Ravi Shankar: 1920-2012
Pandit Ravi Shankar’s death was reported by media around the world. Zee News noted:
Legendary musician Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away in San Diego on Tuesday. He was 92. The musician was admitted to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla last Thursday after he complained of breathing difficulties.
He breathed his last at 4.30 p.m. Pacific time.
According to an official statement issued by The Ravi Shankar Foundation, the meastro
“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.”
The sitar exponent, perhaps could be called India`s musical ambassador and was responsible for making Indian classical music popular in the West. He had collaborated with several international artists including George Harrison of ‘The Beatles’ which had garnered him fame and adulation all over the world.
NPR reported an unusual happening:
A tweet from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s official Twitter account said: “Prime Minister condoles the passing away of Pandit Ravishankar – A national treasure and global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage.”
Bloomberg has a very informative biography:
Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury was born on April 7, 1920, in the northern Indian city of Benares, also known as Varanasi. He was the youngest of seven sons born to Shyam Shankar Chowdhury and his wife Hemangini. Two of the sons died in childhood.
Shankar’s father, born in what is now Bangladesh, was a government official, a lawyer, an amateur musician. Before Ravi’s birth, Shyam Shankar left his wife to practice law in Kolkata and London.
Uday, the eldest son, moved to London to study art before Shankar was a year old. He then became a dancer and returned to India to form a troupe of dancers and musicians.
The ensemble settled in Paris in 1930 and Shankar moved there with his mother, who had agreed to accompany Uday. He had started playing the sitar and other instruments by then, and performed with the group as a dancer as well as a musician.
Shankar gave up dancing in 1938 to study the sitar with Ustad Allauddin Khan, a musician who had previously toured with the troupe. He began playing the instrument publicly in 1939 and stayed with Khan for six years.
Khan’s daughter, Annapurna, wed Shankar in 1941 through an arranged marriage. Their only child, a son named Shubhendra, was born the following year. Shubhendra, who became a sitarist and painter, died in 1992 of bronchial pneumonia.
After leaving Khan, Shankar spent four years in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He toured, wrote music for films and dances and recorded for HMV India. He moved to Delhi in 1949 to become musical director at All-India Radio, a government-run network.
During his seven years at All-India, he gave his initial concerts in the Soviet Union. Within a year after leaving, he made solo debuts in Europe and the U.S. and recorded his first album, “Three Ragas,” for EMI Group Plc. His initial tour of Japan followed in 1958.
The discipline that Shankar brought to his playing didn’t extend to his personal life. He instead followed the lead of his father, who married an English woman without divorcing Shankar’s mother. The wedding was legal under Indian law at the time.
Annapurna separated from him in 1944 after he fell for Kamala Chakravarty, an Indian dancer who then entered into an arranged marriage with another man. Annapurna returned only to walk out again in 1956.
Shankar resumed seeing Chakravarty after her husband died in 1957. The sitarist maintained the relationship even after Annapurna came back a second time. He ended his marriage and moved in with Chakravarty in 1967. They were together until 1981, a year before he was legally divorced from Annapurna.
While living with Chakravarty, he started a 13-year relationship with Sue Jones, a U.S. concert producer and one- time dancer. He broke up with Jones in 1986. Their daughter, born Geetali Norah Jones Shankar, later became known by her middle names.
Shankar also began seeing Sukanya Rajan, who lived in London and accompanied him at a concert there in 1973. She gave birth to Anoushka while married to someone else, and didn’t get divorced until about six years later.
India’s government presented him with its highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999. He won Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, a lifetime achievement award, the previous year.
Shankar summed up his musical philosophy with this comment, highlighted on his website: “The magic in music happens only when the artist serves it with love and joy — and the listener receives it with the same spirit.”
Ravi Shankar’s network with world music is well known. HT recounts that history:
Labeled “the godfather of world music” by George Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.
He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.
As early as the 1950s, Shankar began collaborating with and teaching some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. He played well-received shows in concert halls in Europe and the United States, but faced a constant struggle to bridge the musical gap between the West and the East.
Describing an early Shankar tour in 1957, Time magazine said “U.S. audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled.”
His close relationship with Harrison, the Beatles lead guitarist, shot Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s.
The pair spent weeks together, starting the lessons at Harrison’s house in England and then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California.
Shankar’s popularity exploded, and he soon found himself playing on bills with some of the top rock musicians of the era. He played a four-hour set at the Monterey Pop Festival and the opening day of Woodstock.
In what Shankar later described as “one of the most moving and intense musical experiences of the century,” the pair organized two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden that included Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.
The concert, which spawned an album and a film, raised millions of dollars for UNICEF and inspired other rock benefits.
He gave lessons to Coltrane, who named his son Ravi in Shankar’s honor, and became close friends with Menuhin, recording the acclaimed “West Meets East” album with him. He also collaborated with flutist Jean Pierre Rampal, composer Philip Glass and conductors Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta.
“Any player on any instrument with any ears would be deeply moved by Ravi Shankar. If you love music, it would be impossible not to be,” singer David Crosby, whose band The Byrds was inspired by Shankar’s music, said in the book “The Dawn of Indian Music in the West: Bhairavi.”
Despite his fame, numerous albums and decades of world tours, Shankar’s music remained a riddle to many Western ears.
Shankar was amused after he and colleague Ustad Ali Akbar Khan were greeted with admiring applause when they opened the Concert for Bangladesh by twanging their sitar and sarod for a minute and a half.
“If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more,” he told the confused crowd, and then launched into his set.
The Guardian’s obituary contains a very informative recounting of his many connections to world music:
Shankar gave his first concert in 1939, and in 1940 began playing recitals with Allauddin Khan’s son the sarodist Ali Akbar Khan on All India Radio. It was in Mumbai in the mid-40s that Shankar first made an impression. He wrote the music scores for two notable Indian films, Dharti ke Lal (Children of the Earth, 1946) and Neecha Nagar (The City Below, 1946), and composed for the Indian People’s Theatre Association. During 1946-47 he was involved with producing and composing music for a ballet titled The Discovery of India, which was based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s celebrated book of the same name. 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.
His energy was amazing. In between his arduous performing schedule, he composed the music for Satyajit Ray’s classic Apu Trilogy (the films were made over a period of four years from 1955-59). He also composed a concerto for the sitar (1971), performed by the LSO and conducted by André Previn, with Shankar playing the sitar.
In the early 60s Shankar made his first study of jazz and Indian classical music in Improvisations. He went on to teach Indian music to John Coltrane and Don Ellis. His piece Rich á La Rakha was composed for Buddy Rich and Alla Rakha. Then, in 1966, he met George Harrison and Paul McCartney at a friend’s house in London. A few days later, he gave George his first sitar lesson at the Beatle’s home in Surrey. Later that year, George and his wife, Pattie, went to India and the guitarist underwent an intensive period of sitar tuition. From this partnership came Shankar Family & Friends (1974)
Shankar also created a musical partnership with Yehudi Menuhin. They had met in 1951 when Menuhin was visiting India, though Shankar vividly recalled having seen the violinist at rehearsals when they were boys in Paris in the 30s. The men played for each other and became friends. In 1967, they played for the UN general assembly at a human rights day celebration. They also recorded three albums together, the first of which won a Grammy award.
While he brought Indian music to a new generation around the world, in India his commitment to classical music was questioned by those who did not approve of his many experiments. However, he toured India in the last two years. I heard him for the last time in 2011 in Mumbai’s famous Shanmukhananda hall, where his music got him a standing ovation. Taking his bow then, he said it was probably his last concert in Mumbai. It was.