A Pair of Icons: Buddy Rich and Alla Rakha


An eleven year old boy sits by a river in the mountains of north India gazing into the rippling stream.  He’s torn up inside. He’s been bewitched by music—especially drums—for as long as he can remember but his family of farmers and military men aren’t happy.  They don’t want to hear anymore of his bleating about wanting to study the tabla. His mother has managed to broker a ceasefire and convince the boy’s father to allow him to take some singing lessons from a local teacher.


The boy finds solace by staring into the river. And recently he’s been seeing the face of an old man looking back at him from below the watery surface. Sometimes he swears he can hear the man whisper, “Look for me. You must find me.”


At last his family agrees to let the boy take some drumming lessons from Ustad Lal Mohammad.  The boy is overjoyed.  But is intrigued by his teacher’s frequent reference to another man, Kader Baksh, as the ‘great master’ of tabla. The boy learns to play tabla as well as pakhawaj, the barrel shaped drum that accompanies dhrupad singing which he is also learning.


He is pleased with what his mother has managed to accomplish but his insides still burn.  Without notice the boy makes the decision to leave home in Jammu and go to the bright lights and big city of Lahore, a day’s journey down the mountains.  Once he arrives he goes to hear a dhrupad singer perform and manages to convince the show’s organiser that he can sit in for the pakhawaj player who has failed to show up.  The show must go on, and though sceptical of the precocious 12 year old, the singer and organiser agree.


In the following days word spreads through Lahore’s large community of musicians about the little kid that accompanied the singer so expertly. His taals were impeccable.  And he never lost or messed up the tempo. It’s as if he’s been playing for 20 years not just a few.

These whispers reach the ears of an old Ustad who arranges for the kid to be brought to his baithak to see for himself who everyone is talking about.  ‘I’m Kader Baksh,’ the old man says. The boy instantly recognises him as the face of the man in the river.  When Baksh asks the boy who he studies with, the boy replies immediately, ‘You.’



The boy in this true story is A.R. Qureshi aka Alla Rakha. After several years of ustad/shagird with Kader Baksh, Alla Rakha found employment with All India Radio in Delhi and then Bombay where he tried to establish himself as a music director (with some limited success). But performing was his true passion and through the early 1950s he performed and made recordings with the likes of Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan and an up-and-coming sarod player named Ali Akbar Khan, whom he accompanied on his radio debut.


Alla Rakha

In 1958 he joined Ravi Shankar on a tour of Japan which proved to be Fateful for both men. In each other they discovered a kindred spirit: someone open to new musical ideas and unafraid to take chances.  Over the next 25 years or so Alla Rakha accompanied the sitarist on all his international tours and recordings and thanks to their performing in several major American music festivals (Monterey Jazz, Woodstock and the Concert for Bangladesh in New York) he became the most famous tabla player in the world.

Not only was Ravi Shankar an adventurous musical soul he was a star who didn’t mind sharing the limelight. On stage he insisted that Alla Rakha sit next to him (rather than sightly behind him, where accompanists usually positioned themselves) and regularly gave him space to solo and showcase his dazzling finger skills.   Indeed, the pair became one of the most famous performing duos in music.  Not only were both men supreme maestros of their instruments but they enjoyed a deep connection and understanding that made their music appear completely unitary.



Buddy Rich

In 1968 as young America’s interest in Indian classical music was surging to its peak Alla Rakha made a landmark record with the big band jazz drummer Buddy Rich. Rich, like Alla Rakha, is an icon, often ranked very near the top of any list of ‘greatest drummers’ regardless of genre.  Rich was an exuberant, hot tempered man who frequently alienated friends and peers but, at the same time, “was one of the most technically gifted drummers to ever walk our planet. He had incredible speed and control, power and touch.”


Ravi Shankar composed several compositions for both men to play together and brought in smooth jazz flautist Paul Horn (who studied meditation in Rishikesh at the same time as The Beatles in 1968) as well as sitarist Shamim Ahmed to create a musical space within which the two geniuses could experiment.  The album Rich ala Rakha, which we share today, is a milestone in the ‘jazz meets Indian classical music’ story.


