- Articles -
Faruk Turunz - An extraordinary luthier (by E. Powell 2007)
Several years ago when Ross Daly told me that his "expensive" oud was built by an extraordinary luthier named Faruk Turunz who actually "tunes" his soundboards, my interest piqued because of my experience in India and with Budhaditya and his "system" for tuning a sitar's soundboard which proved to be an infallible method for producing an balanced sounding sitar. Could it be also possible to tune an oud's soundboard and braces and thereby be sure each time, of creating a balanced sounding oud...
Genetically Modified Music (by E. Powell 2005)
...in the course of our daily life, how often do we stop to think about
the nature of what is around us? For example, when we buy fruits and vegetables
in the supermarket, do we take a moment to reflect on the fact that none
of the plants we are purchasing and eating are plants which exist naturally
in nature? None of them. All vegetables available now were created by
scientists in laboratories. When at home with our dogs and cats, or in
the country witnessing our farm animals, do we stop and reflect on the
truth that these beloved animals which nourish us with love, or as food,
also would never be seen today without the existence of bio-experimental
science. Pigs, dogs, horses, cows, etc. never existed before in the form
we now know and love them....
The philosophy behind the fretless guitar (by E. Powell 2004)
The philosophy behind the fretless guitar is very simple. It is an attempt to go back in time to when music was played "in tune". It may seem a strange purpose; to play an instrument which is so difficult to play in tune, with the idea of being able to actually play more in tune. The reason why the fretless guitar is ideally suited to playing in tune, and the fretted guitar is not, is that although it may seem very easy to play the fretted guitar in tune, this is actually an illusion...
A visit with Ross Daly (by E. Powell 2003)
...on that journey to India, Ross had gone overland via Afganisthan- staying there for extended periods studying Afgan music. After India, back in England, Ross played sitar on the streets and built Celtic harps to earn enough money to travel again. He decided to go to Crete just to travel and have a look around... so off he went. Two days after arriving he purchased a donkey and spent six months walking around the island on foot with his sitar, rabab, and recently purchased lyra on the donkey's back..."
what is Indian music? (by E. Powell 2000)
...let's be more specific, "what is North Indian classical music?"
How I met Indian music, and my teacher, Budhaditya (by E. Powell 1999)
"...further health crises resulted but this time around
it was not so easy to drop 'the rock life', as the pay from these gigs
was quite good..."
Memories of music and music makers (by G.E. Powell 1999)
Reading Ed's personal history, I am surprised to learn that my own earliest memories of music resemble his. In my case, the instrument observed was not a sitar but a curved soprano saxophone, battered and long unplayed, that had belonged to my grandfather, who had played it and his other saxophones in marching bands in turn-of-the-century San Diego. The only survivor of those old days was this ancient sax, outlasting both my grandfather and his other instruments. When, as an adult, I tried to track down this old soprano, I found that it too had disappeared...
Faruk Turunz - An extraordinary luthier (by E. Powell, 2007)
Several years ago when Ross Daly told me that his "very expensive" oud was built by an extraordinary luthier named Faruk Turunz who actually "tunes" his soundboards and it's braces, my interest piqued because of my experience in India and with Budhaditya and his "system" for tuning a sitar's soundboard which proved to be an infallible method for producing an balanced sounding sitar. Could it be also possible to tune an oud's soundboard and braces and thereby be sure each time, of creating a balanced sounding oud? After playing just a few notes on Ross's 'Faruk oud', I was convinced that Faruk has definitely figured out how to create an excellent sounding oud.
Some weeks later I met Periklis, my first teacher of makams, who also had a Faruk oud. Periklis, an expert on everything related the oud, spoke very highly of Faruk and his instrument building. It then occurred to me that this was a man I must meet one day, especially since both Ross and Periklis confirmed that Faruk is very open to discussing and sharing his knowledge and secrets with those genuinely interested.
A couple of years after that, I found myself with a sudden and strong urge to play Turkish oud... and since I did not have any immediate plans to go to Turkey I decided to build a copy of a Faruk oud according to detailed drawings I had previously made of Ross's Faruk oud. When it came time to prepare the soundboard I visited Faruk's website where he explains in detail how he tunes his braces, and the complex mathematical formulae he employs. I read and digested all this information and before beginning the actually work, I contacted Faruk via email and to my surprise found him very helpful and encouraging - even though we had never met in person.
I admit that I could not get his math formula to work completely, but the oud turned out quite well in any case.
The following winter I was again on Crete at Ross Daly's musical center, and it was there that I got the inspiration to come up with a design for my triple-neck fretless guitar (Ragmakamtar). Upon returning from Crete I spent 6 intensive weeks building a successful prototype for this new guitar. Later that year I found myself in Istanbul on a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, to study oud with Necati Celik. Obviously this was my chance to meet Faruk, so off I went to his workshop with my tripleneck fretless guitar in hand.
