Ravi Shankar, the sitarist and composer, died yesterday at age 92 in Southern California, a few days after undergoing heart surgery.
The New York Times obituary says:
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. . . .My family and I were recently watching this amazing performance of his from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival:
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. . . .
In addition to his frequent tours as a sitarist Mr. Shankar was a prolific composer of film music (including the score for Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” in 1982), ballets, electronic works and concertos for sitar and Western orchestras. . . .
[I]n 1990 he collaborated with the Minimalist composer Philip Glass — who had worked as his assistant on the film score for “Chappaqua” in the late 1960s — on “Passages,” a recording of works he and Mr. Glass composed for each other.
“I have always had an instinct for doing new things,” Mr. Shankar said in 1985. “Call it good or bad, I love to experiment.”