ALI AKBAR KHAN, 87
Bengali Musician Was 'An Absolute Genius'
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Ali Akbar Khan, 87, a Bengali musician who was regarded as one of the finest artists of Indian classical music who helped popularize the genre in the West through appearances on television, record and stage, died June 18 at his home in San Anselmo, Calif., of a kidney ailment.
The son of a revered musician and teacher, Mr. Khan began intensive training as a child and partnered with sitar player Ravi Shankar -- his future brother-in-law -- performing duets throughout India.
Mr. Khan was a virtuoso of the sarod, a 25-string instrument in the lute family. His chosen musical genre is based in part on the concept of the raga, which consists of improvised music based on a variety of scales. From these scales, or permutations of them, Indian musicians follow traditional forms but add their own inflections and feeling.
The late American violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who became one of his earliest champions in the West, said he considered Mr. Khan "an absolute genius, the greatest musician in the world."
Mr. Khan was appointed court musician to the maharaja of Jodhpur in 1943, and his international career launched under Menuhin, who organized a showcase of Indian music at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1955 and featured the sarodist.
About that time, Angel Records released Mr. Khan's first Western recordings of Indian music. His appearance on broadcaster Alistair Cooke's network television program "Omnibus" marked one of the first times Indian classical music was performed live on Western television.
"When I came in '55, because I was in Indian dress, people on the street in New York came out of the bars and shops and followed us," Mr. Khan told the publication Asian Week. "They asked me, 'Who are you? Where are you from?' When I said, 'India,' some of them didn't even know where it was. Or others who knew I was a musician asked funny questions like, 'How can you play music in India with all the tigers and snakes and monkeys you have to fight off?' "
As Indian culture and music began to infuse Western pop culture in the 1960s, widespread interest in musicians such as Mr. Khan grew. In 1967, he established the Ali Akbar College of Music in Berkeley, Calif., which he later moved to Marin County, north of San Francisco. He taught there while maintaining a schedule of performances and recordings such as "Shree Rag" and "Misra Piloo," both of which brought him critical acclaim.
In 1971, a civil war transformed Mr. Khan's homeland, called East Pakistan at the time, into the independent country of Bangladesh. The war created an immense humanitarian crisis among the already poor population. Former Beatles guitarist George Harrison, a student and performer of Indian music, assembled a number of musicians for a relief benefit concert held at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Mr. Khan and Shankar, whose divorce from Mr. Khan's sister strained their relationship, performed at the Concert for Bangladesh with musicians including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. An album and film of the concert were later released.
In an interview many years later, Mr. Khan said he had bad memories of the Madison Square Garden event. "That was not music but I'd say a war of music," he told Reuters in 2007, adding at one point he stuffed toilet paper in his ears to block out the noise.
Mr. Khan was born April 14, 1922, in British-controlled East Bengal, now Bangladesh. His family claimed a musical lineage that stretched back to a 16th-century court musician of the Mogul Emperor Akbar.
His father, Allauddin Khan, was regarded as one of the foremost Indian musicians of his time and had reportedly mastered more than 200 instruments. He said his father, who lived to be more than 100 and also taught Shankar, was "very strict. He never played with me, he never laughed, never smiled. He was a tiger. I wanted love from him. . . . The motive was that if you show that, too much love, then I was spoiled. At that time I was very angry, but now I am grateful."
The younger Khan debuted publicly at 13 and as a young man earned the designation "ustad," or master musician. He went on to compose his own ragas, a striking accomplishment because ragas are typically handed down by tradition. Over the years, Mr. Khan also composed scores for Indian films such as Satyajit Ray's "Devi" (1960) and the early Merchant-Ivory collaboration "The Householder" (1963).
Survivors include his wife, Mary, and 11 children from several previous wives. He said that in writing his family history, he surprised Mary when he admitted to a marriage that lasted a day. He called it "an accident. I didn't like the lady at all."
In 1991, Mr. Khan received a MacArthur Fellowship, widely known as the "genius" grant. He later received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
He once wrote of the sarod, "If you practice for ten years, you may begin to please yourself, after 20 years you may become a performer and please the audience, after 30 years you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist -- then you may please even God.
|Charlie Mariano, saxophonist, musical sojourner|
Charlie Mariano, the Boston-born saxophonist who gained world renown as a performer with his former wife, Toshiko Akiyoshi; Stan Kenton; and Charles Mingus, among many others, died yesterday at Mildred Scheel Hospiz in Cologne, Germany, his longtime home. Mr. Mariano, who had battled cancer for years, was 85.