Faruk and I became friends immediately and at the end of our first meeting he invited me to come and build, with his help, a new version or the my Ragmakamtar. How could I refuse? Needless to say, over the next 8 months I was in his workshop almost daily, building, receiving guidance, materials, and even food, from Faruk and his small team of colleagues - all straight from the generosity of their hearts, without being expected to pay even one Lira.
Every day before entering Faruk's workshop I said a small prayer that I may not take for granted the astonishing generosity I was receiving. I learned an enormous amount from Faruk, his partner Svat, and helpers Isa and Yusuf, and more than that, we became dear friends - like a small family.
Faruk's tuning system is remarkable. It is based on the premise that the soundboard is an amplifier. All of the frequencies which the strings are able to produce are duplicated in various parts of the soundboard. The strings vibrate - this vibration is transfered through the bridge to the soundboard. Once the energy is in the soundboard, it "searches" for areas of the same frequencies and rushes to those areas, energizing them and thus producing audible sound. Therefore an oud will sound balanced when the soundboard contains areas which resonate at the desired frequencies in correct proportions. If a soundboard is too thin and flexible it will sound too bassy and flat. If the soundboard is too heavy and thick it will sound hard and metalic.
The first big eye-opener for me was when Faruk helped me to see that when trying to determine what are the "ideal" frequencies to strive to replicate, one does not simply think in terms of the notes of an oud's full register. Yes those frequencies must be there, but what is just as important are the overtones which must be included. Faruk explained that the fundamental plus the first 6 overtones must all be present in the correct proportion in order to achieve a pleasant sounding oud. This truth produces a number of paradoxes; for example, it is not only the flexible parts of a soundboard that produce a nice sound for the bass strings. The 5th and 6th overtones of the bass strings are in fact very high frequencies and must be there to give a brilliant shining sound. The high overtones require very stiff regions of the soundboard.
Faruk, through hundreds of experiments, has identified what are the desirable combinations of frequencies an oud's soundboard needs in order to sound great. Next Faruk has discovered a math formula with which he is able to apply to the combined frequencies of the tuned soundboard, and the tuned braces once they are glued in place. The result is that Faruk is able to predetermine what kind of sound his next oud will have, and using his formula and his tuning tools, achieve this sound. I watched him do this for 8 months. In this time he created about 40 soundboards... each one sounded fantastic!
Equally astonishing and worthy of credit is Faruk's partner
Svat, who is a mechanical genious. I nicknamed him "Einstein"
but he preferred to be compared to Thomas Edison. In any case, if he was
a less spiritual being he could easily be earning millions working for
NASA. Svat has revolutionized the mechanical aspects of oud building through
the invention and creation of dozens of space-age apparatus which are
mostly used in combination with very refined power tools in order to create
with mind-boggling speed and surgical accuracy the individual parts of
an oud. Thereafter, these parts are individually assembled by hand, and
with love, by Faruk's right hand man, a brilliant craftsman, Isa. The
fourth member of the team, Yusuf, aside from being a wonderful cook, is
totally devoted to creating the perfectly constructed backs for all of
Genetically Modified Music (by E. Powell, 2005)
To be aware, truly aware, of the nature of life and our world, it has been said, is the key to enlightenment. However, awareness can often bring depression, skepticism, and hence a desire and tendency not to look deeper than the superficial. It is my feeling that this can be the result of "looking" only slightly below the surface... I feel that to look very deeply reveals that even the things which seem terrible, finally can have positive meaning when seen in the GRAND scheme of things. I wanted first to make this point before embarking on a description of something which might appear frightening.
First of all, let's face it - we live in a very modern world. We are surrounded with technology. Surrounded by machines and products of very advanced industry and science... in fact, it has reached the point where our very lives have become dependent on technology. Human life has not always been this way. Think and try to imagine what life was like 200 years ago, 500 years ago, 5000 years ago, 5 million years ago. Life was very different back then, but why? What was the real difference? What happened in the last 2000 years which ignited the changes which resulted in the world we now live in which is a world only vaguely resembling what was in our not so distant past?
In the course of our daily life, how often do we stop to think about the nature of what is around us? For example, when we buy fruits and vegetables in the supermarket, do we take a moment to reflect on the fact that none of the plants we are purchasing and eating are plants which exist naturally in nature? None of them. All vegetables available now were created by scientists in laboratories. When at home with our dogs and cats, or in the country witnessing our farm animals, do we stop and reflect on the truth that these beloved animals which nourish us with love, or as food, also would never be seen today without the existence of bio-experimental science. Pigs, dogs, horses, cows, etc. never existed before in the form we now know and love them.
