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Jazz And Indian Classical Music A Match Made In Heaven?

Updated on October 15, 2013

Blending Classical Indian Music With Jazz

Indo-Jazz - a 'fusion' of Indian classical music and jazz has been around since the 1950s and is now enjoying something of a revival thanks to Shashi Vyas, director and founder of Jammin' With Jazz, who is bringing his own exciting musical twists to the latest generation of Indo-Jazz lovers.

Indian Classical Music
Indian Classical Music

Jazz And Indian Classical Music

The Hindustan Times recently reported on an upcoming ‘unconventional show’ – Jammin’ With Jazz, featuring a fusion of Indian classical music, semi-classical, folk and regional with different forms of jazz.

Director and founder Shashi Vyas said: “Jammin with Jazz was born out of the idea of blending classical with jazz that had been in my mind for a long time. I wanted to create a unique platform where there could be melodic interaction of different kinds of music on stage.”

Indo-Jazz as it is sometimes referred to, has its origins in the 1950-60s with the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Yusef Lateef using Indian influences in their jazz compositions, along with collaborations between jazz musicians Tony Scott and Bud Shank with the legendary Ravi Shankar.

At first glance, jazz and Indian classical music may seem like strange bedfellows. But when you consider how the influence of Indian music impacted on the sounds of John Coltrane (he named his son Ravi), you can see how the jazz soloist can relate to the Indian artiste’s ragamala (garland of ragas).

The group ‘Indo-Jazz Fusions’ formed in 1965, was the brainchild of John Mayer who was born in Calcutta in 1930 and the Joe Harriott, born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1928. Mayer studied violin at the Calcutta School of Music and later won a scholarship to London’s Royal Academy , arriving in London in 1950. He had his sights firmly set on becoming a composer as well as a performer.

When he was later introduced to Harriott the pair are said to have hit it off immediately, forming (along with their respective musicians) The Joe Harriott and John Mayer Double Quintet, which later evolved into Indo-Jazz Fusions.

They launched their album Indo-Jazz Suite in 1966 and swiftly followed up with Indo-Jazz Fusions in 1967, which proved an unexpectedly strong seller, but sadly Harriott died of cancer in 1973.

Some 25 years after Harriott’s death, Mayer along with several of his students reformed the group, releasing a series of CDs under the name: John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions. They continued to perform up until Mayer’s death in 2004 (aged 73), following a road accident.

Those who know about Indo-Jazz say it was the Mayer-Harriott collaboration that was responsible for influencing similar collaborative experiments by the likes of John McLaughlin, Alice Coltrane, Nitin Sawhney and Courtney Pine.

And as for ‘Jammin’ With Jazz’ – hopefully we’ll be hearing plenty more from Shashi Vyas and his musicians over the coming months and years.

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