SITARIST PANDIT RAVI SHANKAR PASSED AWAY YESTERDAY. HE WAS 91 YEARS OLD. In the course of his life, he became one of the giants of the world of music.
Shankar takes his place in the pantheon of musical greats. He joins the company of Johann Sebastian Bach, Andres Segovia, John Dowland, Wanda Llandowska, Carlos Montoya, Pablo Casals and others. Ravi Shankar inspired musicians around the globe. His greatness has as its root his mastery of Indian classical music both as a performer and composer; and his mastery of his chosen instrument, the sitar.
Indian classical music has in common with Western classical music a basic, solid structure. But in common with what has been called "America's classical music - jazz" Indian music is comprised of heavily inprovised passages within a tightly defined frame. I have often wondered what a collaboration between Shankar and "Duke" Ellington would have birthed.
As it happened, however, Shankar's exposure to the West came from his association with the Beatles - notably guitarist George Harrison - and catapulted him to world fame.
The Danelecto company was quick to come out with an "electric sitar" - basically a common guitar with a flat piece of wood replacing the bridge to simulate the "twang" of the sitar. This was used by "The Box-Tops" on their songs "Cry Like a Baby" and "The Letter"; and by the Rolling Stones on "Paint It Black" and by several other artists.
Guitarist "Mahavishnu" John McLaughlin had a special guitar built with a scalloped fretboard and sympathetic strings to enable the drone effects and microtone bending of notes common to Indian music. All of this was inspired by Ravi Shankar.
In January of the year 2000, I was fortunate enough to obtain stage box seats for a performance by Shankar at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in honor of the 50th anniversaary of the Indian Republic. I sat not fifty feet away from this great master as he performed. And of all the musical performances I have seen, I would most like to be able to go back in time and re-live that experience.
Pandit Ravi Shankar was truly one of the greatest people in the world of music of all time. May he rest in peace, and may God have mercy on him.