Again, we may ask; how did this happen, and why?
We may also ask; what other areas of life have been "modified" and "de-naturized" by science, and industry?
How many people are aware that even music, our beloved modern music, has been affect by the industrial mind-set. Of course we all are aware of recording studios and the possibilities of sound modifications, equalisation, and special effects etc... but who is truly aware that at the fundamental level, the deepest level, the actual rate of vibration of the most basic musical pitches, as we now know them, like the denatured tomatoes and kittens, are also modern creations never before existing naturally in nature! Yes, modern Western musicians, composers, scholars, and instrument builders have actually, gradually, over the last 500 years, profoundly altered the speed of vibration of the fundamental musical pitches as we know them now. It means that the music we grew up with, that we hear on the radio everyday, that we studied in school, is out of tune.
What does this actually mean, "out of tune"? To be "in tune" means to be in harmony. In harmony with what? In harmony with life, and the grand forces of nature and the universe of which we are a small part. Every child is told that no two snowflakes and no two leaves are identical. No two drops of water, no two clouds, no two sunsets, and no two people are exactly the same. What this means is that in nature, no two things are exactly the same. This is also true with musical notes. In nature, no two musical intervals are exactly the same. But look at the fingerboard of a modern fretted guitar... it is immediately clear, from looking at the equally distanced fret placings that this is an instrument intended to produce semitones of exactly equal distance from each other. But as we just determined, nothing in nature is identical, and to be truly in tune, semitones must NOT be equally spaced. Observe the fingerboards of instruments designed to play music which does not employ the modern system of "equal temperament", instruments such as the sitar, the oud, or the saz. Either the frets are tied on with movable (hence, tunable) threads, or there are no frets at all. When there are frets, look closely, they are NOT spaced equally.
So, our music is out of tune... our vegetables are out of tune... our animals are out of tune... our air and water are out of tune... could it be that the result (or the cause), is that "we" are out of tune?
Please let me refer back to the first paragraph of this article, and let's be reminded that in the GRAND GRAND scheme of things, nothing is out of tune, nothing is bad or good, everything has a purpose --- and no matter what will happen on earth, 20 trillion years from now the universe will destroy and then recreate another one just as wonderful as the one before.
So just for the sake of awareness, let us simply face the fact that yes, we are "out of tune". Life is music, and music is life... we can be forgiven when we are ignorant, but when we have awareness then it is our choice--- we always have choices. We do not have to play equal tempered music on equal tempered instruments. Wonderful alternatives exist.
Edward Powell - November 2005.
The philosophy behind the fretless guitar (by E. Powell, 2004)
The philosophy behind the fretless guitar is very simple. It is an attempt to go back in time to when music was played "in tune". It may seem a strange purpose; to play an instrument which is so difficult to play in tune, with the idea of being able to actually play more in tune. The reason why the fretless guitar is ideally suited to playing in tune, and the fretted guitar is not, is that although it may seem very easy to play the fretted guitar in tune, this is actually an illusion. It is virtually impossible to play the fretted guitar in tune. It may very difficult to play the fretless guitar perfectly in tune, but it is possible, whereas with a fretted guitar it is not.
A visit with Ross Daly (by E. Powell, 2003)
Ross Daly is a very interesting man. Born in '52, arrived on Crete and began playing lyra in his early twenties - began playing Cretan music professionally about 5 years later. After 2 or 3 more years he was offered a record deal, and recorded an album of Cretan music which was very successful. In the meantime he has recorded an album each year and also managed to master Turkish Ottoman classical and folk music on several instruments including saz and oud. He has dozens of brilliant students, many of whom play with him in his group. He is widely recognized as the savior and innovator of the Cretan lyra.
Ross told me more about his musical life story; He began studying sitar in England, and studied it there for 3 years before going to India where he studied it for one more year before making the decision not to devote his life to mastering Indian music (Ross feels that in order to master a music one needs to actually decide to move to and live permanently in the country of that music's origin... and Ross didn't really feel "at home" in India - which was one of the reasons for his leave the study of sitar).
On that journey to India, Ross had gone overland via Afghanistan- staying there for extended periods studying Afghani music. After India, back in England, Ross played sitar on the streets and built Celtic harps to earn enough money to travel again. He decided to go to Crete just to travel and have a look around... so off he went. Two days after arriving he purchased a donkey and spent six months walking around the island on foot with his sitar, rabab, and recently purchased lyra on the donkey's back. Towards the end of that 6 months some friends offered to transport his sitar for him by car from Retimno to Hania... the result was a sitar with a badly damaged pumpkin - and that was after 6 months on a donkey's back without a scratch!
