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Rudresh Mahanthappa: Between Kadri and Coltrane

By Published: August 2, 2007
AAJ: Does John Coltrane's spirituality have any resonance with you?

RM: Yeah, I think so. But that wasn't the reason I went to him. I think I was attracted to his playing. Even if he or she had no idea that he was coming from a spiritual angle, the average listener would still feel moved hearing his albums like A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964), or his composition "Alabama." Yeah, there was something about him. He could play. He could hold one note and you would feel moved by it. There was a spiritual depth to it, undeniably so.

One of the things I really admire about him is, I read this article recently where a famous saxophonist being interviewed was comparing two other great saxophonists, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. He was talking about Rollins as the more intuitive player and Coltrane the more studied player. In some ways Coltrane is seen as a late bloomer. If you talk to people coming up with Coltrane, I guarantee, ninety-nine per cent of them would say that they had no idea that Coltrane was going to end up doing what he did for his music. He wasn't necessarily a naturally great saxophonist like Rollins. I have to say that that was something that attracted me to him: I never felt like I was a natural saxophonist either: I had to work pretty hard to do what I am able to do now.

AAJ: The stridency of bebop or the anger of free jazz—do you relate to that?

RM: I don't know about anger, it's more about energy. I relate to things that are pretty high energy. The urgency of bebop runs through it. There is a lot of free jazz I don't like. Sometimes my music is placed in that category but I think it's pretty unrelated and very little of what I do is free—it's highly structured. But I can see how people just with the energy alone put me in the same box as free jazz.

Rudresh MahanthappaAAJ: Your three all time favorite jazz albums?

RM: Winelight (Elektra, 1980), by Washington Grover Jr., Savoy Recordings (OJC, 1944-49) by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane's Impressions (Impulse!, 1961) There are a lot of different versions of Impressions now because they released a lot of unreleased recordings. But the very first Impressions has always been an amazing inspiration to me. Any Bismillah Khan or Praveen Sultana album. [Live In London (Vol. 2), Ustad Bismillah Khan (2000); Live At The Queen Elizabeth Hall By Ustad Bismillah Khan (2000); The Genius Of Begum Parween Sultana, Begum Parween Sultana].

I am thinking of the albums that, if I completely feel devoid of inspiration or ideas can make me feel reinvigorated and re-inspired.

Unfortunately lots of Indian classical albums have these really stupid titles. An Hour of Ecstasy with Praveen Sultana, what's that?

Ornette Coleman I think was visionary. He kind of broke everything else. He was completely inspired by the blues and by Charlie Parker. But he saw something in it that was beyond. People talk of him being avant-garde or playing free jazz, you know there are all kinds of funny labels, because he was coming out of Charlie Parker as much as anybody was. He saw a different way of organizing music, just as Picasso saw in organizing different parts of a woman's body. He took the familiar and put them in unfamiliar places.

Selected Discography

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Codebook (Pi, 2006)
Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa, Raw Materials (Savoy Jazz, 2006)
Rez Abbasi, Bazaar (Zoho, 2006)
Vijay Iyer, Reimagining (Savoy Jazz, 2004)
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mother Tongue (Pi, 2004)
Vijay Iyer, Blood Sutra (Artists House, 2003)
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Black Water (Red Giant, 2002)

Photo Credits
Black and white photos: Maurice Robertson
Color photo: John Kelman

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