See also the wiki.) The cause was announced by the Ravi Shankar Foundation:
Shankar had suffered from upper-respiratory and heart issues over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday. Though the surgery was successful, recovery proved too difficult for the 92-year-old musician.

Quick, now... name another famous Indian musician. Still thinking? So was I! Shankar was far and away the most famous of India's virtuosi from my youth until his death. That kind of fame doesn't come without a reason or two. In his case, he was audibly virtuosic, reputedly personable, jammed with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, taught the Beatles for a while (and manifestly influenced their music), recorded a great deal, and continued to perform until last year... they don't make 'em any sturdier than that. He was also father of Norah Jones, a notable improviser in her own right (on piano, not sitar).

Shankar led me to seek out and hear Indian music, mostly live in restaurants until someone kicked the props out from under the global economy. I learned a few instrument names and sounds, the roles of the players and the structure of a typical Indian composition (if that's even quite the right word; much of what Indian musicians do is structured improvisation), etc. I would probably never have done any of that without Shankar's influence.

For what it's worth to you, he was a vegetarian. He was born far too early to have influenced my decision, but I'm always glad to find another one.

It's a tough year for improvising musicians: first Dave Brubeck passes away, then Ravi Shankar. Doubtless new fine and virtuosic young musicians will take their places. But we will miss the departed just as much.

R.I.P., Ravi Shankar.


  1. Of course I first got into Shankar because of George Harrison (and my Dad's LP collection).

    1. ntodd, I happened to view a recorded interview with the late George Harrison about Ravi Shankar; the strong bond between them was obvious. I don't know where I learned of Shankar, probably through his recordings with Yehudi Menuhin, which if you haven't heard, you are in for a treat.

  2. Shankar was one of the delights of my youth. I had a chance to hear him live in a small tent at the Aspen Institute one summer.

    1. A doubly delightful experience, karmanot... Shankar at Aspen Institute!



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