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Indian Classical Music and Jazz

In: Film and Music

Submitted By dagayatree219
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Indian classical music and jazz. Though these two styles of music seem completely dissimilar, they share many of the same influence and roots. Indian classical music dates back to thousands of years ago, where it was first played in the King’s court. It is now played in large concert halls all over the world. Jazz has its roots in the black churches of New Orleans in the beginning of the 20th century. It is now played in large concert halls around the world as well. When examined closely, it is astoning to see how many similarities these two styles of music have. It is safe to say that Indian classical music has had a strong influence on jazz. Both styles of music rely heavily on human expression, paths for spiritual advancement, and improvisation. Indian music’s influence on jazz can date back to the early 1960s. With the modifications of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, a new flood of Southeast Asian immigrants entered the country. Coincidentally, the 1960s was a decade of political turmoil with the free jazz and civil rights movement. This was a major factor in the influence of carnatic music on jazz. Many of the improvisation techniques jazz musicians use today came from the roots of Carnatic music. To understand how Indian Classical music influenced jazz, one needs to understand the varying styles of classical music. There are two styles of classical music--Hindustani and Carnatic. Hindustani music is played primarily in North India while Carnatic music is played in the South. Both styles of music are based off of musical scales known as ragas. These ragas are combinations of the basic seven notes in the mother scale: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa. Both Hindustani and Carnatic music are monophonic; they use a tampura to keep tune while the instruments and vocalist play over it. A primary difference between the two styles is the Hindustani music is based off of combinations of the original seven notes, while Carnatic music has semitones. This is why Carnatic music has many more ragas than Hindustani. The musical instruments which accompany the vocalist also vary in both styles. The tabla, sitar, and harmonium are found in Hindustani music while the mrudangam, violin, and veena are found in Carnatic music. In order to understand the context within which Indian music affected jazz, one must understand the free jazz and civil rights movement. The civil rights movement encompasses number of movements with the purpose of removing racial segregation and discrimination against blacks in the United States. This movement took place during 1954-1968, which coincides with the United States Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which I will discuss later. During this period, many black jazz musicians used music as an outlet to speak against racial discrimination. The incorporated new jazz styles that reflected black pride as a way to promote awareness. While most of the changes in jazz took place during the civil rights movement, musicians had long before been using music as an outlet to speak out. Billie Holiday used her song titled “Strange Fruit” to speak out against lynching and racial tension. She first performed this song at Cafe Society, one of the first integrated nightclubs of the age. This became her signature song for the next twenty years. While these people had an impact, it was the events of the 1950s and 1960s which had a profound impact on jazz. Sonny Rollins wrote the “Freedom Suite” which described the joy anger and struggle of blacks in America. This inspired black drummer Max Roach to devote a whole album describing racial discrimination. His Album “We Insist” was one of the strongest political statements of the early 1960s. The civil rights movement affected jazz as an art form. Free jazz challenged traditional rhythm, harmony, form and sound. Musicians wrote atonal dissonant music as a protest against tradition. As I mentioned earlier, the Civil Rights Movement coincided with the United States Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. At this time, Indian musicians began to take stage with many famous jazz musicians. Jazz musicians during this time also happened to be shifting towards avant-garde music, constantly searching for new ways to “free” jazz. British Indian composer John Mayer was among the first group of musicians to incorporate the Indian musical style with jazz. His music features Western and Indian instrumentation

For the purpose of this paper, I will focus primarily on sitarist Ravi Shankar. Shankar is undoubtedly the number one influence of Indian Classical music on the West. Ravi Shankar was born on April 7th 1920 in Varanasi, India. He spent most of his life touring Europe and America with his older brother Uday. Shankar studied sitar under the tutelage of Allaudin Khan. In 1956, he began to tour Europe and the Americas, playing with and inspiring famous musicians such as Yehudi Menunin and the Beatles’ Guitarist George Harrison. Shankar contributed to Western music by writing Indian style compositions for orchestras. He continued do so into the 1970s and 1980s. Shankar began playing for small audiences where he would educate them about South Indian Classical music. He would incorporate ragas from Carnatic music in his performances and demonstrations. In 1961, Shankar led the first collaboration of Indian classical music and jazz. The collaboration between Shankar and saxophonist Bud Shank resulted in the album titled “Improvisations.” These album features only one track, entitled "Improvisations on the theme music from Pather Panchalli”. Although the fusion between Indian classical music and jazz is trivial, with the sitar simply playing the melody to a Western style background, it revolutionized the hybridity of Indian Classical music with jazz.
Certainly the largest promoters of Indian music during the civil rights movement were the Beatles.

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