Of the three studio tracks with Buddy Rich, two feature Rich on the drumkit, while one is a duet between Rich on dholak and Rakha on tabla. The opening track, Khanda Kafi is set to a five-beat cycle, known as khanda, with the flute and sitar playing a melody in the kafi scale, hence the combined title.   Buddy Rich takes a drumkit solo in the 5/4 rhythm cycle, followed by Alla Rakha’s solo. The second track, Duet in Dadra, captures a spontaneous jam between the two drummers in the six-beat cycle of dadra.

But the most satisfying part of the record is the third and final collaboration…the only piece where they enter into a genuine dialogue on their respective instruments. Rangeela begins as a calypso-flavored composition by Shankar, played by Paul Horn on flute and Shamim Ahmed on sitar. Eventually, Rich and Rakha engage in a jawab-sawal dialogue in which they goal each other with a series of phrases traded back and forth. As the tempo increases and the phrases get shorter they join together and play a steadily building crescenco on the tabla and snare drum, increasing in volume and culminating in a dramatic tihai that complete an exhilarating performance.” (The Dawn of Indian Music in the West by Peter Lavezzoli, pg. 106)


This record is sometimes sniffed at by jazz snobs but it is in fact one of real significance. It is hard to imagine that any of Zakir Hussain‘s (Alla Rakha’s son) many collaborations would have been able to happen without this record.  Indeed, many jazz and rock drummers, including Mickey Hart of  The Grateful Dead, have cited the album and Allah Rakha generally as a huge inspiration.


In my opinion this is a fantastic album. I hope you think so to.



Track Listing:

01 Khanda Kafi

02 Duet in Dadra

03 Rangeelā

04 Nagma E Raksh

05 Tal Sawari



Ragamala Vol. 7: Yaman/Kalyani


This volume of variations on raga Yaman opens with a modern jazz-influenced rendition by the Neel Murgai Ensemble.  A New York based ‘chamber’ quartet led by sitarist Murgai, NME creates intricate, finely spiced musical atmospheres that draw on Indian classical, jazz, and gypsy music.

Also included is bansuri master Pannalal Ghosh‘s beloved Yaman, a couple of film songs from Umrao Jan Ada (1981) and Junglee (1961), Farida Khanum’s spectacular romantic ghazal Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah as well as interpretations in a Western classical and contemporary jazz setting.

Yaman, also known as Kalyani, is by Indian classical music standards a relatively un-ancient raga. It first emerged in the 16th century with some claiming it was a composition of Mian Tansen and that he based it upon a Persian structure known as ‘Ei Man’. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the raga is often referred to as Eeman (in many varied spellings) and I have concluded this collection with a wonderful Afghan take on the raga  by Ustad Mohammad Omar, the famous rubab player.

Yaman emerged from the parent musical style of Kalyan, itself a style of classical Carnatic musical tradition called thaat. Considered to be one of the most fundamental ragas in the Hindustani Classical tradition, it is thus often one of the first ragas taught to students. In the context of traditional standards of performance, Yaman ragas are considered suitable to play at any time of the day, but they are traditionally performed in the evening. (Wikipedia).

Given its close relationship to Carnatic music the centerpiece of this collection is a stunning live recital by South Indian/Sri Lankan violinist L. Subramaniam and shenai nawaz Ustad Bismillah Khan. Listen carefully to this piece and to the playfulness, mastery and virtuosity of both musicians as they play off each other. It delights and enshivers!

Rudresh Mahantappa‘s group Dakshina Ensemble which features South Indian saxophone innovator Kadri Gopalnath and Pakistani American guitar whiz Rez Abbasi also explores the Carnatic original in their massive track Kalyani.

I hope you enjoy this collection as much I do!


