Saxophone and Indian Classical music

                                                                            Jesse Bannister
John Coltrane, one of the leading jazz saxophonists of the 1960s had a kind of ‘spiritual awakening’ that led him to start studying Indian religion and philosophy and even Indian raga music, with Pandit Ravi Shankar as his mentor. He calls it a search for a “multicultural theory of musical transcendence” based on the mystical principles of the spiritual traditions of Indian ragas. That elevated his own western music to greater heights based on these profound realizations.

Jesse Bannister is a unique musician who is respected as the leading Indian saxophonist in Europe. Jesse plays North Indian Classical Music on the saxophone to a professional level. Jesse said, “I was first inspired to play saxophone by listening to saxophonist Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane at the age of 15. I just wanted to play with the energy and direct myself musically towards something and so I saved up the money to buy a saxophone.”

Having arrived in Chennai in 1998, with the singular purpose of learning Carnatic music, Dutch saxophone player, Maarten Visser, stayed on. But in the process, learnt much more than simply the grammar of Carnatic music. Marten said, “As a child I went with my parents to many classical orchestral concerts in Holland. Once we went to a free jazz concert, the saxophonist made a lasting impression, but I was too young to play then, only 5. So, I started learning to play the piano and when I turned 12/13 I switched to saxophone. At that point I was very much attracted to the music of Clarence Clemons (rock saxophonist- played with the E Street Band) and Archie Shepp (free jazz saxophonist).” Today he traverses a strange soundscape: his saxophone solos and compositions swing from conservatory-tinged jazz to a very experimental and often unearthly sound. Visser frequently pushes his saxophone to the limit, coercing “multi-phonics and micro-tonality” from the instrument.

                                                        Maarten Visser
Jesse felt, “Saxophone has grown from being a laughter instrument, played in the circus line to a highly respected classical instrument as well as playing forms of world music throughout the world. I think it has got a certain appeal because of its sonorous quality close to the voice. It will always be seen as a modern instrument.”He adds, “Saxophone is really appropriate for Indian classical music as it has melodious waves imitating the voice using long notes and also getting across the feeling of the music in raga phases, especially the rhythmic aspect and improvisation aspect and it certainly has a place in northern Indian classical music. I have studied both western music and Indian classical music. I have engrossed myself in both traditions.”

Talking about his inspiration behind the compositions, Maarten says, “Behind every composition there is an idea in sound. I often try to find ideas that can be repeated and brought over time towards a turning point or climax. This can be in pitch, volume, intensity etc.

This idea in sound I will try to combine with other ideas in sound, in a way that the ideas clash, complement, or resist each other. I came to this way of working after discarding melody, harmony, rhythm as the building blocks of music. So, pure sound inspires me.”Recently Rooh Music launched Maarten’s album OTO3.

Technology is a great communicator for musicians. Jesse said, “We have released an app called Groove India. This app helps one to play Indo- Jazz. It has got great Indian music ideas for improvisers. It has got some great jazz ideas and it brings those together for using different audio loops the way one can manipulate the sound, change the beats, change the pitch and practice in certain scale and certain rhythms to improve one’s improvisation.”

Jesse said, “Just play from your heart. Begin a strong relationship with your instrument through your whole body and your whole self.” Maarten felt, “A good saxophonist must have thought about and developed his sound on the instrument.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing
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