On December 11 in San Diego, the world lost a great musician, spiritual leader, and sitar player — Ravi Shankar. Most known in the United States for his relationship with The Beatles, Shankar helped introduce Indian music to the west, opening minds and ears to new tuning systems and instruments. The Beatles, however, were not the only musicians who flocked to Shankar; John Coltrane and David Crosby, to name a few, all learned from the sitar player. The mark he left on music is immeasurable. How can someone evaluate the freedom he brought to Western composers to experiment with new sounds and instruments? How can someone measure the spread of cultural values and social understanding? Well, we sure can't. But we can share with you five of his songs — not five of the best — a musical eulogy of sorts.
“Within You Without You” appeared on the The Beatles' 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. While George Harrison played sitar on the album, it was influenced by a piece by Ravi Shankar. George Harrison learned a lot from Shankar, and his influence is obvious in this track from the fab four. “Try to realize,” Harrison sings, “It's all within yourself. No one else can make you change. And to see you're really only very small, and life flows on within you and without you.”
4. “Raga Miniature“
A raga is a musical form used in Indian music as a sort of platform for improvisation. Honestly, it's a bit hard for me to wrap my head around, so I'm just going to let Shankar explain from his interview with NPR. “The “raga” is the melodic form, but it is not just a scale, Shankar says. There are roughly 72 parent scales. And each scale has hundreds of ragas, which can be pentatonic (five notes), hexatonic (six notes) or full scale (seven notes). The possible combinations are endless.” Got it? Good.
3. Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass
It is beyond words to describe, when these two musicians get together, the level of genius being shared. Listening to Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass, one of the great modern composers, is like hearing Einstein and Carl Jung talk about physics and dreams — beyond this world. At one point, Glass was an assistant to Shankar on a film in Paris.
2. Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar
Even though Ravi Shankar is gone, he leaves his legacy with one of the most influential musicians in World Music today, his daughter, Anoushka Shankar. This video is beautiful. Notice the connection they have to music and each other. Notice the way they sit on the floor. Notice the colors on the floors and in the notes.
1. Ravi Shankar at the Monterey Pop Festival
Shankar will always be linked to rock 'n' roll and his legendary performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival. This is the same performance where Hendrix burned his guitar and Otis Redding soothed everyone's soul. It was a legendary performance, and Shankar was right there, in the midst of it, helping created and inspire the liberation of music in the 60s. And one of his last performance was right here in Long Beach.