Ross then went back to England, had his sitar (which he had bought in an antique shop for 40 pounds---is the same sitar that Ross still has here at the museum, and the one that I am playing when I go there for practice-- is actually a very good sitar) repaired, then decided to come back to Crete for a while. Ross then didn't realize that he would end up staying in Greece (with many trips out of) for the next more than 3 decades. Ross began a long and intensive study of the Cretan lyra. The years passed and Ross ran his own music cafe in Hania. A place which supported him. At the cafe people took what they wanted (to drink), and payed what they wanted (just left the money on the counter), and brought their instruments to play Cretan music on lyras and lautos.
I asked him if he had always had the vision, goal, or dream to become a recording artist. He said that he never had any idea at all what he would do with the knowledge and instruments he was acquiring over the years. People thought he was crazy and would question him. His family, however, were very supportive -perhaps partly because he was fully self-supporting. He said that his recording career began 20 years ago when, since he was becoming somewhat known playing around at that time, someone offered to finance the making and releasing of an LP of his music. He made that record and it was apparently quite successful throughout Greece. So that was that, and he hasn't stopped making records since.
Reflection on Persian Music
When discussing the rabab Ross had some very interesting things to say about Afghanistan. Apparently there was a king who ruled about 100 years ago who at that time decided to bring about 100 Indian musician over from India (to 'Indianize the local music'), and gave them a whole district of town (in Kabul) to live in. This is why (something I have known and heard intuitively) Afghani (also west Pakistani) music is actually more like what Indian music was like 100 years ago than what Indian music is like now--- because music in India kept developing, whereas that small enclave of Indian music artificially created 100 years ago in Afghanistan, didn't develop, but rather maintained to itself the old style. I guess this is also why American English and Canadian French resembles more the pronunciation of the time at which most immigrants came over from those countries. Ross explained that before this 'Indianization' of Afghani music took place, the principle influence was Persian.
I asked him why the Afghan king had imported all the Indian musicians (by the way, the king had given the musicians "a quarter" of Kabul, meaning a "district" not "one fourth", of the city.). Ross says that at that time Indian culture was considered very high and therefore to be adopted. Ross makes the comparison to how The Czars in Russia in the 1700's adopted and imported French culture.
Just before and during Xmas, I occasionally sat with Ross listening to several of his old CDs. I had asked him for his advice on how to go about actually recording a CD. What he told me, I feel, was such clear, good, and valuable advice. What he said, which are all things that I have actually known but not been so sure of, is that the basic rule is that, as much as possible, the music must be recorded 'live', and with as few overdubs and edits as possible. And not to get caught in the trap which tempts one to sacrifice 'live playing' for sound clarity and track separation (which makes mixing and editing a breeze). Basically, he stressed over and over again that what is really important is to capture the live interplay which happens between musicians when they are actually playing together.
So, I asked Ross to play for me the CD which he has done which uses that MOST amount of overdubbing-- he agreed and played it for me. In his early career he went in for overdubbing wholeheartedly. Whole albums of super-multitracked music all recorded in the studio by himself alone with only a few minimal guests. He said that he has really been 'through' the overdubbing thing, and does not recommend it---although he admits that there are no fixed rules and that it is sometimes possible to create good music via modern studio techniques. I'll always remember those winter afternoons at the museum sitting with Ross listening to his old (and new) CDs.
In further long discussions with Ross he convinced me of the necessity
of being able to reproduce 'live', the music which you have recorded on
Cd. Ross also mentions the common trap of relying on flashy technique.
This is something he rarely does.
what is Indian music? (by E. Powell, 2000)
...let's be more specific, "what is North Indian classical music?"
Indian classical music is divided into two major categories; North Indian classical music (Hindustani sangeet), and South Indian classical music (Carnatic sangeet). The music and culture of North India began to experience significant Western influence from about the 13th century onward. Carnatic music, on the other hand, currently retains much more of it's original ancient character, as the invasions of antiquity reached not the southern half of the subcontinent.
The classical music of North India is acutely dissimilar to European classical music in that it is essentially improvised music, and is usually performed as a 'duo'; a 'soloist' with an 'accompanist' (a percussionist who is, in fact, also very much a soloist as well.). The structurally cyclic, and emotionally contemplative nature of this improvisation gives it a much stronger affiliation to Western jazz.
Although it's origins stretch back thousands of years, Hindustani music is today a contemporary art, ever evolving and absorbing new influences. It is said that it 'began' as devotional music and gradually developed over the centuries. For a large portion of this millennium past it was primarily a 'court' music, patronized by the Indian aristocracy only. This past century has seen the incorporation of even some sophisticated folkloric styles into this music, and a concurrent massive expansion in it's listeners' base.