Track Listing:

01 Evening In A_ Raga Yaman [Neel Murgai Ensemble]

02 Raga Yaman [Pannalal Ghosh]

03 Zindagi Jab Bhi [Talat Aziz]

04 Raga Yaman [L Subramaniam and Bismillah Khan]

05 Yaman Kalyan (Largo moderato)[ Zubin Mehta and Ravi Shankar]

06 Ehsan Tera Hoga Mujhpar [Mohmmad Rafi]

07 Raga Emen Kalyan [Pt. Pratap Narayan and Kankana Banerjee]

08 Kalyani [Rudresh Mahantappa and Dakshina Ensemble]

09 Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah [Farida Khanum]

10 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of Emen (Yaman) [Ustad Mohammad Omar]


What Could He Not Do? Ravi Shankar


What is it that Ravi Shankar, India’s most famous ambassador of culture and good will, did not do? He played all over the world, including in the Kremlin and Woodstock! He made pioneering records with Western classical musicians and composed and recorded his own jazz album (a rare find on the internet).   He fathered two famous beautiful women (Anoushka and Norah) who have millions of fans worldwide

In tonight’s share, a double disc I picked up for a song a few years ago, we learn that he was also involved in films. Both mainstream Indian films of the sort that are today referred to as Bollywood, as well as India’s once upon a time thriving, ‘parallel’ cinema.

Disc 2 is an interesting set of music composed by Shankar for the globally acclaimed Bengali Apu Trilogy, which shot Satyajit Ray to fame in the 1950s. The music is not the main focus here rather the dialogue of some particularly important scenes. There is also a set of songs from the 1960 film Anuradha for which he worked with the lyricist Shailendra. Traditional commercial film music of that era. The film won a number of awards and though Shankar was not awarded for his music the songs all suggest he could have made an entire parallel career as musical director.




Disc 11-01 Raga Jog

1-01 Raga Jog

1-02 Raga Ahir Bhairav

1-03 Raga Simhendra Madhyaman


Disc 2:

2-01 Jaana Kaise Sapanon Main

2-02 Sanwarey, Sanwarey

2-03 Kaise Din Beete, Laise Beeti Ratiya

2-04 Bahut Din Huye

2-05 Haye Re Woh Din Kyun Na Aaye

2-06 The World Of Apu Pt 1

2-07 The World Of Apu, Pt. 2

2-08 The World Of Apu, Pt.3

2-09 The World Of Apu, Part 4

2-10 The World Of Apu, Pt.5


The Twain Meet: Ravi Shankar and Zubin Mehta

Pandit Ravi Shankar

Pandit Ravi Shankar

I’m off again on an overseas jaunt and not sure what I’ll find in terms of time and internet connectivity, so before I board those silver wings, I’ll share a thirty year old record.


Ravi Shankar, who passed less than a year ago, was not just an Ambassador of Indian music to the rest of the world, he was an artist of never-ending creative curiosity.  He collaborated with jazz and rock musicians as well as a number of western classical icons.


Zubin Mehta, the Indian born conductor extraordinaire, grew up in a musical environment that included his father Mehli, sitting in with many Indian and international jazz musicians in Bombay, when that sit on the Arabian Sea was a global haven for hot jazz. His father also doubled as the conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and it was in that atmosphere that Zubin fell in love with western classical music.  Currently, he heads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as well as serving as musical director of a number of Music Festivals in Europe.


This 1981 collaboration saw Shankar compose a Concerto in four parts, each of which was based upon the structure of a particular raga.  The result is quite different from his other famous collaboration with violinist Yehudi Menuhin which in essence had the two classical traditions playing side by side, but not as one.  Here, Shankar’s guitar is the soloing instrument within the context of the New York Philharmonic and as such it is a much more integrated piece of music.


Thoroughly enjoyable!

Ravi Zubin front Ravi Zubin back

Track Listing:

  1. Lalit (Presto)
  2. Bairaji (Moderato)
  3. Yaman Kalyan (Largo Moderato)
  4. Mian ka Malhar (Allegro)