Born Carmine Ugo Mariano in 1923, he was weaned on his father’s beloved Italian operas and the big bands he heard on the radio: Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, whose saxophonist Lester Young became Mr. Mariano’s first musical hero. He would not get his own saxophone until his 18th birthday, but in short order, the ambitious young musician was playing nightly at Izzy Ort’s bar and dance hall in what was then known as Boston’s combat zone, for $19 a week.
Mr. Mariano was drafted in 1943, but never saw combat. He was tapped to play in one of the several small music ensembles that entertained at officers’ clubs. Near the end of the war, Mr. Mariano, who was stationed on an air base north of Los Angeles, heard Charlie Parker play live for the first time, during Parker’s first West Coast gig, at Billy Berg’s jazz club in Hollywood.
“He completely turned my head,’’ Mr. Mariano said of Parker in “Tears of Sound,’’ a 1993 biography of Mr. Mariano published in Germany. Taken with the sax great’s inventive harmonics, newfangled rhythmic figures, and breakneck tempos, “I chased Bird’s sound, his way of phrasing. I listened to his solos on recordings for hours, wrote them down, and played it.’’
As it was for many alto saxophonists, Mr. Mariano found his muse and musical foundation in Parker’s ground-breaking sound. After leaving the Army in 1945, he drifted to Chicago, then Albuquerque, picking up work where he could, and finally wound up back in Boston. When the big-band era began winding down and many local clubs were closed, the largely self-taught Mr. Mariano enrolled in music school for the first time, at the Schillinger House of Music, which would later be renamed Berklee College of Music.
Mr. Mariano started to develop his own sound under the tutelage of Joe Viola, and he became a fixture on Boston’s vibrant jazz scene, collaborating with Nat Pierce, Jaki Byard, and fellow students Herb Pomeroy and Quincy Jones. In 1950, Mr. Mariano released his first recording as a bandleader, and several years later founded the Jazz Workshop, a hands-on school that emphasized experience over instruction and later evolved into a popular nightclub.
At the end of 1953, the financially strapped Mr. Mariano received a life-changing call from Stan Kenton, who tapped the saxophonist for his big band. After a couple of years on the road, Mr. Mariano settled in Southern California, where he joined drummer Shelly Manne’s band and worked as a session player.
The pair married in 1959 and over the course of several years bounced from New York, where they formed the Toshiko Mariano Quartet and Mr. Mariano performed and recorded with Mingus, to Tokyo, back to New York, and then to Boston, where Mr. Mariano returned to teaching in the mid-1960s.
“I had him for an ensemble, and every week he would stop the band and pick on somebody,’’ said Mr. Mariano’s former student, saxophonist Arnie Krakowsky of Boston. “Four, five, six weeks go by, and he didn’t stop me, and I thought I must be doing better than I think. Then one day, he stopped the band and pointed at me and said: ‘You. When you go home this weekend, I want you to tell your mother and father that you want to be a doctor or a lawyer.’ That was his way of telling me I needed to practice. When we saw Charlie walking the halls at Berklee, we would walk the other way. We were petrified of him. He was that good.’’
Mr. Mariano also became known for his work on the nadaswaram, a South Indian woodwind instrument he discovered on an extended trip to Kuala Lumpur.
After divorcing Ms. Akiyoshi in 1967, Mr. Mariano wandered the globe for years, commuting between the United States (he had yet another go teaching at Berklee) and Europe (where he eventually settled).
Following the formation of Osmosis, his early jazz fusion group, Mr. Mariano devoted his last several decades to exploring musical amalgams inspired by other cultures, as well as by pop and rock. He was diagnosed in 1995 with advanced prostate cancer and given a year to live by his doctors, but with the help of alternative therapies and conventional treatment he lived another 14.
“His music was the music of a traveler,’’ says Eric Jackson, longtime host of the WGBH show “Jazz with Eric in the Evening.’’ “Just look at the places Charlie called home in the course of his life. He was on a lifelong musical journey.’’
Mr. Mariano leaves his wife, painter Dorothee Zippel Mariano of Cologne; his sister Connie Rosato; six daughters, Sherry of Salisbury, Cynthia and Melanie Lamar, both of Merrimac, Celeste Perrigo of Berwick, Maine, Monday Michiru of Long Island, N.Y., and Zana of Toronto, Canada; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Mariano is being cremated in Germany, and the ashes will be entombed at the family grave in Boston.