To say that N. Indian classical music is 'modal' improvisation set to rhythmic cycles is an easily understandable but grossly simplified description. At it's core, it is a profound form of emotional expression, as the almost infinite number of modes used display colours ranging fully across the human spectrum of sentiments. It is a modern form of a pre-modern musical system. 'Pre-modern' in that it does not employ 'harmony' (the creation of which was the primary motivation behind the European development of the "equal tempered tuning system", which compromises tonal purity for the ability of an instrument to modulate into different keys.). Indian music retains the 'natural/pure' tuning system, and is therefore always played in just one tonal key center. This is the primary reason most Westerners tend to require a lengthy acclimatisation period of repeated listening before an appreciation is truly developed.
It is well worth the time and effort, as thousands will testify, this is a truly magnificent form of music offering peace, rejuvenation, exuberant pleasure, and deep satisfaction. There is nothing else quite like it!
"What do you 'hear' when you listen to 'sitar/tabla raga-music'?"
possible answer B: "I hear a precise, logical, and systematic musical expression."
possible answer C: "I am transported into the spiritual realm of timeless oneness of all..."
These are all valid answers depending of course as much
on your individual perception as on the musicians to whom you are listening.
Although, if your answer was "A", do not be discouraged. A comprehensive,
indepth study and analysis of the theory of Indian music is not required
in order to greatly enhance your awareness (and listening pleasure) of
what is going on 'inside' the music.
The answer is 'rhythm and melody'. Perhaps the primary reason for most Westerners' initial difficulty in appreciating Indian music is the fact that we in the West have become accustomed to listening to music based on 'Harmony'. 'Musical Harmony' is the sound resulting from the interaction between melody and chordal movements beneath the melody. Indian music uses no 'Musical Harmony' since it is based on a melodic system which predates the invention of 'Harmony'. Western ears are so used to hearing chordal 'movement' underneath melodies that initially Indian music seems not to 'go anywhere'.
Next one may ask, "If Indian music has only rhythm and melody, and Western music has rhythm, melody AND chordal movement, then does that not mean that Western music is superior"?
Again the answer is simple: what Indian music may lack in
Harmony is more than made up for by having highly sophisticated systems
of rhythm and melody. To appreciate this one must admit that most Western
music uses predominantly only 3 melodic scales, and about 2 or 3 rhythmic
time-signatures. Indian music however draws from a backlog of dozens of
primary scales with literally hundreds of derivatives, and rhythmically,
could be described as complex mathematics in a musical form.
How I met Indian music, and my teacher, Budhaditya (by E. Powell, 1999)
Some of my earliest memories include, as a very small child, looking with amazement at a photo of a sitar held by Ravi Shankar on one of his early album covers. I spent a lot of time pondering what kind of instrument it must be. It seemed like something almost from another planet.
My practical musical life began, of course, with the deep love and study of the guitar. Although one particular thing confounded me right from the beginning, and for more than a decade thereafter, was the fact that I could never seem to actually tune the guitar perfectly. I had always attributed this situation to some personal shortcoming until I began studying the sitar, at which time I learned about the "equal tempered tuning system", and that it is not in fact possible to tune a guitar perfectly (in standard tuning).
From the beginning, the sound of the sitar always intrigued me, and George Harrison's "within you without you" branded into my brain this sound's inseparability with India. Later, I was further impressed with how profoundly and beautifully the music of India could influence Western music when my first jazz guitar teacher introduced me to Mahavishnu John Mclaughlin. Still today I feel that "Shakti" is probably the most impressive "India meets West" fusion attempt.
At the age of 20 my life and mentality were still steeped in the world of rock music. Although I had a growing dissatisfaction with this world, and a deepening sense that there must be very much more to music, and to life - still it took a serious personal health crisis to shock me out of my 'rock n roll comfort zone'. Difficult as it was for my young and powerful ego, I renounced my dreams of becoming a "Rock God", and resigned myself to search for a more healthy, wholesome, and grounded way of life and musical direction. At the time, other than altering my diet and lifestyle profoundly, I really had no idea where this change in direction would lead me musically. I began an intense study of jazz guitar, thinking that this would solve my problem since the jazz world seemed to be on a much higher plane. As fate would have it, my patience with intense jazz study did not hold out too long, and the temptation for a regular pay cheque (and the need to simply get out and play) lead me back into the bars with my stratocaster...this time as a 'one man band' playing and singing anything from Jimi Hendrix to Willy Nelson.
