San Francisco Chronicle Datebook features Prasant Radhakrishnan and VidyA, Indian classical music and Jazz

Last week’s San Francisco Chronicle featured myself and VidyA in a well written article on the front page of the Datebook section.

Here is a link to the article online: San Francisco Chronicle Datebook.

The article is informative and good introduction to what I am doing with my music. One thing I want to point out, is a minor inaccuracy: The article states that I slept on a bare cot behind my guru’s house. This is not really true.

I actually had a special room for me that was attached to the house, and of course there was a cot in that room. The point that I wanted to make with the questions regarding my “gurukulam” or time spent with my guru studying music in India was this: I felt extremely blessed to be taken in by my guru to study the music and he treated me literally like I was his own son. The rigorous training he gave me was like that he would give his own child. In fact, I spent quite a few classes learning along with his younger son, Manikanth (who is now a popular music director in India).


The writer, Andrew Tolve, did a good job of highlighting one of the other aspects, which was that concept of “gurukulam” was not just about classes, but about living with, spending time with and absorbing everything one could from the guru regardless of whether the student was in a “lesson” or not. I feel that I benefited greatly from this aspect of my learning with Padmashri Kadri Gopalnath.


I also want to thank my dear friends and artists Howard Wiley (friend and saxophonist) and Todd Brown (of the Red Poppy and Nefasha Ayer) for saying nice things that ended up in the article.


I am pleased that this article came into being, because it shows that Carnatic music and new directions in Carnatic music are ready for a larger audience in not only the Bay Area, but this country.

Visit to Boston: Playing with Veena, Violin and Double Mridungam

(Edit: 10/22/07: Pictures of this concert have been posted here.

It appears that even after my attempt to get back to posting here, I let a couple months go by again. I moved to a new residence, though I am still in the Bay Area. It was a hectic month packing, moving, painting, and buying/selling/giving away furniture. I also painstakingly set up a sound system: speaker cables/banana plugs and all — definitely a subject of another post.

Anyways, this post is about a concert I am about to do tomorrow evening in Framingham, MA. I will be playing a very unique Carnatic concert with four musicians: Durga Krishnan (Veena), Tara Anand (Violin), Pravin Sitaram (Mridungam) and Mali Santhanakrishnan (Mridungam). Here are the details:

Keefe Tech School,
750 Winter st, Framingham, MA 01702
6th October 2007, Saturday: 4:00 PM

This is a significant event for both myself and listeners, and here is why:

1. A Unique Combination: It is not common to have a instruments such as veena, saxophone and violin performing together in such a format — I suppose it is close to the famous “veena, venu, violin” trio concept that comes around once in a while, but it is agreeably a rare case. We had a rehearsal yesterday just to touch base, and the sound is quite unique. I suppose the double mridungam, while not too common, is also not uncommon at all these days.

Warning: Delving into some instrumental technicalities below!

2. Sruthi and Flexibility in Ragas: The significance here is mainly from my perspective. I will be playing my alto saxophone as I usually do, but instead of playing my normal sruthi of Bb as I do in my solo concerts, I will be playing in D. Most musicians would wonder why that is a big deal. In jazz and Western music, the key/chords are always changing. We have to practice jazz standards in all keys, right?

For Carnatic music it is much different. Of course the details of how that is would be too much to mention here, but suffice it to say, it is a challenging endeavor just to play Carnatic music on the saxophone in one key/sruthi. That is of course because of the difficulty of producing gamakas etc. on the instrument and also the fact that changing the key changes in all ways possible, the complete approach to producing gamakas and rendering Carnatic compositions on the saxophone. For those Carnatic listeners/musicians out there, the only way to adjust to pitch on the saxophone beyond maybe a 1/4 step is to start on a different note, thus changing the fingering. In order to do such a thing, one would have to re-evaluate and re-invent, while slowly perfecting fingering/blowing technique and crafting an approach to playing in the new sruthi, taking into account the limitations of the instrument.

That said, my guru Sri Kadri Gopalnath had initially adapted the saxophone to Carnatic music in Bb taking to account the range and possibilities of the instrument. Having spent much time studying under him and practicing on my own, as well as having many other influences, I still very much agree with his choice of Bb as the best and most musical sruthi for adapting the alto saxophone to Carnatic music.

Why then, do you ask would I change my sruthi for this concert, and how would I actually perform? Good question! For the sake of the group and for trying to have a concert with this instrumentation, it was necessary. I am just taking it as a challenge and hoping that it will in some way, help me develop more. Over preparing for the concert the past few days, I already feel that it is opening up different ideas for me, though in very subtle ways.

The three biggest challenges are limited range, producing appropriate gamakas, and lastly playing compositions and improvising in a completely different fingering set, effectively unlearning my years of practice and muscle memory. Such a thing is commonplace in jazz, but in Carnatic music, it just is not the same, as strange as that may sound to jazz or Western musicians.

So those of you who attend the concert will be able to hear the Carnatic saxophone in a different, much higher pitch than usual. It should be interesting.

Special thanks to all the musicians for going along on this journey.