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Riding the Current Between the East and the West

By Hannah Wong

At first glance, it would seem as if jazz and Indian classical music would have little in common. Indian classical music’s history spans thousands of years and made its start in the temples and courts in India. On the other side of the world, jazz took its form in African American communities of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. How did these two seemingly very different worlds manage to overcome their geographical distance to fuse into something new?

Jazz first found its way into India in the first half of the 20th century, having been introduced to Indian elites by Western influences. The music started off as a source of entertainment for foreigners posted in the country and eventually the big band tunes spread to the clientele of upper class Indian aristocrats. With its modes, steady rhythms, and use of improvisation all similar to that of Indian classical music, India was charmed by the new genre. It wasn’t long until nightclubs and ballrooms of the country became saturated with sounds of swing and bop. Classical instruments such as the tabla and sitar began jamming to the influence of jazz and eventually, a new genre was formed. What started as a form of elite entertainment soon found fame in Bollywood screens and Indo-jazz became a prominent and well-established genre in the years that followed.



The influence did not just work one way, jazz music was equally enraptured by what Indian classical instruments had to offer. Jazz virtuosos such as saxophonist John Coltrane were exploring modal improvisations found in Hindustani music. The Beatles themselves – George Harrison, in particular – were inspired by Ravi Shankar and used the sitar in “Norwegian Wood” and the swarmandal in “Strawberry Fields Forever”.

The Crosscurrents project explores a fresh and stimulating musical palate as Chan Centre audience favourite Zakir Hussain and jazz bassist Dave Holland brings us the delicate fusion of east and west with the help of renowned saxophonist Chris Potter, award-winning Bollywood composer and vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, Louiz Banks (piano), Sanjay Divecha (guitar) and Gino Banks (drums).

Hussain was first introduced to jazz in his teens when he met Duke Ellington who was visiting in India during that time. “[At the time] not only have I never heard the big band sound, but I didn’t even know there was a big band sound ever,” he recalls in a 2014 interview with SF Jazz, “it was eye opening”.



Be a part of this unique worldly experience as global music ambassador, Zakir Hussain, will show audiences how the tabla can very much be a part of big band jazz. Zakir Hussain and Dave Holland: Crosscurrents will be at the Chan Centre on Saturday October 28th, 2017 at 8pm.


About the author
Hannah Wong
is a student of the Arts & Entertainment Management Diploma program at Capilano University. Having already received her undergraduate degree at UBC in music, she is currently back on campus as a Marketing & Communications Intern at the UBC School of Music and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

Wed Oct 11, 2017