Further health crises resulted but this time around it was not so easy to drop 'the rock life', as the pay from these gigs was quite good and I had begun feeling financially dependent on the whole scene. Not to say that wonderful experiences and satisfying musical moments didn't happen in those years of musical prostitution, but simply knowing that I was on the 'wrong path' made the situation much more painful.
My first journey to India was not specifically intended as a musical pilgrimage. Rather, it was meant more as an adventure, an escape from the boredom and the purposelessness I was feeling. But, of course, "wherever I go - there I am" and in going to India I was not able to escape my personality traits which had created my problems to begin with, and my first years in India were in fact very difficult for me. India is very much a land of extremes and she will bring out the very worst in you and show you to yourself mercilessly.
I remember very well going to my first sitar concert in Varanasi (at the "International Music Ashram"). The young sitarist, Batuk Nath Mishra, made a big impression on me and I knew instantly that I wanted him to be my teacher. He was a handsome man who presented himself with tremendous dignity. To me he gave the image of a "prince of sitar"... ...as it turned out, it was easy to make contact with him and we began daily lessons immediately.
Through hours of what was at first 'forced/disciplined listening', without a high degree of understanding or appreciation, I gradually began to acquire a very deep liking for 'sitar-raga' music, the playing of Vilayat Khan and Nikhil Banerjee in particular. North Indian music, for me in the very beginning, seemed odd and alien, but I soon found myself listening with tremendous interest and pleasure. It gave me a powerful feeling of release and timelessness.
Several months later, back in Canada, and back into the bars, and electric guitar, I soon realized that something had, once again, profoundly changed in myself. I had left India with two sitars, plenty of cassettes, and books and lesson notes on 'ragas', but the thought of 'dropping' the guitar and devoting myself entirely to the sitar had not yet appeared as anything more than a vague fantasy. The two events which were to bring upon that decision were soon to happen. First, it was my father who encouraged me strongly to keep up what I had started with the sitar, and to perhaps consider going back to India to study some more. I must say that I enjoyed tremendously tuning, and playing the instrument, it gave me and incredible feeling of balance and peace. It was the second event which clinched my decision and resolve to go back to India, continue seriously with sitar, and to make it my profession one day. What happened was quite simple, and each day it would repeat itself. First, I would be practicing electric blues guitar and singing, and trying to compose original material to record. After a couple of hours of this I would always end up with a headache and depressed, at which time I would see the sitar resting in the corner beckoning me to come and play. Of course, I did, and my discomfort was always replaced with a feeling of calm and wholeness. One day the decision was just too obvious. Did I want to play electric guitar and suffer headaches for the rest of my life, or did I want the peace and happiness which comes from playing and listening to sitar? At the age of 25 it was not easy to drop the instrument and music with which I had spent so many years , and to become a musical infant again, attempting to master one of the world's most difficult instruments. The decision was, in fact, not difficult to make. It seemed as if it had been made for me.
My second and third trips to India, Varanasi, and Batuk Nath Mishra signified my further development in understanding of the art of sitar, Indian Classical Music, Indian culture, and Hindi language. Varanasi is not a relaxing zone, as anyone who has been there will testify, but it is the center of Hindu culture and religion, and practically everyone seeking to learn something about North Indian culture has put in some time there.
I was accepted into Batuk's family (a very large joint family of established musicians) and was taught almost daily. I will never forget one day after a lesson when I asked Batuk (who is primarily a lover of Vilayat Khan's music) directly, and half jokingly, "Who is currently the best sitarist?"...and he responded without hesitation, "Budhaditya Mukherjee".
"Buda...who?", I replied. I had never heard the name but apparently he was a young sitarist who had played several concerts in Varanasi and had made an indelible impression on my current teacher. I wrote the name down and endeavored to scour the circuit of Benares cassette shops with unfortunately absolutely no success. Not one Budhaditya Mukherjee recording to be found in Varanasi in 1990. After a time my curiosity subsided and I resigned myself to the fact that I will hear him when the time will be right.
Several months later, after hearing a late night concert at the "Hanumanji Mandir" in Benares, I ran into a fellow sitar student/acquaintance, a very friendly Japanese fellow named 'Hiro'. It was very late but he suggested strongly that I come over to his place and listen to some music he thought I ought to hear. I agreed and off we went. After a few cups of tea he handed me a cassette cover and asked if I had ever heard of this man. It was a photo of a young man with a somewhat fierce expression on his face, playing a sitar, with the name Budhaditya Mukherjee written below. I immediately exclaimed how I had heard of him and had been searching for recordings by him. "Well, have a listen to this!", said Hiro as he put on a recording he himself had made of a concert Budhaditya had given in Varanasi the previous year.
