Friday, October 30, 2009

Ravi Shankar

Pandit Ravi Shankar (Bengali: রবি শংকর, "Pandit" is honorific) (born April 7, 1920) is a Bengali Indian sitar player and composer. He is a disciple of Baba Allauddin Khan, the founder of the Maihar gharana of Hindustani classical music, and the father of Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter Norah Jones and sitar player Anoushka Shankar.

Ravi Shankar is a leading Indian instrumentalist of the modern era. He has been a longtime musical collaborator of tabla-players Ustad Allah Rakha, Kishan Maharaj and intermittently also of sarod-player Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. His collaborations with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, film maker Satyajit Ray, and The Beatles (in particular, George Harrison) added to his international reputation.

He has received many awards throughout his career, including three Grammy Awards and an Academy Award nomination. In 1999, Ravi Shankar was awarded the Bharat Ratna award, India's highest civilian honor.

Personal life and education

Ravi Shankar was born in Benares, India. His family originally hails from Narail, Jessore district, East Bengal, now in Bangladesh.

His first wife, sitarist Annapurna Devi is the daughter of his teacher, Ustad Alauddin Khan. They had a son, Shubhendra Shankar (1942-92), who was also a musician.

Shankar later had two other children, singer Norah Jones in 1979 with Sue Jones and sitarist Anoushka Shankar in 1981 with Sukanya Shankar. Shankar is also the brother of dancer and choreographer, Uday Shankar, with whom he started giving stage shows as a child artist. He is the uncle of Indian musician Ananda Shankar and of the Indian dancer and actress Mamata Shankar. It is worth noting that despite popular belief, the Tamil violinist L. Shankar is not related to Ravi.

Musical career

Ravi Shankar has been on stage from the age of 10 and has been all over the world as a dancer and a musician. He first performed publicly in India in 1939. He finished his formal training in 1944 and worked out of Mumbai (Bombay). He began writing scores for film and ballet and started a recording career with HMV's Indian affiliate. He became music director of All India Radio in the 1950s. From 1946 onwards he began to compose original music for films. Some of his most noted scores include the ones for Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy and Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. He also composed the tune for Saare Jahan Se Achcha.

Ravi Shankar then became well known to the music world outside India, first performing in the former Soviet Union in 1954 and then the West in 1956. He performed in major events such as the Monterey Pop Festival and at major venues such as the Royal Festival Hall.

Already performing in major concert halls all around the world, Shankar, having attained pop cultural fame, was invited to play venues that were unusual for a classical musician, such as the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in Monterey, California, with Ustad Allah Rakha on tabla. He was also one of the artists who performed at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, and with George Harrison was one of the organizers of The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, in an attempt to raise awareness of the growing crisis (see 1970 Bhola cyclone, Bangladesh Liberation War and 1971 Bangladesh atrocities carried out by West Pakistan Army) that was occurring in East Pakistan (now independent Bangladesh) at the hand of West Pakistan Army where Shankar's family origins lay. It was Ravi Shankar who asked George Harrison for his help to raise funds for Bangladesh. Ravi Shankar & Friends co-headlined Harrison's 1974 tour of North America with mixed reviews. His final working album with Harrison was on a 1997 album, Chants of India, where Harrison developed an interest in chant music. After his colleague's death on 29 November in 2001, following a long fight against cancer, Shankar, his daughter, Anoushka, along with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, among many others attended the Concert for George in London, where Shankar dedicated the memorial to Harrison.

Shankar has been critical of some facets of the Western reception of Indian music. On a trip to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district after performing in Monterey, Shankar wrote,
“ I felt offended and shocked to see India being regarded so superficially and its great culture being exploited. Yoga, Tantra, mantra, kundalini, ganja, hashish, Kama Sutra? They all became part of a cocktail that everyone seemed to be lapping up! ”

In 1969 he published an English language autobiography, "My Music, My Life".

Always ahead of his time, Shankar has written two concertos for sitar and orchestra. His 3rd concerto will be given its debut performance by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and his daughter Anoushka Shankar.The piece is scored for solo sitar and orchestra consisting of piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, timpani, 2 percussionists, harp and strings. In the first two concertos, Shankar doubled as composer and soloist. For his third concerto, commissioned by Orpheus, he calls on his daughter Anoushka Shankar, a leading sitar player of her generation and a rising world music star. To meet the challenge of notating Indian musical concepts in Western notation, Shankar enlisted the Welsh conductor David Murphy to help transcribe the work into an orchestral score. The concerto begins with an energetic orchestral overture, introducing the exotic musical language of sinuous melodies, shifting rhythms and drone notes. Unlike typical Western concert music, which derives much of its momentum from harmony and key relationships, Indian music builds intensity through melodic and rhythmic elaboration. Call-and-response passages offer special insight into the translation of the sitar's sonorities into an orchestral idiom.

