RIP: Ravi Shankar, Sitar Master, Godfather Of ‘World Music’ And Norah Jones’ Father, Dead At 92


NEW YORK TIMES: Mr. Shankar, a soft-spoken, eloquent man whose performance style embodied a virtuosity that transcended musical languages, was trained in both Eastern and Western musical traditions. Although Western audiences were often mystified by the odd sounds and shapes of the instruments when he began touring in Europe and the United States in the early 1950s, Mr. Shankar and his ensemble gradually built a large following for Indian music.

His instrument, the sitar, has a small rounded body and a long neck with a resonating gourd at the top. It has 6 melody strings and 25 sympathetic strings (which are not played but resonate freely as the other strings are plucked). Sitar performances are partly improvised, but the improvisations are strictly governed by a repertory of ragas (melodic patterns representing specific moods, times of day, seasons of the year or events) and talas (intricate rhythmic patterns) that date back several millenniums.

Mr. Shankar’s quest for a Western audience was helped in 1965 when George Harrison of the Beatles began to study the sitar with him. But Harrison was not the first Western musician to seek Mr. Shankar’s guidance. In 1952 he met and began performing with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he made three recordings for EMI: “West Meets East” (1967), “West Meets East, Vol. 2” (1968) and “Improvisations: East Meets West” (1977).

Mr. Shankar loved to mix the music of different cultures. He collaborated with the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and the jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, who had become fascinated with Indian music and philosophy in the early ’60s. Coltrane met with Mr. Shankar several times from 1964 to 1966 to learn the basics of ragas, talas and Indian improvisation techniques. Coltrane named his son Ravi after Mr. Shankar. MORE

RELATED: Norah Jones was born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar on March 30th, 1979, the product of the union of Ravi Shankar, world-reknowned sitar master, and Sue Jones, then an employee of legendary concert promoter Bill Graham. They lived for a few years in New York before Ravi and Carol split up, and four year old Norah and and her mother moved to the suburbs of Dallas to be nearer her ailing grandparents. Jones would not see her father again until she was 18, which may explain why the subject of her famous father is the third rail of Norah Jones profile writing. When she was first starting out, Jones was loathe to discuss her father for fear that her early success would be dismissed as nothing more than music biz nepotism.

“She really didn’t want that to be a focal point and she was very adamant about telling [Blue Note, her record label] what she was willing to talk about and what she wasn’t willing to talk about,” says Lee Alexander, Jones’ ex-boyfriend of eight years, her long time bass player, co-songwriter and producer of her third album, Not Too Late. “She just didn’t want to talk about it because it’s personal. That’s the way she grew up, and just the things surrounding her Mom and her Dad and all of that was nobody’s business as far as she was concerned.”

Back in 2003, word got out that legendary Bollywood actor/filmmaker Dev Anand was working on a movie inspired by Jones’ complicated relationship with her father with the working title of Song Of Life. Anand was reportedly set to star as Shankar as well as direct and names like Nicole Kidman and Selma Hayek were reportedly being considered to play Jones. Norah was livid. “He has no idea of our story, and he’s not going to represent it in a truthful way, I’m sure,” she told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper at the time.”It’s sad because it’s personal stuff and nobody’s business but ours. I don’t like talking about [her father] because he doesn’t have anything to do with me or my music.”

Later in the interview Jones told the Telegraph that “I’m over everything; I don’t resent him. I love my dad, but I don’t want him to be given credit for something he didn’t do. I grew up with my mum, and he wasn’t around.”

The project never came to fruition and Dev Anand died in December of 2011. Still, the subject of her childhood and her relationship with her father remains a sensitive one. When asked why she legally changed her name to Norah when she was 16, her eyes dim and her demeanor hardens.

“Look, that’s just my name,” she says, when asked why she dropped Geethali, “Norah Jones? Thats me.”

Does Geethali mean something in Hindi?

“I don’t know, you’d have ask my father,” she says curtly, signaling the close of our discussion of the topic.

For the record, Magnet did try to ask her father. Surprisingly, given that there is no known record of him ever commenting publicly on his daughter, he agreed to an interview. However, the 93-year-old sitar master’s failing health caused the postponement of our scheduled interview as well as a scheduled follow-up a week later. As of press time, Mr. Shankar was still too ill to re-schedule an interview. According to Google, Geethali means “melodious song.” MORE

Ravi Shankar monterey pop festival 1967 by kyu77