The performance was a 35 minute solo sitar 'alap-jor-jhala' in the raag Jog Kauns, and I must admit that from the very first note until the last, I was absolutely spellbound.
I copied that cassette from Hiro and listened to it almost continuously... Slowly I managed to acquire a small collection of his recordings by searching in cassette shops, and by asking musicians and music lovers if they had recordings of him.
This went on for several months when one afternoon, in a local teashop, I ran into an Italian tabla playing friend named Lorenzo. I asked him if he had ever heard of Budhaditya, and to my astonishment and delight, he answered, "Yes, we had pizza together last time he was in Venice!". Noticing my amazement Lorenzo went on to explain that every august Budhaditya would give a two week workshop there which is open to the public. Needless to say, four months later I was on my way to Italy.
The experience of that workshop on San Servolo Island in Venice, in the summer of 1991, was truely one of the happiest times in my life.
Several months later I was in India again, this time as
a guest at the Mukherjee house, and after a time was accepted as a private
student of Budhaditya's. The experience was to be certainly much more
than I had ever dreamed of. Luckily for me, the small modern industrial
town in which the Mukherjee family lives offers little in terms of distraction,
therefore Budhaditya, when not off giving concerts, seemed to have ample
free time, and would give long, leasurely, and joyful lessons almost daily.
Additional discussions and teaching from Budhaditya's father, Bimalendu
Mukherjee, enhanced the experience still further. In addition, the love
and acceptance with which I was received by the entire family is something
I will never forget.
Memories of music and music makers (by G.E. Powell, 1999)
Reading Ed's personal history, I am surprised to learn that my own earliest memories of music resemble his. In my case, the instrument observed was not a sitar but a curved soprano saxophone, battered and long unplayed, that had belonged to my grandfather, who had played it and his other saxophones in marching bands in turn-of-the-century San Diego. The only survivor of those old days was this ancient sax, outlasting both my grandfather and his other instruments. When, as an adult, I tried to track down this old soprano, I found that it too had disappeared. When I followed in my grandfather's footsteps and turned to music in my teens, it was the clarinet and eventually the tenor sax that I learned to play. I played in concert bands and in dance bands during my teens, but my real musical life began only when I turned from would-be performer to full time listener, and it was my experience of listening to Jazz over the last fifty-six years that has provided me with the background music for everything that I have done.
The listening phase of my musical life began before the playing phase had ended. My mother, to her lasting regret, gave me an album by the Benny Goodman sextet for Christmas, 1944. I was hooked. I quickly went from listening to Benny Goodman small groups to the big bands of the 30's and 40's, and especially those led by clarinetists, Goodman himself, Artie Shaw, Woodie Herman, Jerry Wald. In 1945 I discovered a crucial difference between the way these bands played in person and what I had been hearing on the records. In that year, I and a few of my raggle-taggle friends went to an immense arena in Washington D.C. that usually hosted hockey games and wrestling matches to hear the Tommy Dorsey band. For the first time I experienced the excitement of seeing in the flesh famous musicians who already seemed to me legendary figures: Dorsey himself, the clarinetist, Buddy de Franco, the trumpet player, Charlie Shavers. When the band played "Marie," I waited for the famous Bunny Berigan solo, not knowing that Bunny had died in 1942. The solo I heard was played by Charlie Shavers and in its bravura display of technique could not have been more different from Berigan's beautifully constructed but much simpler creation. I learned then what I already knew in a sense, that Jazz was an improvised art and that recordings were a poor, but often necessary, substitute for the real thing. This discovery led to a long pilgrimage of discovery that continued through many countries and through the many decades that have passed since 1945. Here are a few of the highpoints along the way, as filtered through the memories of a lifetime.
From just after Pearl Harbor until most of the way through the McCarthy hearings, I lived first in Washington, D.C., then near Boston, and then back in Washington. When I think of Washington in the mid-forties, I think of the final days of the big bands, slightly overlapping with the sudden explosion of a new music (or what seemed a new music at the time), Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell. Oddly enough, the high point of this period for me was not seeing the glamorous name bands playing between the movies at Loew's Paramount Theatre (which I also did), but hearing a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in the Uline Ice Arena. My most poignant memory from this concert was that of listening to Illinois Jacquet: not Jacquet as he is unfortunately now remembered, the honker and crowd pleaser, but Jacquet, the interpreter of lyric poetry--"I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance," eloquent and unforgettable. There was a lesson to be learned from this experience, although I could not learn it until years later when I compared the history of Jazz as remembered by the critics and the scholars of the art with the music itself as actually played on one particular night or another. Many of the greatest players have either been forgotten or have been remembered for the wrong reason.