He has also written violin-sitar compositions for Yehudi Menuhin and himself, music for flute virtuoso Jean-Pierre Rampal, music for Hōzan Yamamoto, master of the shakuhachi (Japanese flute), and koto virtuoso Musumi Miyashita. He has composed extensively for films and ballets in India, Canada, Europe, and the United States, including Chappaqua, Charly, Gandhi (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award), and the Apu Trilogy. His recording Tana Mana, released on the Private Music label in 1987, penetrated the New Age genre with its unique combination of traditional instruments with electronics. In 2002, Ravi composed a piece for "The Concert for George." He did not play at the concert, but his daughter Anoushka led an ensemble of Indian musicians in the piece. The classical composer Philip Glass acknowledges Shankar as a major influence, and the two collaborated to produce Passages, a recording of compositions in which each reworks themes composed by the other. Shankar also composed the sitar part in Glass's 2004 composition Orion.

Ravi Shankar has homes in Encinitas, California and New Delhi, Delhi, India.


Some of his well-known students are Kartik Kumar, Chandrakant Sardeshmukh, Guru Pitka, Deepak Chowdhury, Harihar Rao, Amiya Das Gupta, Shamim Ahmed, Partho Sarathy, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Manju Mehta, Shubhendra Rao, Kartik Seshadri, Stephen Slavek, Stephen James, Tarun Bhattacharya, Jaya Bose, and David Murphy. His daughter Anoushka started learning from him at the age of 8 and frequently accompanies him in concerts in addition to her solo performances.


Shankar is an honorary member of the International Rostrum of Composers. He has received many awards and honors from his own country and from all over the world, including 14 honorary doctorates, the Padma Vibhushan, Desikottam, the Magsaysay Award from Manila, three Grammy Awards, the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (Grand Prize) from Japan, and the Crystal Award from Davos, with the title "Global Ambassador", to name but some. In 1986 he was nominated to be a member of the Rajya Sabha, India's upper house of Parliament, for six years. In 2002, he was conferred the inaugural Indian Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award. The Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honor, was awarded to him in 1999. In 1998 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize with Ray Charles. He shared an Academy Award nomination with George Fenton for Best Original Score to Gandhi (1982).


* Three Ragas (1956)
* Improvisations (1962)
* India's Most Distinguished Musician (1962)
* India's Master Musician (1963)
* In London (1964)
* Ragas & Talas (1964)
* Portrait of Genius (1964)
* Sound of the Sitar (1965)
* Live at Monterey (1967)
* In San Francisco (1967)
* West Meets East (1967)
* At the Monterey Pop Festival (1967)
* The Exotic Sitar and Sarod (1967)
* A Morning Raga / An Evening Raga (1968)
* The Sounds of India (1968)
* In New York (1968)
* At the Woodstock Festival (1969)
* The Concert for Bangladesh (1971)
* Raga (Soundtrack) (1972)
* In Concert 1972 (1973)
* Transmigration Macabre (SOUNDTRACK) (1973)
* Shankar Family & Friends (1974)
* Music Festival From India (1976)
* Homage to Mahatma Gandhi (1981)
* Räga-Mälä (Sitar Concerto No. 2) (1982)
* Pandit Ravi Shankar (1986)
* Tana Mana (1987)
* Inside The Kremlin (1988)
* Passages with Philip Glass (1990)
* Concert for Peace: Royal Albert Hall (1995)
* Chants of India (1997)
* Concerto for Sitar & Orchestra with André Previn (1999)
* Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 (2001)
* Between Two Worlds (Documentary-directed by Mark Kidel) (2001)
* Flowers of India (2007)


* Prominently figures in D.A. Pennebaker's classic documentary Monterey Pop
* Performed music for the animated short, A Chairy Tale (directed by Norman McLaren)
* Music Direction Apu Trilogy (directed by Satyajit Ray)
* Composed original score for "Alice in Wonderland" (1966, directed by Jonathan Miller)
* Chappaqua (1966, directed by Conrad Rooks)
* Raga (1971) (directed by Howard Worth)
* The Concert for Bangladesh (1971)
* Music for Gandhi (directed by Richard Attenborough) (Academy Award nomination for Shankar)
* Concert for George (2003)
* Forbidden Image (directed by Jeremy Marre)
* Charly (directed by Ralph Nelson)
* Woodstock: The Movie
* Anuradha- Composed the soundtrack for this 1960 Hindi movie
* Composed for a Brit art film 'Viola', with an album entitled 'Transmigration Macabre'


* Raga Mala (1997) (Autobiography edited by George Harrison)
* Learning Indian music: A systematic approach (1979)
* My Music, My Life (1968) (Autobiography)
* Music memory (1967)


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