Ali Akbar Khan

Master of North Indian Classical Music

Ali Akbar Khan - teacher

This is another man with whom I feel truly blessed and extremely fortunate to have had the chance to study with, albeit for only a semester. Ali Akbar Khan was widely acknowledged as one of the world's greatest musicians.

In the late 80s / early 90s it was suggested to me by my drummer / percussionist colleague Kevin Mummey that I should go take a semester at the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in San Rafael, just north of San Francisco. "Khansahib," as Ali Akbar Khan was known to his students, was not getting any younger and Kevin thought I should study with him while I got the chance. So I signed up and took a semester of Khansahib's vocal class.

Khansahib was regarded as a great guru of music and his students would touch his feet in reverence for his great mastery. When he would teach the vocal class, he'd sit cross legged and barefoot, in the traditional manner of classical Indian musicians, on a small raised platform. He would play the harmonium to accompany his singing. Like Joe Henderson, he seemed to be composing his ideas on the spot, and it seems they were generally based on a specific raga. The students were allowed to record the classes, which I did, albeit on an old scratchy cassette recorder I had (I still have not got around to transcribing those lessons properly but I will do one day). There is a book that I also bought, "The Classical Music of North India," which describes a system of notation that was created to notate this style of North Indian classical music that Khansahib taught. This system was used by the students who would rapidly notate the singing that Khansahib would do during the class. At subsequent classes, he would build on the material from the previous week.

Those melodies that I heard from the mouth of this great master have still stuck in my head today, and I think about them quite often. I believe they have worked their way into my playing and like the material I learned from all my teachers, I have accumulated the material, and I will spend the rest of my life going back to it and reviewing it, because I still need to give it more careful study and it will remain an inexhaustible wellspring of inspiration and knowledge.