What Is Indo Jazz
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What is Indo Jazz?

In the vast realm of music, where cultures intermingle and genres evolve, there exists a fascinating fusion that transcends boundaries and captivates listeners with its mesmerizing melodies and vibrant rhythms. It is the captivating world of Indo Jazz, a harmonious marriage between the traditional sounds of Indian classical music and the improvisational spirit of jazz. As the sitar dances with the saxophone, and tabla beats find harmony with upright basslines, a unique and enchanting musical landscape emerges, blending East and West in a remarkable display of artistic synergy.

Exploring The Fusion of Indian Classical Music & Western Jazz

Music is a universal language. Musicians from any part of the world can easily communicate through music and make surprising connections. As a result, musicians of different cultures and norms blend musical genres and form new musical ideas.

Indian classical music and Western jazz are both developed on the same interest: improvisation. So naturally, there were some common sets of musicians who happen to favor both genres and form a new music style.

Indian Classical Music

Indian classical music is a vital part of the Indo Jazz genre.

The classical genre of Indian music historically refers to the classical music of the Indian subcontinent which includes many countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives as of today’s map. Music in this major part of the world evolved in its own way which is quite different from Western music.

Indian Classical Music
A woman playing the Tanpura, c. 1735 (Rajasthan) / Wikipedia

The roots of Indian classical music are believed to be found in the Vedic literature which is considered to be from the 15th century BC, thousands of years ago, when chants developed a system of musical notes and cycles. The two foundational elements of Indian classical music are, “raga” and “tala”, where raga is the melodic framework and tala refers to the rhythm or time cycle.

The classical music of India traditionally avoids Western classical concepts such as chords, modulation, and harmony. However, like western Do Re Mi Fa So La Si (or C, D, E, F, G, A, and B) Indian classical music also has 7 major notes: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.

Indian classical music has a couple of traditional movements.

  • North Indian Classical Music (Hindustani): North Indian classical music is ‘the’ pure Indian classical music that strictly follows the rules of Indian classical. It remained unaffected by any kind of foreign influences,
  • South Indian Classical Music (Carnatic): The majority of songs in Carnatic music are composed to be sung, and even when they are played on instruments, they are intended to be performed in gyaki (singing) style. Carnatic music is often affected by Persian, Arabian, and some other foreign influences.

Although both movements have some unique attributes, they share even more common features. But let’s not complicate it. The historical form has evolved in different ways, fusions were made, and new genres were born. Finding the influence of Indian classical music in the West and other parts of the world will be effortless for music enthusiasts.

Instruments In Indian Classical Music

Traditionally and historically the instruments used in this genre, are quite fascinating to know about as they don’t usually appear in Western music.

A World Of Influences

From The East

Though generated in different parts of the world, Indian classical music influenced Western jazz music significantly. Thanks to the 19th-century Indian subcontinental music gurus who played a vital role in the fusion of music.

During the 1930s, Uday Shankar performed Indian music in the United States and other parts of the world. His younger brother Ravi Shankar (sitarist) played a vital role in the popularization of Indian classical music in the West.

From The West

In the 1920s, Western Jazz was first performed in Kolkata and Mumbai. From 1930 to 1950 is called the golden era of Jazz in India. During this period popular jazz musicians like Leon Abbey, Crickett Smith, Creighton Thompson, Ken Mac, Roy Butler, Teddy Weatherford, Rudy Jackson, Pamela McCarthy,  or Henry Green performed in India.

However, they performed for the elites and Westerners living in India, as it was also the period of Indian liberation protest. Many of these were from Goa and they had knowledge of Western music under Portuguese rule. And many Goan musicians who worked in Bollywood contributed to the formation of Indo-jazz fusion music.

A major work in introducing Jazz musicians to south asian music was done by sitar legend Ravi Shankar’s Improvisations (1962), featuring flutists Paul Horn and Bud Shank, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Louis Hayes, along with some Hindustani backing musicians.

Back And Forth

Jazz legend Saxophonist John Coltrane, and guitarist John McLaughlin were highly influenced by Indian classical style music. Coltrane even named his own son Ravi. Coltrane and his jazz group explored the extended modal improvisations and time frame found in Ravi Shankar’s music.

McLaughlin’s influence was mainly Carnatic inspired, according to the evidence by his groundbreaking electric group The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and later acoustic group Shakti.  Some of his accompanied musicians are Carnatic violinist L. Shankar, tabla player Zakir Hussain, mridangam player R. Raghavan, ghatam player T. H. “Vikku” Vinayakram, and the mandolin genius U. Srinivas.

Bengali tabla player Badal Roy and sitarist Ashwin Batish also worked in the Western jazz world. Tabla player Badal Roy appeared in Miles Davis’ popular releases such as On The Corner (1972), Big Fun (1974), and Get Up With It (1974).

Needless to say, there are countless other examples but these major events certainly prove the power of Indian Classical music.

Birth of a Genre: Indo Jazz

Music is free. So fusions and evolutions are always welcome. Not just Indian music influenced Jazz. Also, Western Jazz played a major role in Indian music. A fusion of jazz and Indian classical music created a new genre, called Indo Jazz or Indian Jazz.

Discover next: What Are The Genres of Jazz?

The fusion of jazz and Indian music was pioneered by notable musicians such as Ravi Shankar, John Coltrane, John Mayer, and John McLaughlin. These musicians were key in blending the improvisational techniques and complex rhythms of jazz with the melodic and rhythmic structures of Indian classical music and are part of our post about the 10 Best Indo Jazz albums of all time.

Indo Jazz represents an artistic endeavor that stretches beyond geographical and cultural borders, seeking to bridge the divide between two distinct musical traditions. Born out of the cultural exchange between India and the West, it has become a dynamic genre that continues to evolve, embracing new influences while maintaining its deep-rooted essence.

Filed under: About Jazz, Genre

About the Author

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Hi, I am Arifur Rahman. I have completed my BSc in Physics. I play classical guitar and like to explore different musical ideas.


    • Arifur Rahman

      “I was admired by all these hippies, and it was wonderful playing at Monterey and Woodstock, performing for half a million people.”
      – Ravi Shankar

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