In Boston, I spent my Sunday afternoons at the Savoy Cafe or the Hi Hat. I listened to Edmund Hall, Ruby Braff, and Vic Dickenson at the former, and to Lester Young, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGee, and Georgie Auld at the latter. I remember hearing Charlie Parker with Miles Davis and John Lewis at Symphony Hall and Lennie Tristano with Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Billy Bauer in the John Hancock Hall. This latter event included the first public performance of what was, some ten or twelve years later, to be called Free Jazz, although the free jazz of the intellectual, abstract, and passionate Lennie Tristano was a different music from the free jazz of the primitive, self-invented, and also passionate Ornette Coleman.
Back in Washington in the early 50's, I was now old enough to get into jazz clubs at night, and for me this sometimes meant all night. I often went to concerts at the Howard Theatre that began at midnight and ended when they happened to end, and I heard, among many others, Lee Konitz, Buddy de Franco, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Miles Davis, Lester Young.
And so it has continued: the late fifties in San Francisco, the sixties in London and in Stockholm. I discovered a number of great musicians by happening to be walking along the right street and of suddenly hearing a voice that I recognized coming from a tenor sax or a trumpet. The first and most astonishing instance occurred in that dullest of respectable towns, Palo Alto, California. Walking along the street, I half-heard the sound of a dance band coming from an upper floor above street-level shops and suddenly realized that the tenor saxophonist whose sound and style I recognized could not possibly be the person whom I knew I was hearing. I payed the price, went in, and discovered a second-rate small group that was producing music a good bit better than second-rate because of the presence of the legendary Brew Moore, whom I then remembered, was living in those days, in San Francisco. And there he was, blond crew cut, blue eyes, looking impossibly young, holding his horn angled away from his body like Lester Young, and playing with a passion that had nothing to do with the sterility of Palo Alto or with this casual dance gig.
I spent a few weeks in London in the sixties. In those days, London was filled with music, but there was not much Jazz. Nevertheless, I recall a marvelous evening in Ronnie Scott's listening to and for a time speaking with England's greatest jazz musician and one of the world's finest tenor saxophonists, the late Tubby Hayes.
I was in Stockholm in the mid-sixties during a period of intense musical activity. I heard most of the major Jazz players during the time I was there, since I lived only four or five city blocks from Gyllene Cyrkeln (The Golden Circle). I found Art Farmer and on another occasion Dexter Gordon, simply as a result of recognizing their instrumental voices while walking along Sveavgen and quite literally following my ears. In both cases, I found, as I had earlier in Palo Alto, a merely competent rhythm section brought to life by the presence of a genius. Once, while I was listening to Sonny Stitt at Gyllene Cirkeln, the man himself walked off the stand at the end of a set, came directly to my table, sat down in front of me, and demanded, "What do you play?" He seemed both disappointed and disapproving when I said that I no longer played at all in any systematic way. He then said, "Well, man, you sure know how to listen." he then said, "How could you give it up?" And I replied that, given the difference between his talent and mine, it was much easier for me than it would have been for him. We talked for awhile and I think that he eventually forgave me.
My most memorable experience during those days was that of hearing the famous two-week-long Ornette Coleman engagement at Gyllene Cirkeln in the autumn of 1965. Immediately before the beginning of the Golden Circle engagement, Ornette played at the Stockholm Jazz Festival, held in Isstadion (another ice rink), and I was there. The music seemed formless to me. Fortunately, a rebroadcast of the festival performance was played on Swedish Radio and I taped it. I listened to the tape a number of times and eventually understood and felt the logic of the form (even Free Jazz has form). It was lucky that, having done my homework, I was then treated to two weeks of a new music. Live!
One of the curious psychological effects of listening to Jazz over a number of years is that the music finally stays in one's mind like a kind of terminate-and-stay-resident program on a computer, ghostlike in the background. Since the music is an improvised art, the mind very quickly leaves behind the actual recorded performances, and only the changes are left, playing their own endless and original variations. The familiar experience of a song getting lodged in one's mind and refusing to leave becomes the experience of chord changes, modal patterns, and other formal bases for improvisation becoming lodged in one's mind and generating realizations of the formal patterns. This spontaneous, effortless, and often unwilled mental activity produces its own music, or more accurately a music of one's own. A gift of music, whether you like it or not.
Once, walking down the main street of Lule, a small Swedish town near the Arctic Circle, I noticed that an endless and effortless series of spontaneous choruses was flowing through my mind. The changes were familiar, but I couldn't identify them. I wondered where they had come from, only to discover, when I retraced my steps, a Savoy Cafe, previously unnoticed. Stomping at the Savoy! Thus, music impacted on my life, even when it wasn't there.
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