One of the world’s leading sitar maestros, Nishat Khan, will perform a concert of North Indian Classical Music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 11 November 2021, the eve of the London Jazz Festival. Preview by Ian Latham
The Khans are one of India’s most highly regarded musical families who have nurtured and contributed to the classical sitar tradition over seven generations of professional musicians. Nishat, who now sits at the helm of this distinguished clan, learnt the music mainly from his father Imrat Khan from the age of three and was performing in public aged seven. His international debut aged seventeen at the Queen Elizabeth Hall is now well over forty years ago.
Indian Classical Music is a powerful tradition that has influenced many other forms of music and has much in common with jazz. Both art forms are highly sophisticated aural traditions based on improvisation. Some say that Indian Classical Music was a significant influence on the conception of the modal jazz movement. The jazz world still has plenty to learn from Indian Classical Music’s raga approach to melody, and tala approach to rhythm. There are hundreds of ragas, each of which define notes, motifs and melodic rules to create specific feelings or moods. Talas are rhythmic patterns, outlined by the tabla drums, some of which are asymmetrical rhythms, upon which tremendous passages of terrific musical tension and satisfying release are constructed. The richness of the ragas and talas enable masters to explore them in performances that can last hours. The art form has fascinated numerous jazz musicians. It was so important to John Coltrane that he named his son Ravi after his sitar playing friend.
Some other jazz musicians of note in this particular cross-cultural arena include Colin Walcott, an American sitar player, who recorded on ECM records, and John McLaughlin, who led several bands inspired by Indian Classical Music including the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti.
Nishat Khan has also performed with John McLaughlin and can be heard on his album The Promise. His jazz connections go deeper, having also played with Django Bates and Steve Coleman.
Nishat’s concert on 11 November is a chance to hear this sitar master performing his unique take on ancient ragas.
Ian Latham studied sitar with Wajahat Khan and ethnomusicology at UCLA. He is currently studying jazz piano with Greg Spero.